In her classic study of Greek Mythology, Edith Hamilton suggests that certain myths reflect an ancient tradition of human sacrifice. Some comely member of a community might be given to the Gods, she says, likely at times when harvests were failing and the land had become barren. I am interested in her assertion that it was a person of great beauty who would be sacrificed. There are similar ideas in other religious traditions. For example, in her study of sacrifice in ancient Israel, Mary Douglas says that animals offered to God had to be good examples of what they are. A good goat must be offered; to sacrifice a crippled or otherwise flawed goat would be an abomination.
The underlying idea here is that flawless creatures are both closer to divinity and the most likely scapegoats when things aren’t going so well. I think of this often when I’m standing in the supermarket checkout line and reviewing the latest headlines from the tabloids: an actress who has gained weight and looks grotesque in an inappropriate swimsuit, claims that dashing leading men are abusive or involved in clandestine gay relationships, divorces, rehab, etc. We all are fascinated by the beauty and life of celebrities, and even more intrigued by their delicious falls from grace. Details change a bit, but essentially it’s the same story, week after week, year after year.