). In the vast and varied system
of practical religion which prevailed in Greece, oracles took the foremost
place. An oracle, in the sense in which the word is here used, is some
special locality supposed to be chosen by a supernatural power (god, hero,
or shade of the dead) as an abode from which he might give answers to his
worshippers. (The answer itself is also known as an oracle,
alike in Greek, Latin, and English.)
Difficult as it is to trace the exact steps by which the oracular system of
Greece was formed, it is not difficult to see the general causes which
produced it. The Greeks were, excepting the Hebrews, the most sincerely
religious race of antiquity; but they differed from the Hebrews in this,
that their imaginative powers were far more vivid, but their moral sense was
less strong. Hence, while the deep connexion of religion and morality
increases steadily in the Greek mind from Homer through Aeschylus and Pindar
to Socrates, it is always overshadowed by a set of feelings and conceptions
which had not a moral but a naturalistic origin. The early Pelasgian (to
take the most ancient of the Greek races) would look with a mixture of
trembling and inquiry upon the great features of nature which surrounded
him,--the mountains, the rivers, the woods; and while he instinctively
personified the rowers inherent in these (even before they had well-defined
names) and deprecated their anger, he would naturally think that their will
was ascertainable through some external feature, motion or sound, especially
through any that might be more than usually subtle and recondite. Places of
impressive aspect would be to him centres of religious awe. The two most
ancient and powerful of the Greek oracles, Dodona and Delphi, were
unquestionably created by the operation of this feeling; and it will [p. 2.278]
be well to begin with an account of these two,
before approaching those of later origin and inferior importance.
The Oracle of Dodona in Epirus.
--Here Zeus himself, the
supreme god, was believed to give messages to men through the rustling of
the leaves of a lofty oak. We must suppose something notable in the special
tree; but the region round about Dodona, besides being mountainous, is said
to be the most stormy in the whole of Europe (Mommsen,
p. 4), and would be calculated to excite the
primitive feelings of the supernatural in a high degree.
We can trace the oracle of Dodona up to a time of extreme primitiveness,
when, it is probable, no other oracle existed in Greece, and before any of
the refinements of experimental divination had been systematised. It is
first mentioned in one of the most touching passages in Homer, that in which
Achilles, before sending out his friend Patroclus to the battle, prays for
his safe return. The invocation runs as follows (Hom. Il. 16.233
Ζεῦ ἄνα, Δωδωναῖε, Πελασγικέ, τηλόθι ναίων,
Δωδώνης μεδέων δυσχειμέρον. ἀμφὶ δὲ Σελλοὶ
σοὶ ναίουσ᾽ ὑποφῆται ἀνιπτόποδες, χαμαιεῦναι:
“O king Zeus, Dodonaean and Pelasgian, thou who dwellest afar off,
ruler of Dodona the place of wintry storms; and round about thee the
Selli thy interpreters dwell, they of unwashed feet, whose couch is on
the bare ground . . . . .” Achilles, it is plain, addresses Zeus
in these terms because he was believed to stand in a nearer relation to men
at Dodona, through his oracle, than elsewhere; but also the passage appears
to intimate a difference between the Zeus of Dodona and that more familiar
Zeus who quarrelled with Hera on Olympus. And we have other reasons for
thinking that the Zeus whom the Pelasgi worshipped in those remote times was
something far vaguer than the Zeus of Homer. In the first place, we have the
distinct affirmation of Herodotus (2.52
“In early times the Pelasgi, as I know by information which I got
at Dodona, offered sacrifices of all kinds, and prayed to the gods, but
had no distinct names or appellations for them, since they had never
heard of any.” Herodotus goes on to say that the names of the
gods were introduced from Egypt, and that the oracle of Dodona sanctioned
their use; statements which are open to criticism. In the next place, Zeus
at Dodona was worshipped under a peculiar name, Zeus Naïus
), the exact meaning of which
is uncertain; and with him was worshipped a goddess, Dione, whose name (as
Bouché--Leclercq suggests) is probably the feminine of Zeus. When
the worship of Dione was introduced, we do not know; the first mention of it
appears to be in Demosthenes (c. Meid.
p. 531.53; de
p. 437.299): but Strabo (vii.
) tells us that she had a common temple with Jupiter; the
researches of Carapanos at Dodona show that votive tablets were dedicated to
her jointly with Zeus; and the meaning of her name and antiquity of her
worship are testified by the two quaint verses ascribed by Pausanias (10.12.5
) to the early priestesses of Dodona:
Ζεὺς ἦν, Ζεύς ἐστι, Ζεὺς ἔσσεται, ὦ μεγάλε Ζεῦ.
Γᾶ καρποὺς ἀνίει, διὸ κλῄζετε μητέρα γαῖαν.
