is, according to Cicero (de Divinat.
1.1, 1), a presentiment and a knowledge
of future things; or, according to Chrysippus (Cic. de
2.63, 130), a power in man which foresees and
explains those signs which the gods throw in his way, and the diviner must
therefore know the disposition of the gods towards men, the import of their
signs, and the means whereby the indications given by these signs are to be
dealt with. According to this latter definition, the meaning of the Latin
is narrower than that of the
inasmuch as the latter
signifies any means by which the decrees of the gods can be discovered, the
natural as well as the artificial; that is to say, the seers and the
oracles, where the will of the gods is revealed by inspiration, as well as
in the sense of Chrysippus. In
the one, man is the passive medium through which the deity reveals the
future while, in the other, man discovers it by his own skill or experience,
without any pretension to inspiration. As, however, the seer or vates
was also frequently called divinus,
we shall treat, under this head, of seers as well as
of other kinds of divinatio.
The subject of
oracles is discussed in a separate article. [ORACULUM
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 connexion 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
The seers or μάντεις,
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
Iamids (Paus. 3.11.5
, &c.; Boeckh,
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. 6.17.4
Telliads (Hdt. 8.27
, &c.; Hdt. 9.37
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.
1.43, 95) says, that the manteis
were present in all the public assemblies of the
Athenians. (Compare Aristoph. Peace
, 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
far as they pretended to derive their knowledge of the future from sacred
) 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 [p. 1.646]
; compare with 4.27.2), in Boeotia a
general name for a man inspired by nymphs. The Scholiast on Aristophanes
(Aristoph. Peace 1009
) and Aelian
(Ael. VH 12.35
) mention three original
Bacides,--one of Eleon in Boeotia, a second of Athens, and a third of Caphys
in Arcadia. (Compare Aristoph. Kn. 123
963; Clem. Alex. Strom.
1.398.) From these
three Bacides all others were said to be descended, and to have derived
their name. Antichares (Hdt. 5.43
), Euclous of Cyprus (Paus. 10.12.6
), and Lycus, son of Pandion
), 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. 1.7
.) Aelian (Ael. VH 12.35
) 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.
), and Pausanias (10.12
), 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.
1.319.) The Sibylla whose books gained so great an importance at Rome, was,
according to Varro (ap. Lactant. 1.6), the Erythraean: 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. (Paus. l.c.
They seem to have retained their celebrity down to the time of Antiochus and
Demetrius. (See Niebuhr, Hist. of Rome,
i. p. 503,
Besides these more respectable prophets and prophetesses, there were numbers
of diviners of an inferior order (χρησμολόγοι
), 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 (Thuc. 2.21
; Aristoph. Birds 897
1034, &c.), and to have been looked upon, even by the Greeks
themselves, as nuisances to the public.
The second or artistic kind of divination consisted in the interpretation of
signs and phenomena. 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 and voice of birds, all kinds of natural phenomena, ordinary as well
as extraordinary, and dreams.
The interpretation of signs of the first class (ἱερομαντεία
or ars haruspicina
), was, according to Aeschylus
492, &c.), the invention of Prometheus. It
seems to have been most cultivated by the Etruscans, among whom it was
raised into a complete science, and from whom it passed to the Romans.
Sacrifices were either offered for the special purpose of consulting the
gods, or in the ordinary way; but in both cases the signs were observed,
and, when they were propitious, the sacrifice was said καλλιερεῖν.
The principal points that were generally
observed were: 1. The manner in which the victim approached to the altar,
whether uttering a sound or not; the former was considered a favourable omen
in the sacrifice at the Panionium. (Strab. viii.
; compare Paus. 4.32.3
The nature of the intestines with respect to their colour and smoothness
493, &c.; Eurip.
833); the liver and bile were of particular
] 3. The nature of the flame which consumed the sacrifice (see
Eur. Phoen. 1261
); hence the words
πυρομαντεία, ἔμπυρα σήματα, φλογωπὰ
That the smoke rising from the altar, the libation, and
various other things offered to the gods, were likewise considered as a
means through which the will of the gods might be learned, is clear from the
names καπνομαντεία, λιβανομαντεία,
and others. Especial care was also taken during a
sacrifice, that no inauspicious or frivolous words were uttered by any of
the bystanders: hence the admonitions of the priests, εὐφημεῖτε
and others; for improper
expressions were not only thought to pollute and profane the sacred act, but
to be unlucky omens (δυσφημία, κλῃδόνες, φῆμαι,
Pind. O. 6.112
The art of interpreting signs of the second class was called οἰωνιστική,
It was, like the former, common to Greeks and Romans,
but was never developed into so complete a system by the former as by the
latter; nor did it ever attain the same degree of importance in Greece as it
did at Rome. [AUGUR
] The Greeks,
when observing the flight of birds, turned their face towards the north, and
then a bird appearing to the right (east), especially an eagle, a heron, or
a falcon, was a favourable sign (Hom. Il.
