Mimetic Theory, Sacrifice, and The Iliad?


  • Margo Kitts Hawai'i Pacific University




Girard, mimesis, violence, Homeric sacrifice, poetics, Iliad


This essay strives to apply Girard’s mimetic theory to Homeric sacrifice scenes, poetic characterizations, and the plot of the Iliad. The theory is found to be wanting at the level of sacrifice scenes, and barely salient at the levels of poetic characterization and plot. On the whole, Girard’s theory of sacrifice is anachronistic for the Iliad, and the Iliad’s poetic characterizations, particularly of Achilles, defy the lack of interiority presumed by Girard’s mimetic theory. However, Girard’s discussion of our fascination with violence does resonate with the Homeric Weltanschauung, as well as with persistent themes in ancient Near Eastern literature and art.

Author Biography

Margo Kitts, Hawai'i Pacific University

Margo Kitts is Professor of Humanities and Coordinator of Religious Studies and East-West Classical Studies at Hawai'i Pacific University in Honolulu.


ca. 1993. “Violence, Difference, Sacrifice: A Conversation with René Girard.” Religion and Literature 25 (2): 9–33.

Bahrani, Zainab. 2008. Rituals of War. New York: Zone Books.

Bakker, Egbert. 2005. Pointing at the Past. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Bakker, Egbert and Florence Fabbricotti. 1991. “Peripheral and Nuclear Semantics in Homeric Diction.” Mnemosyne 44(1–2): 63–84. http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/156852591X00468.

Bryce, Trevor. 2006. The Trojans and Their Neighbours. London: Routledge.

Burkert, Walter. 1983. Homo Necans: The Anthropology of Ancient Greek Sacrificial Ritual and Myth. Translated by Peter Bing. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Calhoun, Greg. M. 1937. “Homer’s Gods: Prolegomena.” Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 68: 11–25. http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/283250.

Day, John. 1985. God’s Conflict with the Dragon and the Sea. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

———.1998. “God and Leviathan in Isaiah 27:1.” Biblotheca Sacra 155: 423–36.

Cairns, Douglas L. 2003. “Ethics, Ethology, Terminology: Iliadic Anger and the Crosscultural Study Of Emotion.” In Ancient Anger, Perspectives from Homer to Gale, edited by Susanna Braund and Glenn W. Most, 11–50. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cohen, David. 1980. “’Horkia’ and ‘Horkos’ in the Iliad.” Revue Internationale des Droits de l’Antiguite 27: 49-68.

Detienne, Marcel. 1989. “Culinary Practices and the Spirit of Sacrifice.” In The Cuisine of Sacrifice among the Greeks, edited by Marcel Detienne and Jean-Pierre Vernant, 148–63. Translated by Paul Wissing. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Fishbane, Michael. 2003. Biblical Myth and Rabbinic Mythmaking. Oxford: Oxford University Press. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/0198267339.001.0001.

Foley, John Miles. 1997. “Oral Tradition and Its Implications.” In A New Companion to Homer, edited by Ian Morris and Barry Powell, 146–73. Leiden: Brill. http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/9789004217607_007.

———. 2007. “Reading Homer through Oral Tradition.” College Literature 34: 1-28. http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/lit.2007.0015.

Freud, Sigmund. 1918. Totem and Taboo. Translated by A. A. Brill. New York: Moffat, Yard & Co.

Girard, René. 1977. Violence and the Sacred. Translated by Patrick Gregory. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

———. 1987. Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World. Translated by Stephen Bann and Michael Metteer. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press.

———. 1996. The Girard Reader. Edited by James O. Williams. New York: Crossroads.

———. 2011. Breakthroughs in Mimetic Theory: Sacrifice. Translated by Matthew Pattillo and David Dawson. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press.

———. 2014a Studies in Violence, Mimesis, and Culture: One by Whom Scandal Comes. Translated by M. B. DeBevoise. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press.

———. 2014b Studies in Violence, Mimesis, and Culture: When These Things Begin: Conversations with Michel Treguer. Translated by Trevor Cribben Merrill. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press.