Though Dione is not mentioned here, it is difficult not to think that she is
identical with the earth (γᾶ
) mentioned in
the second line; and if so, Zeus and Dione are symbolical of heaven and
We may then in all probability look upon the oracle at Dodona, in its
original form, as. dedicated to a Zeus who symbolised, simply,. Heaven, and
the power that dwells therein; and either from the first, or at all events
at a very early date, a goddess symbolising the Earth, Dione, was associated
with him. Such a worship must have been very different from the elaborate
mythology which afterwards prevailed; and it will be observed that the
ceremonial described by Homer is no less simple and primitive. The
interpreters of Zeus are the “Selli with unwashed feet, whose couch is
on the bare ground;” and if one is to take the account in the
Odyssey as not far removed in time from that in the Iliad, we must suppose
that they listened, as they lay, to the rustling of the oak-leaves; for in
that poem (14.327-8, 19.296-7) Ulysses is said (in a feigned story) to have
gone to Dodona to hear the counsel of Zeus “out of the lofty foliaged
τόν δ᾽ ἐς Δωδώνην φάτο βήμεναι, ὄφρα θεοῖο
ἐκ δρυὸς ὑψικόμοιο Διὸς βουλὴν ἐπακούσαι.
Further, these Selli appear to have been originally not a caste of priests,
but a tribe: Aristotle (Meteor.
1.14) speaks of them as such,
and brings them into close connexion with the original Hellenes. It is
therefore probable that they are the same as the Helli mentioned by Pindar,
and that their district in those early times was called Hellopia; for
“at the end of Hellopia,” says Hesiod (Fragm. ap.
1169), “is the city
of Dodona, which Zeus chose to be his oracular seat, and where he lived
in the trunk of an oak-tree (ψηγοῦ
So far the accounts of Dodona testify to a native origin, and to great
rudeness of character. But the next step in its history brings it into
contact with a foreign country; namely, Egypt. Herodotus, who gives the
account referred to (2.54-57), professes it to be a narrative of the foundation
of the oracle. Few will think this
probable: but it may very well mark a period when the oracle received a more
systematic form, and, above all, when the institution of priestesses began.
These are not mentioned by Homer; and though they might have risen from a
native source, there is no improbability in their foreign derivation. The
priests at the Egyptian Thebes, then, told Herodotus that “two of the
sacred women were once carried off from Thebes by the Phoenicians, and
they had learnt that one of them had been sold into Libya and the other
into Greece; and these women were the first founders of the oracles in
the two countries.” The Dodonaean story, also told to Herodotus,
is the exact counterpart of the above, except that the women are represented
as doves. “Two black doves,” said the priestesses of Dodona,
“flew away from the Egyptian Thebes, and, while one directed its
flight to Libya, the other came hither: she alighted on an oak, and
sitting there began to speak with a human voice, and said that on the
spot where she was, there should
henceforth be an oracle of Zeus . . . . The dove which flew to Libya
bade the Libyans to establish there the oracle of Ammon.” The
correspondence between these narratives, current in localities so distant
from one another as the Egyptian Thebes and Dodona, is too great to have
come by chance; and when we find from Strabo (vii. Fragm.
and 2) that the words for “old woman” and for
“dove” in the Molossian language are similar, and from
171-2) and Pausanias (10.12.5
) that the priestesses at Dodona were
actually called “doves,” all objection to the Dodonaean story,
on the ground of the seeming miracles, surely vanishes. And it is a further
confirmation that Herodotus (2.57
) tells us that
the Dodonaean oracle resembled in character that at Thebes; to which may be
added that Strabo (vii. Fragm.
1) tells us that the oracles
of Dodona and Ammon were similar. Moreover, the quaint verses of the
Dodonaean priestesses, quoted above from Pausanias, must remind us (longo intervallo
) of the celebrated inscription on
the temple of the veiled Isis.
It will then appear that at a certain early period of the Dodonaean oracle,
an important change took place owing to Egyptian influence; a change which
at any rate involved the appointment of priestesses. It is possible that the
worship of Dione was introduced at the same period, and so Strabo seems to
imply (vii. p. 329): but this is altogether uncertain. When priestesses were
once introduced as ministrants of the oracle, the male interpreters of the
divine will sank into the background. Sophocles indeed
1167) speaks of the Selli: but the passage applies to
Herodotus seems to have met with none; and they are ignored by Plato
244 B). Strabo, however (ix. p. 402), tells us
that, owing to a certain tragical occurrence, men and not women communicated
the divine messages to Boeotians; though all other nations received them
from the priestesses. At the same time the priestesses were under the
control of a council of men; and Carapanos has found at Dodona inscriptions
bearing the name and title of the president (ναίαρχος
) of this council, and of one of its officers (προστάτης
). (Carapanos, Dodone,
pp. 50, 56.) Strabo tells us that the priests
referred to by Homer were called τομοῦροι,
and that some affirmed this to be the true reading in Hom. Od. 16.403
, in place of θέμιστες.
