The Golden Bough
Chapter 26. Sacrifice of the King's Son
A POINT to notice about the temporary kings described in the foregoing chapter is that in
two places (Cambodia and Jambi) they come of a stock which is believed to be akin to
the royal family. If the view here taken of the origin of these temporary kingships is
correct, we can easily understand why the king's substitute should sometimes be of the
same race as the king. When the king first succeeded in getting the life of another
accepted as a sacrifice instead of his own, he would have to show that the death of that
other would serve the purpose quite as well as his own would have done. Now it was as a
god or demigod that the king had to die; therefore the substitute who died for him had to
be invested, at least for the occasion, with the divine attributes of the king. This, as we
have just seen, was certainly the case with the temporary kings of Siam and Cambodia;
they were invested with the supernatural functions, which in an earlier stage of society
were the special attributes of the king. But no one could so well represent the king in his
divine character as his son, who might be supposed to share the divine afflatus of his
father. No one, therefore, could so appropriately die for the king and, through him, for the
whole people, as the king's son.
We have seen that according to tradition, Aun or On, King of Sweden, sacrificed nine of
his sons to Odin at Upsala in order that his own life might be spared. After he had
sacrificed his second son he received from the god an answer that he should live so long
as he gave him one of his sons every ninth year. When he had sacrificed his seventh son,
he still lived, but was so feeble that he could not walk but had to be carried in a chair.
Then he offered up his eighth son, and lived nine years more, lying in his bed. After that
he sacrificed his ninth son, and lived another nine years, but so that he drank out of a horn
like a weaned child. He now wished to sacrifice his only remaining son to Odin, but the
Swedes would not allow him. So he died and was buried in a mound at Upsala.
In ancient Greece there seems to have been at least one kingly house of great antiquity of
which the eldest sons were always liable to be sacrificed in room of their royal sires.
When Xerxes was marching through Thessaly at the head of his mighty host to attack the
Spartans at Thermopylae, he came to the town of Alus. Here he was shown the sanctuary
of Laphystian Zeus, about which his guides told him a strange tale. It ran somewhat as
follows. Once upon a time the king of the country, by name Athamas, married a wife
Nephele, and had by her a son called Phrixus and a daughter named Helle. Afterwards he
took to himself a second wife called Ino, by whom he had two sons, Learchus and
Melicertes. But his second wife was jealous of her stepchildren, Phrixus and Helle, and
plotted their death. She went about very cunningly to compass her bad end. First of all
she persuaded the women of the country to roast the seed corn secretly before it was
committed to the ground. So next year no crops came up and the people died of famine.
Then the king sent messengers to the oracle at Delphi to enquire the cause of the dearth.
But the wicked stepmother bribed the messenger to give out as the answer of the god that
the dearth would never cease till the children of Athamas by his first wife had been
sacrificed to Zeus. When Athamas heard that, he sent for the children, who were with the
sheep. But a ram with a fleece of gold opened his lips, and speaking with the voice of a