Joan Breton Connelly ’76 is probably right about the Parthenon frieze, judging from other ancient instances of child or human sacrifice (Princetonians, Jan. 8). The Iliad mentions Agamemnon sacrificing his daughter in order to obtain favorable winds to invade Troy. When I was a student, I thought this legendary, but I now suspect that there was truth behind this, just as there was a real Trojan War that inspired the Iliad. Archeology is showing that we tend to discount ancient history too much.
Human sacrifice was known among the Druids and among Central American peoples centuries after the Parthenon was built. Earlier, Moses had written about how God spared Isaac and by example showed that human sacrifice is wrong as early as 2000 BC or so. Roughly 14 centuries after Abraham, child sacrifice reappeared in the times of Ahaz and Manasseh of Judah, having been established in the Northern Kingdom earlier. In Sparta children regularly were exposed, and this continued in the Roman Empire after the death of Christ.
Today, methods are different but outcomes are similar. We sacrifice children to our desires instead of to bloodthirsty gods. Our technology enables us to reach into the womb, rather than sacrifice after birth. In many parts of the world, most of those sacrificed are women because of expensive dowries. There are different reasons in the United States and in Europe. But despite technological progress, we as a societal or human whole are uncomfortably like the ancient Greeks, as well as others who practiced child sacrifice. “Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.”