Certain changes in the method of divination employed by this oracle must now
be noted. The original method was by the interpretation of sounds (viz. the
rustling of leaves); but in Plato's time we find (Plat.
244 B) that the priestesses, like those at Delphi,
prophesied in a state of divine frenzy. This might be a direct imitation of
Delphi; but the imitation would probably be disguised by an intermediate
stage, dream-inspiration. Lycophron tells us (ap. Eustath. ad
16.233) that this mode of divination existed at Dodona; and
it would be quite natural for the priests or priestesses to listen to their
rustling oak-tree by preference at night (and Homer's word χαμαιεῦναι
suggests this). Again, we learn from
1.43, 76) that divination by
lots was practised at Dodona; it was an ill omen, he tells us, for the
Spartans before Leuctra, that a monkey overturned the vessel in which were
the lots that they had sent to the oracle. In later times brazen vessels
were used to produce sounds of prophetic import: a circle of such vessels
was suspended, which being moved by the wind struck against one another: for
the same purpose a present was made by the Corcyraeans of a metal basin with
a statue of a man placed over it, in the hand of which was a brazen scourge
of three thongs, from which small bones (ἀστράγαλοι
) were suspended, which being moved by the wind
struck against the basin. (Steph. Byz. s. v. Δωδώνη:
Suidas, s. v. Δωδωναῖον
ii. p. 830; Strabo,
3.) This “Corcyraean scourge” was
seen in the early part of the 2nd century B.C. by Polemon the geographer
(cf. L. Preller, Polemonis periegetae fragmenta,
At a still later date we have mention of a marvellous fountain at Dodona,
which kindled torches when applied to it, and whose murmurings had also a
prophetic quality (Plin. Nat. 2.228
; Serv. ad Aen. 3.466
No mention has been made above of a mode of divination which, in times when
Dodona had fallen into decay, was thought to have been formerly practised
there; namely, by the observation of the flight of doves. Dionysius of
Halicarnassus (1.15) mentions this; as also Strabo (vii.
1), who however regards it as a misinterpretation of
the fact that the priestesses were called “doves.” And a
misinterpretation it was, no doubt, and one which would very naturally be
caused by the original narrative of the foundation of the oracle in
Herodotus; or by the expression δισσῶν
in Soph. Trach. 172
But it had a hold on the imagination of the Roman poets, which was increased
by the fact that Dione, spoken of by Homer as the mother of Aphrodite (Il. 5.371
), was afterwards identified with
Aphrodite herself (Theocr. Idyll.
7.116; Ovid. Art.
3.3, 769; Fast.
to whom doves were particularly sacred, whence Servius (Serv. ad Aen. 3.466
) actually speaks of
the oracle as dedicated “Jovi et Veneri,” and in the Clementine
Homilies (4.16, 5.13) Dodone is used as synonymous with Aphrodite. But all
these are late and inaccurate representations, and receive no support
whatever from any author contemporary with the period when the oracle was
A curious phrase may here be mentioned, with which Ephorus (ap. Macr.
5.18, 8) tells us the oracles
emanating from Dodona always terminated--“Sacrifice to
Achelous:” the origin and exact meaning of the injunction is unknown.
Dodona, though the most ancient of the oracles (as Hdt.
says, and as everything leads us to believe) was of course
very inferior in political importance to Delphi, during the historical
period. Croesus consulted it (Hdt. 1.46
), but was
dissatisfied with its answer. The Athenians were unfortunately encouraged by
it in their Sicilian expedition (Paus. 8.11.6
Suidas, s. v. Ἀννίβας
). On the other
hand, it proved itself incorruptible to the bribes of Lysander, when he
wished to make himself king of Sparta (Plut. Lysand.
); and it
may be [p. 2.280]
that Delphi had shown itself less
scrupulous (though it also is said to have refused the bribe), for we find
that Agesilaus, when meditating his expedition into Asia, gave a most marked
preference to Dodona over Delphi (Plut. Apophth. Lacon.
10). Demosthenes in the Meidias
appeals to the two as equal authorities; in the de Falsâ
(l.c.), however, he refers to Zeus and Dione, but not
to Apollo. We read of honours paid by the Athenians to the oracle of Dodona
at a still later date (Hyperid. pro Euxenippo,
35). The discoveries of Carapanos prove that the official documents of the
Epirotic assembly were kept in the temple of Dodona (Dodone,
pp. 48-68). But in B.C. 219, Dorimachus, the Aetolian
general, razed the temple to the ground, and in B.C. 167 the Roman general
Paulus Aemilius devastated and ruined Epirus. The oracle never recovered
these blows. Seneca (Herc. Oet.
