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The belief that the decrees of the divine will were occasionally revealed by the deity himself, or could be discovered by certain individuals, is one which the classical nations of antiquity had, in common with many other nations, before the attainment of a certain degree of intellectual cultivation. In early ages such a belief was natural, and perhaps founded on the feeling of a very close connection between man, God, and nature. But in the course of time, when men became more acquainted with the laws of nature, this belief was abandoned, at least by the more enlightened minds, while the multitudes still continued to adhere to it; and the governments, seeing the advantages to be derived from it, not only countenanced, but encouraged and supported it.
The seers or judi/rets, who, under the direct influence of the gods, chiefly that of Apollo, announced the future, seem originally to have been connected with certain places where oracles were given ; but in subsequent times they formed a distinct class of persons, independent of any locality ; one of them is Calchas in the Homeric poems. Apollo, the god of prophecy, was generally the source from which the seers, as well as other diviners, derived their knowledge. In many families of seers the inspired knowledge of the future was considered to be hereditary, and to be transmitted from father to son. To these families belonged the lamids (Paus. iii. 11. § 5, &c. ; Bbckh, ad Find. Ol. vi. p. 152), who from Olympia spread over a considerable part of Greece ; the Branchidae, near Miletus (Conon, 33) ; the Eumolpids, at Athens and Eleusis ; the Clytiads (Paus. vi. 17. § 4), the Telliads (Herod, viii. 27 ; Paus. x. 1. § 4, &c. ; Herod, ix. 37), the Acarnanian seers, and others. Some of these families retained their celebrity till a very late period of Grecian history. The manteis made their revelations either when requested to do so on important emergencies, or they made them spontaneously whenever they thought it necessary, either to prevent some calamity or to stimulate their countrymen to something beneficial. The civil government of Athens not only tolerated, but protected and honoured them ; and Cicero (De Divinat. i. 43) says, that the manteis were present in all the public assemblies of the Athenians. . (Compare Aristoph. Pax, 1025, with the Schol. ; Nub. 325, &c. and the Schol. ; Lycurg. c. Leocrat. p. 196.) Along with the seers we may also mention the Bacides and the Sibyllae. Both existed from a very remote time, and were distinct from the manteis so far as they pretended to derive their knowledge of the future from sacred books (xp'no'f^oi) which they consulted, and which were in some places, as at Athens and Rome, kept by *the government or some especial officers, in the acropolis and in the most revered sanctuary. Bacis was, according to Pausanias (x. 12. § 6 ; compare with iv. 27. § 2), in Boeotia a general name for a man inspired by nymphs. The Scholiast on Aristophanes (Pax^ 1009) and Aelian (V.H. xii. 35) mention three original Bacides, one of Eleon in Boeotia, a second of Athens, and a third of Caphys in Arcadia. (Compare Aristoph. Equit. 123, 998, Aves, 963 ; Clem. Alex. Strom. i. 398.) From these three Bacides all others were said to be descended, and to have derived their name. Antichares (Herod.
v. 43), Mu.saeus (Herod, vii. 6), Euclous of Cyprus (Paus. x. 12. § 6), and Lycus, son of Pandion (Paus. I. c.), probably belonged to the Bacides. The Sibyllae were prophetic women, probably of Asiatic origin, whose peculiar custom seems to have been to wander with their sacred books from place to place. (Liv. i. 7.) Aelian ( V. H. xii. 35) states that, according to some authors, there were four Sibyllae, — the Erythraean, the Samian, the Egyptian, and the Sardinian ; but that others added six more, among whom there was one called the Cumaean, and another called the Jewish Sibylla. Compare Suidas (s. v. 2i£i/AAc«), and Pausanias (x. 12), who has devoted a whole chapter to the Sibyllae, in which, however, he does not clearly distinguish between the Sibyllae properly so called, and other women who travelled about and made the prophetic art their profession, and who seem to have been very numerous in all parts of the ancient world. (Clem. Alex. Strom. i. 319.) The Sibylla whose books gained so great an importance at Rome, was, according to Varro (ap. Lactant. i. 6), the Er3rthraean: the books which she was said to have sold to one of the Tarquins, were carefully concealed from the public, and only accessible to the duumvirs. The early existence of the Sibyllae is not as certain as that of the Bacides ; but in some legends of a late date, they occur even in the period previous to the Trojan war, and it is not improbable that at an early period every town in Greece had its prophecies by some Bacis or Sibylla, (Pans. I. c,) They seem to have retained their celebrity down to the time of Antiochus and Demetrius. (Sec Niebuhr, Hist, of Rome, i. p. 503, &c.)
Besides these more respectable prophets and prophetesses, there were numbers of diviners of an inferior order (xpTJ^oAtfyoj), who made it their business to explain all sorts of signs, and to tell fortunes. They were, however, more particularly popular with the lower orders, who are everywhere most ready to believe what is most marvellous and least entitled to belief. This class of diviners, however, does not seem to have existed until a comparatively late period (Thucyd. ii. 21; Aristoph. Aves9 897, Pax, 986,1034, &c.), and to have been looked upon, even by the Greeks themselves, as nuisances to the public.
These soothsayers lead us naturally to the mode of divination, of which such frequent use was made by the ancients in all the affairs of public and private life, and which chiefly consisted in the interpretation of numberless signs and phenomena, No public undertaking of any consequence was ever entered upon by the Greeks and Romans without consulting the will of the gods, by observing the signs which they sent, especially those in the sacrifices offered for the purpose, and by which they were thought to indicate the success or the failure of the undertaking. For this kind of divination no divine inspiration was thought necessary, but merely experience and a certain knowledge acquired by routine ; and although in some cases priests were appointed for the purpose of observing and explaining signs [AuGUR; haruspex], yet on any sudden emergency, especially in private affairs, any one who met with something extraordinary, might act as his own interpreter. The principal signs by which the gods were thought to declare their will, were things connected with the offering of sacrifices, the flight ard voice of birds,