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Omophagia, or omophagy, is the eating of raw flesh. The word is derived from the Greek: ωμός,‘raw', and the term usually refers to omophagia within Greek mythology, especially the cult worship of Dionysus. However, it also has modern implications in the raw food movement.


Greek Mythology[edit]

Marble image of a dancing Maenad; approximately 120-140 AD. Attributed to Callimachus.

Omophagia is a large element of Dionysiac myth; in fact, one of Dionysus' epithets is Raw-Eater.[1] Omophagia may have been a symbol of the triumph of wild nature over civilization, and a symbol of the breaking down of boundaries between nature and civilization.[2][3]. It might also have been symbolic that the worshippers were internalizing Dionysus’ wilder traits and his association with brute nature, in a sort of “communion” with the god.[4][5]

Mythology sometimes depicts Maenads, Dionysus' female worshippers, eating raw meat as part of their worship; however, there is little solid evidence that historical Maenads consumed raw meat.[6][7][8] This depiction may have its origins in a "preserved . . . memory of ancient tribal savagery."[9]

The Dionysiac diet of raw meat may be more properly attributed to Dionysus himself, rather than his followers -- he received sacrifices of raw meat and was believed to consume them, but his followers did not share in the consumption.[10]

Orphism[edit]

The Orphic mysteries originated as a ritual which focused on purification[11] and the afterlife; the mysteries were based on the stories of Dionysus Zagreus. Zagreus was the child of Zeus and Persephone, who was torn apart by the Titans in an act of sparagmos. After tearing Zagreus apart, the Titans devoured him, except for his heart.

His body was then reassembled; this may be reflected in the story of Pentheus, whose body parts were gathered together after his mother, aunt and other Maenads tore him apart in a Dionysic frenzy, and the story of Actaeon, who was eaten by his own hunting dogs. Because the dogs grieved so deeply after Actaeon's death, an image of him was made to comfort them. All three stories show a common motif of reassembly of body parts following sparagmos and omophagia, and this motif may have been significant for religious ritual.[12]

In Orphism, worshippers took part in an Orphic ritual which reenacted the story of Zegreus, using a bull as their victim (poorer worshippers may have used a goat instead).[13] They considered the ritual to be "commemorative" of events in their god's existence.[14] In his article "A New Ritual of the Orphic Mysteries", Michael Tierney says that ". . . by sacramental re-enactment of the god's death, a hope of salvation for his worshippers was obtained."[15] Dionysus became associated with Zagreus, and the story of having been torn apart and eaten by the Titans was applied to him as well.[16]

Omophagia was the focus of the Dionysiac mysteries, and a component of Orphic cermonies,[17] In its beginnings, Orphism was influenced by the Elusinian mysteries[18], and it adopted stories from other mythologies as its own.[19]. The worshippers of Zagreus may have engaged in omophagia as an initiation rite.[20]

The Bacchae[edit]

Euripides’ play The Bacchae focuses on the worship of Dionysus, including allusions to omophagia, and its companion sparagmos. In this play, the character Agave tears her son Pentheus apart while under the influence of Dionysus. In Dionysiac myth, this was known as sparagmos, and would have been followed by omophagia of the torn animal.[21] Because Euripides depicts Agave as engaging in sparagmos, he likely intended for the audiences to assume she engaged in omophagia as well: additionally, the character Cadmus compares Agave’s actions to the story of Actaeon, who was consumed by his own hunting dogs--this association further suggests that omophagia took place.[22]

There is another possible instance of omophagia in The Bacchae. At one point in the play, the maenads go into a nearby town and carry off the children; it is possible that the maenads then consumed them. In art and myth, this incident is linked to omophagia; however, Euripides may not have intended this meaning in The Bacchae.[23]

Modern Raw Foodism[edit]

Raw meat.