1623) speaks of it as
deserted. Hadrian appears from the inscriptions to have been a benefactor to
Dodona (Carapanos, op. cit.
p. 171), and probably
even rebuilt the temple; but the restoration, to judge both from probability
and from the testimony of Lucian (Icaromen.
24), had little
vitality; and the oracle may be said to have died under the destructive
invasion of Dorimachus.
The actual site of Dodona, which long had been unknown, was discovered in the
year 1876 by a Greek explorer, Il. Constantin Carapanos, in the valley of
the Tcharacovitza, about eleven miles south-west of the town and lake of
Janina. Bp. Chr. Wordsworth, however, had already fixed upon the same spot
p. 249). The foundations of the temple and of
the sacred enclosure were laid bare; and numerous inscriptions on leaden
tablets render this one of the most important antiquarian discoveries ever
made. Out of the mass of the votive tablets one inscription of more than
ordinary historical interest may be quoted here: that in which the
distracted Corcyraeans beg the oracle to tell them “to what god or
hero they must pray and sacrifice, in order to agree together for the
It will suffice just to mention the fact that a line of Homer (Hom. Il. 2.750
) mentions another Dodona in
Thessaly, which has been by some supposed to be the original of the Epirotic
oracle. The supposition, however, is otherwise entirely unsupported, and may
be discarded without any great risk of error.
Special works on Dodona are given at the end of this article.
The Oracle of Delphi.
The site of Delphi--the victorious rival of Dodona, and the centre of
Greek religion--has never been in the same doubt as the site of Dodona.
The remains have never been so completely covered; and the natural
features of the place--the rocky wall of the Phaedriades overhanging the
town, the fountain of Castalia issuing from a great cleft in this wall,
the double peak in which the rocks culminate, and the Corycian cave on
the heights above leading to the summit of Parnassus--are too striking
and have been too well described by ancient authorities for their
identity to be mistaken. But for a complete account of the geography of
Delphi reference must be made to the Dictionary of Greek and
Anyone who considers the position of Delphi in relation to the
Peloponnesus, Boeotia, and Attica, will see how great an advantage it
had in its situation; which, without being absolutely under the rule of
any of the chief Greek states, was yet at no great distance from any of
them, and was at once isolated and accessible.
If the Iliad were to be taken as a poem composed in its entirety as it
stands, we should be compelled to say that Delphi was at least as
ancient as even Dodona. For in the ninth book, vv.
404-5, Achilles speaks of it, under the name of Pytho, as a
proverb for wealth; he would not barter his life, he says, for all that
is contained within the stone threshold of Apollo at Pytho: “
οὐδ̓ ὅσα λάϊνος οὐδὸς ἀφήτορος ἐντὸς ἐέργει
Φοίβου Ἀπόλλωνος Πυθοῖ ἐνὶ πετρηέσσῃ.
It is impossible that such wealth can have arisen in any other way but
that in which history tells us that the temple of Delphi did grow rich;
namely, by the gifts of those who consulted the oracle. Hence the oracle
of Delphi was in full vigour when the ninth book of the Iliad was
written. But that book was probably not part of the original Iliad; the
arguments of Grote on this point (Hist. of Greece,
ii. pp. 240-246) are almost impossible to controvert. (See also Jebb,
pp. 155-170.) And if Apollo, when the greater
part of the Iliad was written, had been so distinctly the Pythian god as
the 9th book implies that he was, it is scarcely possible that more
trace of the connexion should not be found in the poem. It is true that
in the Odyssey (8.79
)-82) there is one
mention of the Pythian oracle; but the passage is no doubt later than
the Iliad generally, and may be much later. On the whole, in spite of
the assumption of the tragedians that the Delphic oracle was the source
of spiritual guidance to Greece from the remotest past, the probability
is that it was still in its infancy when the greater part of the Iliad
was written. It must be particularly noticed that the word Delphi does
not occur either in the Iliad or in the Odyssey.
To trace the rise of the oracle is a problem of equal interest and
difficulty. The persistent tradition among the Greeks was, that it had
first been an oracle of the Earth (γαῖαψα
): so say Aeschylus (Eumen.
1, 2) and
Euripides; the latter even speaking of a certain conflict for possession
between Earth and Apollo (Iph. in T.
1261-1283). It is clear how the rocky chasm at Delphi, in which the
oracle was believed to reside, would suggest the notion of Earth as a
supernatural power; and though it may be less clear to us why a close
association should have been thought to exist between Earth and Themis
(i. e. Law or Right Order), as Aeschylus (l.c.,
and compare Prom.
