The Ancient Library

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On this page: Oracles (continued)



variably the se°--god Apollo, orally revealed his will througu the lips of inspired prophets or prophetesses. The condition of frenzy was produced for the most part by physical influence: the breathing of earthly vapours or drinking of the water of oracular foun­tains. The words spoken whilst in this state were generally fashioned by the priests into a reply to the questions proposed to them. The most famous oracle of this kind was that of Delphi (see delphic oracle). Be­side this there existed in Greece Proper a large number of oracles of Apollo, as at Abse in Phocis, in different places of Bceotia, in Eubcea, and at Argos, where the priestess derived her inspiration from drinking the blood of a lamb, one being killed every month. Not less numerous were the oracles of Apollo in Asia Minor. Among these that of the Didymaean Apollo at Miletus traced its origin to the old family of the Branchidse, the descendants of Apollo's son Branchus. Before its destruction by Xerxes, it came nearest to the reputation of the Del­phian. Here it was a priestess who pro­phesied, seated on a wheel-shaped disc, after she had bathed the hem of her robe and her feet in a spring, and had breathed the steam arising from it. The oracle at Clarus near Colbphon (see manto) was also very ancient. Here a priest, after simply hearing the names and the number of those consulting the oracle, drank of the water of a spring, and then gave answer in verse.

The most respected among the oracles

where prophecy was given by signs was

that of Zeus of Dodona (q.v.), mentioned

as early as Homer [Od. xiv 327 = xix

296], where predictions were made from

the rustling of the sacred oak, and at a

later time from the sound of a brazen

cymbal. Another mode of interpreting by

signs, as practised especially at the temple

of Zeus at Olympia by the lamldse, or

descendants of lamus, a son of Apollo, was

that derived from the entrails of victims

and the burning of the sacrifices on the

altar. There were also oracles connected

with the lot or dice, one especially at the

temple of Heracles at Bura in Achsea; and

prophecies were also delivered at Delphi by

I means of lots, probably only at times when

\ the Pythia was not giving responses. The

j temple of the Egyptian Ammon, who was

I identified with Zeus, also gave oracles by

[ means of signs.

Oracles given in dreams were generally [connected with the temples of Asclepius. iAfter certain preliminary rites, sick per-

sons had to sleep in these temples; the priests interpreted their dreams, and dic­tated accordingly the means to be taken to

| insure recovery. The most famous of these

] oracular shrines of the healing god was the temple at Epidaurus, and next to this the

' temple founded thence at Pergamum in Asia Minor. Equally famous were the similar oracles of the seer Amphlaraus at Oropus, of Trophonius at Lebadea in Boaotia, and of the seers Mopsus and Amphllochus at Mallus in Cilicia (q.v.). In later times such oracles were connected with all sanc­tuaries of Isis and Serapis.

At oracles of the dead (psjjchSmanteia) the souls of deceased persons were evoked in order to give the information desired. Thus

I in Homer [Od. xi] Odysseus betakes himself to the entrance of the lower world to ques­tion the spirit of the seer Tlresias. Oracles of this kind were especially common in places where it was supposed there was an entrance to the lo_wer world; as at the city of Cichyrus in Epirus (where there was an Acherusian lake as well as the rivers of Acheron and Cocytus, bearing the same names as those of the world below), at the promontory of Tsenarum in Laconia, at Hera-clea in Pontus, and at Lake Avernus near Cumse in Italy. At most of them oracles were also given in dreams; but there were some in which the inquirer was in a waking condition when he conjured up the spirits whom he wished to question.

While oracles derived either from dreams or from the dead were chosen in preference by superstitious people, the most important among oral oracles and those given by means of signs had a political significance. On all serious occasions they were questioned on behalf of the State in order to ascertain the divine will: this was especially the case with the oracle of Delphi (see delphic oracle). In consequence of the avarice and partisan­ship of the priests, as well as the increasing decline of belief in the gods, the oracles gradually fell into abeyance, to revive again everywhere under the Roman emperors, though they never regained the political importance they had once had in ancient Greece.

Such investigation of the divine will was originally quite foreign to the romans. I Even the mode of prophecying by means of lots (see sortes), practised in isolated regions of Italy, and even in the immediate neighbourhood of Rome, as at Caere, and especially at Prseneste, did not come into use, at all events for State purposes, and was

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