, Od. 15.524
); while birds appearing to the
left (west) were considered as unlucky signs. (Hom. Il. 12.201
s. v. Sinistrae Aves.
) Sometimes the mere
appearance of a bird was thought sufficient: thus the Athenians always
considered the appearance of an owl as a lucky sign; hence the proverb,
“the owl is out,” i. e. we have good luck. Other animals
appearing unexpectedly, especially to travellers on their road (ἐνόδια σύμβολα
), were also thought ominous;
and at Athens it was considered a very unlucky omen, when a weasel appeared
during the assembly of the people. [p. 1.647]
（Aristoph. Eccl. 793
.) Superstitions of
this kind are still met with in several European countries. Various other
means were used to ascertain the will of the gods, such as the σιδηρομαντεία,
or divination by placing straws
on red-hot iron; the μολυβδομαντεία,
observing the figures which melted lead formed; the βοτανομαντεία,
or divination by writing one's own name on
herbs and leaves, which were then exposed to the wind, &c.
Of greater importance than the appearance of animals, at least to the Greeks,
were the phenomena in the heavens, particularly during any public
transaction. They were not only observed and interpreted by private
individuals in their own affairs, but by the public magistrates. The Spartan
ephors, as we learn from Plutarch (Plut. Ages.
), made regular observations in the heavens every ninth year during
the night; and the family of the Pythaistae, of Athens, made similar
observations every year before the theoris set sail for Delos.
2.2.14.) Among the unlucky
phenomena in the heavens (διοσημεῖα,
) were thunder and lightning (Aristoph. Eccl. 793
; Eustath. ad
Hom. Od. 20.104
), an eclipse of the sun or
moon (Thuc. 7.50
), earthquakes (Xen. Hell. 4.7.4
), rain of blood, stones,
milk, &c. (Hom. Il. 11.53
&c.; Cic. de Divinat.
1.43). Any one of
these signs was sufficient at Athens, as well as at Rome, to break up the
assembly of the people. (Schömann, de Comit. Ath.
146, &c. transl.) In common life, things apparently of no
importance, when occurring at a critical moment, were thought by the
ancients to be signs sent by the gods, from which conclusions might be drawn
respecting the future. Among these common occurrences we may mention
sneezing (Hom. Od. 17.561
, with the note of
Eustath. Xen. Anab. 3.2
, § 9 ;
13; Ovid, Ov. Ep.
; Propert. 2.2, 33), twinkling of
the eyes (Theocrit. 3.37; Plaut. Pseud.
1.2, 105; compare
), tingling of the ears, and numberless other
things which we cannot here enumerate. Some of them have retained their
significance with the superstitious multitude down to the present day.
The art of interpreting dreams (ὀνειροπολία
), which had probably been introduced into Europe
from Asia, where it is still a universal practice, seems in the Homeric age
to have been held in ,high esteem; for dreams were said to be sent by Zeus.
(Hom. Il. 1.63
, ii. init.;
4.841, 19.457.) In subsequent times, that class of diviners who
occupied themselves with the interpretation of dreams, seems to have been
very numerous and popular; but they never enjoyed any protection from the
state, and were only resorted to by private individuals. Some persons are
said to have gained their livelihood by this profession. (Plut. Arist. 27
.) Respecting the oracles
which were obtained by passing a night and dreaming in a temple, see ORACULUM
For further information concerning the art of divination in general, see
Cicero's work de Divinatione.
of the Greeks is treated of at some
length by Wachsmuth (Hellen. Alterth.
2.2, p. 259,
&c., vol. ii. p. 585, 2nd edit.). Compare Thirlwall's Hist.
i. p. 206, &c.
The word divinatio
was used in a particular
manner by the Romans as a law-term, which requires some explanation. If in
any case two or more accusers came forward against one and the same
individual, it was, as the phrase ran, decided by
who should be the chief or real accuser, whom the others
then joined as subscriptores; i. e. by putting their names to the charge
brought against the offender. This transaction, by which one of several
accusers was selected to conduct the accusation, was called divinatio,
as the question here was not about facts,
but about something which was to be done, and which could not be found out
by witnesses or written documents; so that the judices had, as it were, to
divine the course which they had to take. (Ascon. in
Cic. Divinat. in Coec.
p. 99, ed.
Orelli.) Hence the oration of Cicero in which he tries to show that he, and
not Q. Caecilius Niger, ought to conduct the accusation against Verres, is
called Divinatio in Caecilium.
Cf. cc. 15 and
20 of the oration, and Gellius, 2.4