209) intimates, still there is a
meaning in such alliance. In those dim early ages, the divine agent
would receive various names, as chance or the character of the speaker
might direct; and hence we may consider it a part of the same tradition,
that Night (Νὺξ
) was sometimes thought
to take the place of Earth. (Plut. de Sera Numinis
) But how and why did the transition from
these vague powers to the [p. 2.281]
and radiant god, Apollo, take place? It would be idle to affirm
positively; but it seems better here to desert our oldest authority,
Aeschylus, who (Eumen.
6, 7) makes a certain Titaness,
Phoebe, the intermediary; which sounds like a poetical contrivance.
There is really more support for, and more probability in, the view
which regards Poseidon as the intermediary. This is practically affirmed
by Pausanias (10.5.3
, and 24.4), by Pliny
), and others; the mention
of Poseidon in connexion with Delphi by Aeschylus (Eumen.
27) and Euripides (Eur. Ion 446
strength to this view; still more does the fact that he had an altar in
the Delphic temple itself (Pausan. l.c.
); and it
is plain how Poseidon in his quality of Earthshaker (ἐννοσίγαιος
) would naturally be thought of
as a more personal power than the abstract Earth, especially as the
region about Parnassus suffers from earthquakes. The proximity of the
sea, again, would suggest Poseidon as the presiding deity; and the name
Delphi furnishes another ground. But this brings in some intricate
What is here affirmed is this: that when men first desired to personify
the Delphic divinity (more than by the vague terms Earth or Night),
Poseidon was the deity first selected. The dolphin (δελψὶς
) would manifestly be a symbol of
Poseidon; and consequently an altar with the figure of a dolphin
sculptured on it (δέλψειος βωμός,
Hymn. ad Pyth. Apoll.
319) would mark the first site of
the city of Delphi, and would be the reason for the name of that city.
And when afterwards the votaries of the more youthful, more splendid
Apollo--the god to whom the prophetic art was assigned--succeeded in
expelling the rude and ungraceful Poseidon (who was not specially
believed to be a prophet) from the oracular seat, the altar would still
bear its symbol, the dolphin, and legends drawn from that symbol would
be invented appropriate to the victorious deity. Whereas, if the worship
of Apollo came to Delphi without the previous worship of Poseidon, it is
not easy to say why there should be any connexion between Apollo and the
dolphin. It is true, we find the temple of Apollo Delphinius at Athens
); but that is likely to be
named after Delphi, as the temple of Apollo Pythius (in the same
neighbourhood) after Pytho. And we find that at Anticyra, close by
Delphi, Pausanias (10.36.4
) saw a temple
of Poseidon with a statue of the god, in which he was represented as
setting one foot on the back of a dolphin; which, though it may be a
mere accident, yet in such a locality suggests a reminiscence of an old
tradition. If Delphi had been a large city, we might have expected more
evidence than we have; but for at long time it was but small: hence all
the earliest records speak of Pytho, the district, not of Delphi, the
town. The meaning of the name Pytho, and of the celebrated legend of
Apollo, on his advent, slaying the dragon Python, are difficult points;
it may even be that some conflict between Apollo and his predecessors is
shadowed out by the legend (Eur. Iph. in T.
Whatever may be thought of the claims of Poseidon, the principal fact is,
that the Delphic oracle had a complex, and not, like the Dodonaean
oracle, a simple origin. The aspect of the place had from immemorial
time suggested that a power of divine prophecy was inherent in it; and
this in the course of ages was taken possession of by that god, Apollo,
in whom the chief prophetic power had been believed to dwell, even
before any definite oracular seat was assigned to him. Two currents of
strong religious feeling met, and produced the most powerful religious
influence that Greece knew.
And there were yet other currents of feeling, and passionate aspirations,
which imprinted on the Delphic oracle its exact form. The peculiar
influence of the oracle was exerted through the frenzy of the Pythian
prophetess. The god was believed to mould her accents, to speak with her
voice; an awe-striking phenomenon! much more than when the devout
inquirer listened to the rustling of leaves or to the rattling of bronze
basins. Such inspiration was a novelty; it may have been imitated
afterwards, and the idea of it was always attached to those impalpable
personages, the Sibyls (Verg. A. 6.44
), one of whom, Herophile, was said to have
been closely connected with Delphi (Paus.
). But at Delphi it was more than an idea: and whatever may
have been the exact date or manner in which it arose, there can be
little doubt that it was but one form of that religious exaltation which
prevailed so strongly in central Greece in the early times, and which
sent the Bacchanals to wander and rave on the heights of Parnassus
itself (Eur. Ion 714
; Iph. in T.
Indeed, this identification of the Pythian with the Bacchic frenzy, this
close alliance between Apollo and Dionysus, has the authority both of
Aeschylus and Euripides, according to Macrobius, Saturn.
