In Homer's Odyssey, Odysseus is rich: he owns cattle, swine, sheep, goats. Kirkē asks Odysseus to sacrifice cattle and sheep, and to do libation with milk, honey, wine, flour; Teiresias asks Odysseus to sacrifice cattle and sheep and swine (in the future after the end of the story). The Odyssey also mentions people other than Odysseus sacrificing cattle.

What I find odd is that the Odyssey never seems to mention chicken or other poultry. Why is this?

  • Were chickens not kept in Greece in those times yet? I was under the impression that poultry arrived in Europe centuries before that.
  • Did Odysseus live in a climate unfavorable for keeping chicken?
  • Was sacrificing poultry a habit started later, in the Roman times, and not yet practiced at the time?
  • Or was sacrificing chicken was deemed beneath Odysseus, reserved for people not rich enough to sacrifice cattle and sheep?

1 Answer 1


According to this article by Lee Perry-Gal et al.:

The arrival of chickens in Greece likely postdates Homer (around the eighth century B.C.E.), because the Greek poet does not mention this bird, but chickens are mentioned by Theognis of Megara in the sixth century.

However, this seems to contradict the fact that Homer mentions a character by the name Alectryon (literally "rooster"). John P. Peters, in his article "The Cock" addresses this issue, after listing numerous greek artifacts depicting roosters (sometimes as sacrificial birds) and dating from the 7th century BC onwards (slightly after the time of Homer). He comes to the conclusion that at the time of Homer the chicken was still relatively uncommon among the Greeks, and perceived as an exotic bird (his considerations on the etymology of the Ancient Greek word for rooster seem a bit outdated, though).

Moreover, in the aforementioned article by Perry-Gal et al., it is stressed that archeological records show that chickens were not commonly used as sources of food until the Hellenistic period, but rather for cockfighting and exotic displays.

This would explain why they do not appear as sacrificial animals in Homer's epics: they were probably not common, considered exotic, and almost certainly not associated with food, in contrast with all the other sacrificial offerings you listed.

To answer your third point, it seems that, while not yet a habit at the time of Homer, sacrificing poultry became quite widespread in Greece before contacts with the Romans. On top of the evidence provided by Peters, see for example this article by Emma Stafford on the practice of sacrificing cocks to Asklepios.

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