Hamerton-Kelly, Robertson G., ed. 1987. Violent Origins. Walter Burkert, René Girard, and Jonathan Z. Smith on Ritual Killing and Cultural Formation. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Hammer, Dean. 2002. “The Iliad as Ethical Thinking: Politics, Pity and the Operation of Esteem.” Arethusa 35 (2): 203–35. http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/are.2002.0015.

Heiden, Bruce. 1997. “The Ordeals of Homeric Song.” Arethusa 30 (2): 221–40. http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/are.1997.0012.

Jensen, Adolf E. 1973. Myth and Cult among Primitive Peoples. Translated by Marianna Tax Cholden and Wolfgang Weissleder. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Karavites, Peter. 1991. Promise-Giving and Treaty Making: Homer and the Near East. Leiden: Brill.

Kitts, Margo. 2002. “Sacrificial Violence in the Iliad.” Journal of Ritual Studies 16: 19-39.

———. 2008. “Funeral Sacrifices and Ritual Leitmotifs in Iliad 23.” In Transformations in Sacrificial Practices: Proceedings of an International Colloquium, Heidelberg, 12-14 July 2006, edited by Eftychia Stavrianopoulou, Axel Michaels, and Claus Ambos, 217–40. Berlin: LIT-Verlag.

———. 2010. “Poin? as a Ritual Leitmotif in the Iliad.” In State, Power and Violence. Ritual Dynamics and the Science of Ritual, vol. 3, edited by Margo Kitts, 7–31. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

———. 2011. “Ritual Scenes in the Iliad: Rote, Hallowed, or Encrypted as Ancient Art?” Oral Traditions 26 (1): 221–46.

———. 2012 [2005]. Sanctified Violence in Homeric Society: Oath-Making Rituals and Narratives in the Iliad. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

———. 2013a. “The Near Eastern Chaoskampf in the River-Battle of Iliad 21.” Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 13 (1): 86–112. http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/15692124-12341246.

———. 2013b. “What’s Religious about the Iliad?” Religion Compass 7 (7): 225–44. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/rec3.12050.

———. 2015. “Anthropology and the Iliad.” In Ashgate Research Companion to Anthropology, edited by Pamela Stewart and Andrew Strathern, 389–410. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate.

Latacz, Joachim. 2004. Troy and Homer. Translated by Kevin Windle and Rosh Ireland. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Luckenbill, Daniel David. 1968 [1927, 1928]. Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia, vols.1-2. New York: Greenwood Press.

Mack, Burton. 1987. “Introduction: Religion and Ritual.” In Violent Origins: Walter Burkert, René Girard, and Jonathan Z. Smith on Ritual Killing and Cultural Formation, edited by Robertson G. Hamerton-Kelly, 1–70. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/cbo9780511523427.001.

Ortlund, Eric Nels. 2010. Theophany and Chaoskampf. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press.

Smith, Jonathan Z. 1987. “The Domestication of Sacrifice.” In Violent Origins, edited by Robert G. Hamerton-Kelly, 195–205. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press.

Vico, Giambattista. 2002. The First New Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139163705.

Visser, Edzard. 1988. “Formulae or Single Words? Towards a New Theory on Homeric Verse-Making.” Würzburger Jarbücher für die Altertumswissenchaft 14: 21–37.

West, Martin L. 2011a. “Analysts.” The Homer Encyclopedia, vol. 1, edited by Margalit Finkelberg, 47–50. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.

———. 2011b. “Unitarians.” The Homer Encyclopedia, vol. 3, edited by Margalit Finkelberg, 911–13. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.

Wyatt, Nicolas. 1998. “Arms and the King.” In Und Mose schrieb dieses Lied auf: Festschrift O. Loretz, edited by M. Dietrich and J. Rottsieper, 833–82. Alter Orient und Altes Testament, 250. Münster: Ugarit-Verlag.

———. 2005. Mythic Mind: Essays on Cosmology and Religion in Ugaritic and Old Testament Literature. London: Equinox.



How to Cite

Kitts, M. (2016). Mimetic Theory, Sacrifice, and The Iliad?. Bulletin for the Study of Religion, 45(3-4), 46–57. https://doi.org/10.1558/bsor.v45i3-4.31345