1.18; who quotes from Aeschylus the line ὁ κισσεὺς Ἀπόλλων ὁ Καβαῖος
) ὁ μάντις,
“the ivy-crowned Apollo” (fr.
and from Euripides, Δέσποτα ψιλόδαψνε Βάκχε,
Παιὰν Ἄπολλον εὔλυρε
480). Conversely, Euripides attributes prophetic power to the Bacchic
enthusiast: τὸ γὰρ βακχεύσιμον καὶ τὸ
μανιῶδες μαντικὴν πολλὴν ἔχει
298, 9). We must indeed not quite go the length
of these expressions; no doubt there was a difference between the
worship of Apollo and the worship of Dionysus, between the Pythia and
the Bacchante; but it is important to notice the resemblance too. Delphi
and the region round were full of memorials of Dionysus (Plut.
); but the traditions do not go so far as to make
Dionysus the actual possessor, at any period, of the Delphic oracle.
Conjointly with these religious causes of the Pythian frenzy must be
noticed a physical cause supposed by all the later writers on the
subject to have co-operated or even to have been the leading agency in
the matter. This was an exhalation from the cavernous chasm over which
the tripod, or prophetic seat, was placed. Now, an attentive examination
of the evidence will show that in all probability this supposed
exhalation was a mere product of the imagination. Had it been a real
smoke or gas, it is incredible that no mention of it should be found in
those descriptions of the temple and shrine which Aeschylus and
Euripides have given us. Whereas even the later writers generally speak
of it as something abstract and impalpable: Strabo [p. 2.282]
(9.3.5) calls it πνεῦμα
1.36) calls it terrae vis.
Plutarch, who uses the word ἀναθυμίασις
to denote it, does indeed treat it as material;
but the single sensible quality which he ascribes to it is one unlike a
natural product of the earth: he says that a ravishingly sweet smell was
sometimes perceived by visitors to the oracle to proceed from the shrine
50). These worthy persons had
doubtless not inquired if the burning myrrh to which Euripides refers
89) had been used more freely
It is of course not to be questioned that Aeschylus and Euripides
believed that an influence, causing prophetic frenzy, did ascend from
the Delphic chasm. But the materialising of that influence, so as to
make it definitely sensuous, was the work of a later day. The story of
) and others, that the
oracular power was first made known by the fact that some goats, on
approaching the chasm, became intoxicated in a marvellous way--an
intoxication which the goatherd afterwards experienced--forms a natural
transition to the more material view. Pausanias, who when recounting
this story uses the very material word ἀτμὸς
to describe the influence (10.5.3), afterwards
(10.24.5) says that it is the water of the fountain Cassotis, flowing
through the chasm, which “makes the women prophetic.”
Special solemnities accompanied the promulgation of an oracle. Not on
every day could a consultant inquire of the god. Plutarch tells us
9), on the authority of Callisthenes
and Anaxandrides, that originally only one day in the year was assigned
for these deliverances, the 7th of the month Bysius (our March). This is
hard to believe of any historical period; and even the after-regulation
of which he speaks, permitting consultation once a month, seems hardly
adequate. We may suppose, in practice, more frequent possibilities of
consultation, though by what rule we do not know. That there were
unlucky days (ἀποφράδες
) when no
consultation was permissible, is clear from the anecdote about Alexander
seeking to force the Pythia to reply on such a day (Plut. Alex. 14
). (Her involuntary cry,
“My son, thou art invincible,” was seized on by him as
a true answer.) But a powerful and friendly state, seeking to consult
the oracle, would hardly be left very long without an opportunity of
doing so. No doubt there were distinctions made, the knowledge of which
is quite lost to us. The 7th of the month Bysius was, it may be
observed, regarded as the birthday of Apollo.
Three days before the day of oracular utterance, the Pythia is said to
have begun her preparation for the solemn act by fasting and bathing in
the Castalian spring (Schol. ad
Eur. Phoen. 223
). This last statement
has been doubted, but hardly with good reason; at all events to bathe in
the fountain of Castalia would seem to have been a duty for all who
either asked for or who assisted in giving out the oracular reply (Eur. Ion 94
222-225; Pindar, Pind. P. 5.39
, and compare 4.290; Heliod.
2.26). It is just possible that the fountain of
Cassotis, which flowed through the actual shrine (Pausanias, l.c.
), may have been included under the term
Castalia; but it is not likely; and the remains of a rockhewn bath are
still to be seen near the Castalian spring. The Pythia herself was
chosen from among the virgins of Delphi (Eur.
); she was not allowed to marry, and in early times
was always a young girl; but after the Thessalian Echecrates had seduced
a Pythia, women above fifty were selected for the office, though they
were still dressed as young maidens. (Diod. l.c.
