baringtheaegis:

I first wrote about milk in this post about food in ancient Hellas, in which I stated that the ancient Hellenes considered drinking milk was barbaric. I’ve come back to that statement later, in an answer to someone who asked why it was considered barbaric.

Mostly, the ancient Hellenes considered anything their non-Greek speaking neigbours did ‘barbaric’–and their neighboors drank milk. Peasants drank milk–because hey, precious food–but most likely they used most of the milk they got from their sheep, cows, and goats to make cheese. It’s an old custom to link milk to barbarism, by the way. It’s already in Hómēros’ ’Odysseia’ in which the cyclops that tried to eat Odysseus and his crew drank milk:

“He curdled half the milk and set it aside in wicker strainers, but the other half he poured into bowls that he might drink it for his supper.” [IX]

This observation follows after it’s minutely detailed how the crew ate only cheese and sacrificed only cheese as well. Speaking of sacrifice: milk was also an oft-given gift to the dead. We, generally speaking, avoid eating things we associate with the dead to avoid miasma. So cheese is fine, yoghurt is fine, but milk is not.

The question above is obviously a follow-up to that question, and a logical one. Truthfully, I think that not drinking milk was tied to a multitude of factors and came to be tradition throughout the years. Let’s list a few:

– The ancient Hellenes feared the wild and valued developed society. Part of developed society was the ability to take a raw product and turn it into another. Milk to cheese, barley to bread, grapes to wine, etc. This was most likely a large part of why drinking milk was considered ‘barbaric’–barbaric meant underdeveloped, close to nature, close to the wild nature that the ancient Hellenes feared in themselves.
– Cheese was more expensive that milk, so those who had milk, tended to make cheese out of it to sell. Especially for small farmers and herders, the extra income would be appreciated and drinking the raw product would cut into profit quite a bit.
– Milk is a substance fed to a newborn by a mother. Even in animals, anything connected to birth and death is somewhat tainted; miasmic. This connection is also, partially, Kthonic.
– In the same line: milk was an oft-given gift to the dead, another reason to shy away from it as living human beings.
– As said before: their ‘barbaric’ neighbors drank milk, so the Hellenes, obviously, did not.

The Nymphs and other nature and Khthonic divinities are connected to the wilds, to the rustic landscapes and the purity of the land. Milk is a truly fitting sacrifice to Them as that is exactly what the ancient Hellenes associated it with as well. On top of that, milk is a base product, just like all agricultural products. The two are intrinsically linked. As such, it is not odd that Demeter–the very Goddess connected with these base products, was honoured with milk. Preferred it, even.

Milk was never–if very rarely–sacrificed to the Ouranic Gods, but the Khthonic Gods received it often. These were linked to nature and death, to the basics of human life. The ancient Hellenes sought to evolve themselves and the Ouranic Gods oversaw those processes. Milk was not a part of that. but when the ancient Hellenes honoured the world around them and the deities and spirits that oversaw it, milk was a huge part of the practice.

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