Humans have been controlling fire for at least 230,000 years,[24], possibly as many as 300,000,[25] and humans have been cooking for around 125,000 years.[26] Some people choose to follow a raw food diet (see raw foodism) because they feel that this diet more closely resembles the diets of prehistoric humans, and that modern humans are still genetically best-suited to a raw diet.[27]

People who are following a total raw-food diet may warm some of their food, but they do not allow it to cook to temperatures above about 116 degrees Fahrenheit;[28] raw foodists believe that raw foods are healthier because the foods contain intact enzymes, which would be destroyed by the heat of cooking. Those who choose to follow this diet say that the enzymes from raw foods improve digestion and food absorption.[29]

These views are addressed in Dr. Edward Howell's books Enzyme Nutrition and The Status of Food Enzymes in Digestion and Metabolism. He suggests that the enzymes in raw foods are necessary to digest those foods, and that when foods are cooked, the enzymes they contain are denatured and the body must manufacture its own enzymes to compensate. He further proposes that the body has only limited capacity to produce these enzymes, and that it is "used up" over the lifetime. One last premise of his books is that enzymes contain "life force", and they can donate this to the body.[30]

However, most food enzymes are denatured in the stomach, and 90% of nutrients from food are absorbed in the small intestine.[31] Because few enzymes from food are present when absoprtion takes place, some say that it is unlikely that enzymes from food play a large part in digestion,[32] and that cooking may even improve digestion: cooking changes the cell structures of some foods in ways that make them more easily digestable.[33]

Some raw food diets only include plant foods, but some adaptations of a raw food diet do include raw animal products, including raw milk, raw eggs and raw meat. Aajonus Vonderplanitz is a prominent proponent of raw food diets which include raw animal products. Vonderplanitz credits raw animal products with his recovery from dyslexia, cancer and other conditions. He suggests that raw animal products have healing properties due both to their “healthy fats” and to the presence of bacteria and parasites, which he proposes may have a detoxifying effect by consuming decaying tissue within the body.[34]

Vonderplanitz claims many beneficial effects of his raw-flesh diet. Among these are much-increased energy, stronger bones, mental clarity and a stronger sex drive.[35]



Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Henrichs, Albert. "Greek Maenadism from Lympias to Messalina." Harvard Studes in Classical Philology, Vol. 82 (1978): 144.
  2. ^ Taylor-Perry, Rosemarie. The God Who Comes: Dionysian Mysteries Reclaimed. Algora Publishing, 2003.
  3. ^ Walcot, Peter. The Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. 98 1978: 188.
  4. ^ Dunkle, Roger. "Euripides' Bacchae." 1986. AbleMedia. 5 August 2008 http://ablemedia.com/ctcweb/netshots/bacchae.htm
  5. ^ Witt, R. E. The Classical Review, Vol. 22, No. 2 1972: 288.
  6. ^ Henrichs, Albert. "Greek Maenadism from Lympias to Messalina." Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, Vol. 82 (1978): 121-169.
  7. ^ Taylor-Perry, Rosemarie. The God Who Comes: Dionysian Mysteries Reclaimed. Algora Publishing, 2003.
  8. ^ Kraemer, Ross S. "Ecstasy and Possession: The Attraction of Women to the Cult of Dionysus." The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 72 60 Jan.-Apr. 1979.
  9. ^ Henrichs, Albert. "Greek Maenadism from Lympias to Messalina." Harvard Studes in Classical Philology, Vol. 82 (1978): 147.
  10. ^ Henrichs, Albert. "Greek Maenadism from Lympias to Messalina." Harvard Studes in Classical Philology, Vol. 82 (1978): 150-151.
  11. ^ Tierney, Michael. "A New Ritual of the Orphic Mysteries." The Classical Quarterly, Vol. 16, No. 2 Apr. 1922: 77.
  12. ^ Henrichs, Albert. "Greek Maenadism from Lympias to Messalina." Harvard Studes in Classical Philology, Vol. 82 (1978): 148.
  13. ^ Tierney, Michael. "A New Ritual of the Orphic Mysteries." The Classical Quarterly, Vol. 16, No. 2 Apr. 1922: 80.
  14. ^ Henrichs, Albert. "Greek Maenadism from Lympias to Messalina." Harvard Studes in Classical Philology, Vol. 82 (1978): 144.
  15. ^ Tierney, Michael. "A New Ritual of the Orphic Mysteries." The Classical Quarterly, Vol. 16, No. 2 Apr. 1922: 81.
  16. ^ Henrichs, Albert. "Greek Maenadism from Lympias to Messalina." Harvard Studes in Classical Philology, Vol. 82 (1978): 144.
  17. ^ Tierney, Michael. "A New Ritual of the Orphic Mysteries." The Classical Quarterly, Vol. 16, No. 2 Apr. 1922: 79.
  18. ^ Tierney, Michael. "A New Ritual of the Orphic Mysteries." The Classical Quarterly, Vol. 16, No. 2 Apr. 1922: 77.
  19. ^ Tierney, Michael. "A New Ritual of the Orphic Mysteries." The Classical Quarterly, Vol. 16, No. 2 Apr. 1922: 77.
  20. ^ Henrichs, Albert. "Greek Maenadism from Lympias to Messalina." Harvard Studes in Classical Philology, Vol. 82 (1978): 151.
  21. ^ Dunkle, Roger. "Euripides' Bacchae." 1986. AbleMedia. 5 August 2008 http://ablemedia.com/ctcweb/netshots/bacchae.htm
  22. ^ Devereux, G. "The Psychotherapy Scene in Euripiedes' Bacchae." The Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. 90 1970: 35-48.
  23. ^ Seaford, Richard. "Review: Bacchae." The Classical Review, New Series, Vol. 36, No. 1 1986: 26.
  24. ^ James, Steven R. (1989) "Hominid use of fire in the lower and middle Pleistocene. A review of the evidence." Current Anthropology, vol. 30, pp. 1-26.
  25. ^ Megarry, Tim (1995) Society in Prehistory: The Origins of Human Culture. New York: New York University Press.
  26. ^ Nicholson, Ward. "First Control of Fire by Human Beings--How Early?" 1998. Beyondvegetarianism. 6 August 2008 <http://www.beyondveg.com/nicholson-w/hb/hb-interview2c.shtml#fire,%20first%20control>.
  27. ^ Cordain L, Eaton SB, Sebastian A, Mann N, Lindeberg S, Watkins BA, O'Keefe JH, Brand-Miller J (2005, February). "Origins and evolution of the Western diet: health implications for the 21st century". Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 81 (2): 341–54.<http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15699220>.
  28. ^ "Living and Raw Foods: The Living and Raw Foods F.A.Q." Living and Raw Foods. 5 August 2008 <http://www.living-foods.com/faq.html>.
  29. ^ "Living and Raw Foods: The Living and Raw Foods F.A.Q." Living and Raw Foods. 5 August 2008 <http://www.living-foods.com/faq.html>.
  30. ^ Jean-Louis Tu, Tom Billings, Ward Nicholson. "Do 'Food Enzymes' Enhance Digestive Efficiency, Longevity?" 1999. Beyondvegetarianism. 6 August 2008 <http://www.beyondveg.com/tu-j-l/raw-cooked/raw-cooked-2b.shtml#enzymes>.
  31. ^ Tortora GJ, Anagnostakos NP (1981) Principles of Anatomy and Physiology, Harper and Row, New York.
  32. ^ Jean-Louis Tu, Tom Billings, Ward Nicholson. "Do 'Food Enzymes' Enhance Digestive Efficiency, Longevity?" 1999. Beyondvegetarianism. 6 August 2008 <http://www.beyondveg.com/tu-j-l/raw-cooked/raw-cooked-2b.shtml#enzymes>.
  33. ^ Jean-Louis Tu, Tom Billings, Ward Nicholson. "Do 'Food Enzymes' Enhance Digestive Efficiency, Longevity?" 1999. Beyondvegetarianism. 6 August 2008 <http://www.beyondveg.com/tu-j-l/raw-cooked/raw-cooked-2b.shtml#enzymes>.
  34. ^ Bass, Stanley. "Interview with Aajonus Vonderplanitz - presented by Dr. Stanley Bass." 2000-2003. Life Science International Fasting Center. 5 August 2008 <http://drbass.com/aajonus.html>.
  35. ^ Bass, Stanley. "Interview with Aajonus Vonderplanitz - presented by Dr. Stanley Bass." 2000-2003. Life Science International Fasting Center. 5 August 2008 <http://drbass.com/aajonus.html>.