). How strictly these rules were kept, we do not know. In
early times there was but one Pythia; later on there were two, and even
a third if need were (Plut. Defect. Orac.
8); then again
in Plutarch's time a single prophetess sufficed for the reduced clientèle
of the oracle.
When the day arrived, the various consultants determined by lot their
precedence in inquiring; except in the case of certain favoured
individuals or states, to whom in return for special services a right of
) had been
accorded; as, e. g. to Croesus and the Lydians (Hdt.
), the Lacedaemonians (Plut. Per.
), and to Philip of Macedon (Demosth. Phil.
iii. p. 119.32). That a certain payment was made to the oracle, appears
from the fact that ἀτέλεια
as well as
was granted to the
Lydians. But, however propitious in itself the day might be, it was
necessary that the omens should be taken before the votary could
actually put his question to. the god. IN the earliest times it is
probable that the flight of birds would furnish an augury (cf.
Hymn. ad Herm.
540); but in the historical times a
sacrifice was invariably offered,--a goat, an ox, a sheep, or a wild
boar (Eur. Ion 229
; Plut. Defect.
49). Extraordinary pains were taken to see that the
victim was sound in all respects. An ox was fed on barley, a wild boar
on chick-peas, to see whether they ate them with appetite; water was
poured on the goats, and it was necessary that they should tremble all
over (and not merely move the head, as in other sacrifices) for the omen
to be good.
If the omen were not good, to consult the oracle was dangerous; nor was
this a mere idle fancy; for Plutarch (Defect. Orac.
records one such case in which the Pythia (overwrought doubtless in the
highest degree by the imaginations connected with her office) leaped
from the tripod, fell into convulsions, and within a few days died.
But if the omens were good, the Pythia, after burning laurel leaves and
flour of barley (Plut. Pyth. Orac.
6), or perhaps myrrh
(Eur. Ion 89
), in the never-dying flame
1036) on the altar of the god, and
dressed in a costume which recalled that of Apollo Musagetes (Plut. ib.
24), mounted the tripod, the three-legged stool, which was suspended
over the chasm. Close beside her was a golden statue of Apollo (Paus. 10.24.4
). What are we to say about
the state of frenzy into which she then fell? Was there true uplifting
of the spirit in it, and a mixture of real inspiration? Was the question
put to her understood by her, and did her mind, however fienzied, really
attempt an answer? Or was she in any degree instructed beforehand? Or
was the whole an exhibition of pure raving nonsense? None of these
elements would probably be wholly absent; it is but human nature that
the inferior should have predominated; but
the higher are not quite to be excluded. Of course, the general history
of the oracle must guide our opinion.
By the side of the Pythia stood the prophet (Hdt.
; Plut. Defect. Orac.
51), whose office
was to interpret her vague and wild cries, and put them into ordered
language. His proximity, it may be noted, is clear proof that there was
not really any intoxicating vapour in the shrine; else he must
inevitably have been infected as well as the Pythia. Sometimes more than
one official of this sort attended (he seems to have been called
“prophet” or “priest” indifferently--the
latter is the general term in the inscriptions discovered at Delphi),
but no doubt the duty would be discharged by only one at one time. The
determination of those who were to serve was made by lot (Eur. Ion 416
), the whole number of the noble
families of Delphi being apparently eligible. Besides these
prophet-priests, another band of functionaries must be noticed--the
whom there were five in number, chosen from the most ancient families of
Delphi who claimed to be descended from Deucalion (Plut. Quaest.
9). The victim sacrificed at the time of the
appointment of a ὅσιος
It is not quite certain
that these “Saints” were not identical with the
“Saints” and “priests” being alike
distinguished from the “prophets” ; but in any case the two
(or three) classes assisted each other in the whole cycle of duties
pertaining to the oracle. Three names of these Deucalionic families are
known to us: Cleomantids, Thracids (Diod.
; Lycurg. c. Leocr.
§ 158), and
Laphriads (Hesych. sub voce
). (It has been
ingeniously conjectured that the “Saints” were a remnant of
old forms of worship, anterior to the arrival of Apollo at Delphi.)
Before proceeding to characterise, as far as can be done, the final
upshot of these elaborate schemes of divine guidance, a few minor points
may be noted. The responses of the oracle, as delivered to the
consultant by the prophet, were at first always in hexameters. It was
said that this metre was invented by the first Pythia, Phemonoe; but
Dodona set up a rival claim: no doubt both were wrong. The verses,
composed on the spur of the moment, were often rough enough;
nevertheless, when the oracle betook itself to prose, many regretted the
change. Plutarch wrote a treatise in which he tried to make the best of
the matter; but it must be admitted, that the main cause of the change,
the decline in the dignity of the questions which the oracle was called
on to solve (seeing that it no longer had high points of government to
deal with), might well excite the regret of its votaries (Plut.
