sparagmos
pronounced spa-rahg-MOS

(The faint of heart or stomach may not want to read on, but...)

The word in Ancient Greek that refers to the ritual disembodiment of a live animal. A tearing, limb from limb. Sparagmos was one element of the primary rite of Dionysiac religion, ecstatic mountain dancing. The second act was omophagia "act of eating raw flesh". The culmination of this rite was an ecstatic frenzy in which the dancers (maenads) tore apart and devoured raw an animal such as a goat or a fawn. These rites were still practiced in various areas in the fifth century and even down into Roman times, but at Athens Dionysus (also spelled Dionysos) was a much tamer god.

In Euripides' Bacchae, King Pentheus seeks to suppress the Dionysian cult with force, but is unable to prevent the women of Thebes from swarming into the mountains, among them his mother Agave and her two sisters. The king has Dionysus arrested, but the god easily frees himself and entices Pentheus to disguise himself as a woman and sneak into the woods to spy on the activities of the raving maenads. Adorned in a long, womanly robe and wearing a wig with long, blond curls, he is led as a victim to the maenads. With their bare hands they tear him limb from limb, his own mother tearing out his arm and shoulder. When the women return to the city, she returns with the head of Pentheus impaled on a stick. Only later, as she comes to her senses, does she realize that activities of the cult have lead to the sparagmos of her own son.

A description of sparagmos from Bacchae (lines 745-746):

... And then you could have seen a single woman with bare hands,
tear a fat calf, still bellowing with fright,
in two, while others clawed the heifers to pieces.
There were ribs and cloven hooves scattered everywhere,
and scraps smeared with blood hung from fir trees.
And bulls, their ranging fury gathered in their horns,
lower their heads to charge, then fell, stumbling
to the earth, pulled down by hordes of women
and stripped of flesh and skin more quickly, sire,
than you could blink your royal eyes.

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