Porphyry’s Classification of Sacrifices

This translation from Porphyry of Tyre’s Philosophy from Oracles by Ɔ. Martiana (Unhistorize) is taken from a forthcoming eBook from Sartrix Translations, which also contains footnotes on this text.

(1) Following after what has been said concerning piety, we shall record what the gods have proclaimed about their worship, part of which we have already explained in the chapters concerning piety. This is the oracular response of Apollo, containing at the same time a division of the orders of the gods:

(2) Do the work, friend who has entered on the god-given path,
And do not forget to say sacrifices of the blessed ones,
Terrestrial as well as celestial, ether’s
Kings and those of the liquid-pathed air,
As well as all the marine and subterrestrial (gods);
For all things are bound to the fullness of their nature.
What the sacred rule for performing consecration of animals is,
I will sing – and do ye write down my oracle on your tablets –,
Both to the terrestrial and to the celestial gods:
Bright ones for the heavenly, for the terrestrial of kindred color.
Divide the sacrifices for the terrestrial ones when you slay them;
Bury those for the underground (gods), and cast the blood into a trench.
Pour honey for the Nymphs, and Dionysus’ gifts.
And those who always go flying around the earth,
For these fill all the fire-filled altar with gore,
Sacrifice by throwing the bodies of the winged animals into the fire,
And lay on honey mixed with Deo’s flour,
And clouds of frankincense, and sprinkle barley-groats.
And when you come to the sea-shore, pour green sea-water,
And sacrifice from the head, and into the broad wave of the sea
Cast forth the whole animal.

Having completed these all,
Turn to the broad chorus of the aerial and celestial (gods).
So, for the astral and ethereal ones in their entirety,
Let the blood stream from the throats and pool around the sacrifice,
Prepare the limbs in a banquet for the gods,
Give the extremities to Hephaestus, and eat the rest,
Entirely filling with sweet smells
The liquid air.

After these things, breathe forth your prayers.

(3) The sacrifices contain the following method, laid out according to the aforementioned division of the gods. There are subterrestrial and terrestrial gods, and the subterrestrial (gods) are also called underground (gods), and the terrestrial gods are also called chthonic, and he commands (to sacrifice) black four-footed victims for these in common. But he makes a distinction with regard to the manner of sacrifice: he commands to slay (the victims) for the terrestrial ones upon altars, but those for the underworld (gods) over trenches, and moreover to bury the bodies after sacrificing them to these. (4) For that four-footed animals are common to these, he himself added when he was asked:

Only the common (victims) of the terrestrial and subterrestrial (gods)
Are to be four-footed; for the terrestrial, soft limbs of lambs.

He commands to sacrifice birds to the aerial gods, as whole burnt-offerings and letting the blood run round on the altars; and birds to the marine (gods) as well, by casting them into the waves alive, and they are to be black in color. For he says:

For the gods, winged animals, and for the marine (gods), black ones.

(5) Thereby saying that birds are for all gods except the chthonic ones, but that black (birds) are only for the marine gods, and therefore white ones are for the others.

But to the celestial and ethereal ones, (he commands) to sacrifice the extremities of the victims, which are to be white, and to eat the other parts; for you may eat only of these, and not of the others. And those whom he called celestial in his classification, he here calls astral.

(6) Will it be necessary to give an exegesis of the symbolic meanings of the sacrifices, when they are obvious to any intelligent person? Four-footed animals, and animals living on dry land, are for the terrestrial (gods), because like rejoices in like. The terrestrial sheep is dear to Demeter for this reason, and further, the sheep in heaven (=Aries) produces the display of fruits out of the air together with the Sun. They are black, because the earth is dark by nature; (7) and they are (divided into) three, because three is the symbol of the corporeal and the earthly.

To the terrestrial (gods), one must sacrifice high upon altars, because they dwell above the earth; but to the subterrestrial ones, in a trench and in a grave, where they abide.

Birds are for the others, because all things run.

For the water of the sea too is ever-moving, and it is dark: which is why victims of this sort are suitable.

White (victims) are for the aerial (gods); for the air is illuminated because of its translucent nature.

The lighter parts of the animals, which are the extremities, are for celestial and ethereal (gods) We must share the sacrifice with these, because they are the givers of good, while the others are averters of evil.