The human scapegoat in ancient greece

The Human Scapegoat in Ancient Greece

Source: Frazer
Source: Frazer

Sir James Frazer was a famous Scottish anthropologist and a classical scholar of the early 20th century. By studying the ancient religion, myth, rituals. Then he explores meanings to the existence of the people living at that time. The ancient Greeks practice a scapegoating ritual in which a cripple or beggar or criminal was cast out of the community either in response to a natural disaster. Such as the plague, famine. The cult of scapegoating can be found in other religion of the world but in the ancient Greece, in order to appease unseen power of divine power people would give a human sacrifice. Every society and culture commonly have a myth of scapegoating. In the antiquity, poor human beings were the scapegoat to get rid of evils. The objectives with which victims were beaten were supposed to have a magical power of the spirit of reproduction. The phenomena of scapegoating are still persisting. The custom of scapegoating has not changed only the object of scapegoating has changed.

Originally a goat that would carry the sins of the people and would be sacrificed whose blood would be believed with to wash the sin the main reason has overcome the troubles. The ancient people would perform the rituals of the scapegoat. The rituals of human scapegoat were very usual in the ancient Greece. Frazer views that it prevented not only in the Greece but it was the usual practice in very every ancient culture.

The ways of scapegoating:

  • Beating- stoning to death
  • Expelling- boycott
  • Killing- thrown into the sea or the river

Either through scarifies or banishment the chosen victim carried the guilt and blamed for the entire population. Historically what was chosen to carries the sins could be an animal, vegetables or mineral. Often and object such as a clay blow, vessel or a boat was ceremoniously filled with the sins and then given back to the sea. Even the victim was a living animal or human it was either scarifies or made to wander and endlessly through the wilderness. The belief was also that on its way back to the wilderness that is away from the village which is so called evil that is carried out would be transferred to the first person, animal or things to touch it.

Sometimes when the victim was not to be slain, such as in ancient Greece the ceremony in acted made use of a cripple or a person with such an obvious deformity that the gods themselves would notice. The burden of sin would be carried upon the back of the poor cripple once again chose to carry the evil from the village. Whose ever touch the beggar would, in turn, get his/ her own comeuppance. Nowadays, the slaughter is only figurative and no such goat or vessel is used. Instead individual or group of individuals carries the sins of the others through their own projection. This is generally and unwitting act, allowing one person to see his/her own shadow side of their personality in terms of another. Even more efficiently, the sin or shadow is carried out by an entire group or nation of individuals. This is how the collective shadow is burn.

In psychological terms, the scapegoat is that person or group of people that is singled out often unwittingly and the unwanted or undesired feeling of that person or group is projected upon the other. As in the ancient custom, this other person or group becomes then the carrier if the unwanted ill for the entire tribe, country, cultural groups etc. The term scapegoat refers to the ways in which blame is shifted onto another for mistakes and behaviors one cannot or will nor accept in oneself. Again psychologically speaking, the danger of this for developing ego is that the personality does not learn to accept its own part in things that go wrong. This, in turn, can lead to a serious passive aggression and other isolating behaviors.

As in any community or country or individual developing ego short term. Solace is gained but the consequences for the for perpetrators of scapegoating will always be a retarded development for both individual and community. As history and psychology teach scapegoating seems not to achieve its desire and end after all. The sins of the father fortunately or not remain with the father. In different culture and religions, people have been still practicing scapegoat rituals. However, human scarifies has been completely stopped nowadays. Once or twice birds like pigeons, cocks, ducks etc are also sacrificed as a scapegoat to relieve family members from any kinds of sins. Even gourd and other vegetables are also sacrificed as a scapegoat. Human beings are made scapegoats at the time when scapegoat maker thinks superstitiously and religiously they would have eternal benefit. Such as when he heard to have a belief that they would be immortal a god. Power is also a dominant factor regarding scapegoating. Rich and powerful people always make common poor people as scapegoats, even for their personal crime. In villages, landlord makes innocent villager as scapegoats.

The custom of sacrificing scapegoat seems to be originated as a precaution of possible calamity, crisis, and danger but the scapegoat was likely to come from the poorer class. Modes of sacrificing scapegoat differ from culture to culture. But the underlined objective r purpose of sacrificing in every culture is same that is a purification of sin. Other objectives of scapegoating were to prevent calamity, disaster, starvation, suffering, tragedy and so on. It was believed that scapegoating helped regain the fertility of the soil and vegetation yielded as expected by husbandmen. Similarly. Practitioners of scapegoating belief that their offer of scapegoat would herald that is to bring something surprise, good fortunes, and happiness. Besides, the tradition of human scapegoating was widely practiced indifference parts of ancient Greece with an aim of everything evil spirit and malignant force. Though rational behind offspring scapegoat cannot be justified, it is deeply rooted in various cultures as an essential part of culture.

The human scapegoat in an ancient Greece tries to analyze the system of scapegoating in then Greece. Such scapegoating is widely found almost all around the world. We know it is also found in the European societies as James Frazer gives many examples. In the same way, we even haves observed some of them such as the homeopathic magic or the scapegoating that some people practice in our society. Such practices of scapegoating are prevalent in each and every society due to the traditional dogmatic thinking to solve their troubles so this custom is still found widespread. We find such customs not only in our country but even in European and American societies. The motive of a scapegoat is mainly centered in the believed that by transferring the corruptions of the tribe to scared animal or person then by killing instances eating these scapegoat, the tribe could achieve the cleansing and purification thought necessary for natural and spiritual rebirth. The ritual of blood sacrifices and purification were considered by ancient people as a magical guarantee of rejuvenation, assurance of life, both vegetable and human. However, the term scapegoat has evolved to refer to individual or people who are symbolically or concretely made to bear responsibility for the faults or problems of others.


Lohani, s. (2012). Western Intellectual Tradition.Kathmandu: M.K. Publishers.

  • The rituals of human scapegoat was very usual in the ancient Greece
  • Power is also dominant factor regarding scapegoating
  • Human beings are made scapegoats at the time when scapegoat maker  thinks superstitiously and religiously
  • Custom of sacrificing scapegoat seems to be originated as precaution of possible calamity, crisis, and danger
  • Modes of sacrificing scapegoat differ from culture to culture



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