It is implied in various ways, and especially in the accusation against
the Pythia Perialla (of having been bribed by king Cleomenes), that the
Pythia was not a mere idle instrument in the matter, but really
directed, in part, the answers. Some have thought that there were means
of divination at Delphi independent of the Pythia; but, in spite of the
1213) and the dreams (Iph. Taur.
1263), all oracular
utterances in historical times seem to have been derived from prophetic
frenzy. The presence of the ὀμψαλὸς
sacred stone in the temple served to put the oracles under the highest
guarantee, that of Zeus himself; who, it was believed, had determined
this stone to be the earth's centre by sending from the remotest east
and west a pair of eagles; they met in this point (Pindar, Pind. P. 4.131
What, in fine, was the good or ill of the Delphic oracle? The general
impression that we receive from history is, that it acted for good; and
that in the freedom of its own action and the freedom of action of its
consultants, it had a great advantage, enabling the Greek race to
combine the sense of religious mystery in a rare degree with individual
energy; but that it failed, when the Greek race had reached a certain
degree of development, in guiding and controlling power. The causes that
produced this failure were: the non-reality of the creed of Apollo,
whereby intelligent minds were alienated; the attempt on the part of the
oracle to be wiser than it could be, and the consequent. recourse to
evasion and deception; and the lack (not the entire absence) of positive
moral force. In private life, it had various beneficent functions, of
which the chief perhaps was the aid that it gave in the manumission of
advice which it gave to individuals could not probably, except where the
moral principle involved was clear (e. g. Herod, 6.86), rest on any sure
In treating of the oracle in its public aspect, the idea that it had any
extraordinary prophetic power, or second sight, must be laid aside; not.
that there are not some things in the history that may puzzle us as
regards this, especially the first
to Croesus; but the second. oracle to Croesus, being plainly an evasion,
demolishes the effect of the first oracle. The miraculous defence of
Delphi against the Persians (Hdt. 8.37
) is one of the best. attested of heathen
miracles; the similar defence against the Gauls (Paus. 10.23.3
) has less evidence: but in the first case a
natural explanation is open to us; the second is more frankly legendary.
The real good which the oracle did, and especially in the earlier days,
lay in the courage which it imparted through the supernatural blessing
of which it was believed to be (and perhaps was) the minister. Sincerity
of intention, and the belief in a presiding divine power, were elements
of value which, on the whole, it. impressed strongly on society. Whether
we can rely or not on the statements that it supported the great
legislators, Lycurgus and Solon (Hdt. 1.65
Plutarch, Plut. Sol. 148
unquestionably directed and encouraged the colonising spirit of the
Greeks. The most remarkable instance of this is the case of Cyrene, the
foundation of which appears to have been. entirely due to the Delphic
oracle (Hdt. 4.150
): “King Apollo sends thee,” are the words of
the oracle to Battus (ib. 155). But Syracuse (Suid. s. v. Ἀρχίας
), Crotona (Strabo vi. p.262
), Rhegium (ib. p. 257),
Magnesia (Athen. 4.173
e), and probably
Metapontium (Strabo vi. p.264
also instances in point; and the remark which Herodotus makes (5.42)
that Dorieus did not
consult the oracle in his
colonising effort shows how exceptional [p. 2.284]
case was. There is indeed some likelihood in the supposition that the
Delphic oracle had, through its numerous correspondents, real
information of the state of foreign countries, such as a private
individual could not possess (this is one explanation of the successful
reply to Croesus, Hdt. 1.47
); if so, force
would be added to its spiritual encouragement. In the internal relations
of Greeks to each other, the oracle was not faultless in its directions,
yet sometimes beneficent: e. g. we read (Thuc.
) that it sent word to the Lacedaemonians to spare the
captive Helots at Ithome; on the other hand, it countenanced the futile
and rapacious attempt of Cylon (Thuc.
). It is not said that the Amphictyonic council (whose
laudable intention to promote peace among Greeks had so little result)
was founded from Delphi; but it had close connexions with the oracle
(Strabo ix. p.420
; Paus. 10.8.1
; Aeschin. de Fals.
§ 121). Undoubtedly, however, the most important
act of the Delphic oracle, as regards the internal affairs of the Greek
states, was the command which it issued to Sparta to liberate Athens
from the despot Hippias; a command issued to an unwilling but dutiful
agent, and successfully carried out (510 B.C.). Few deeds in the world's
history have been more fruitful of great consequences; but it was too
great a service to be rewarded with gratitude. The Athenians declared
that the Pythia had been bribed (Hdt. 5.63
and falsely attributed their own liberation to Harmodius and
Aristogeiton. The 6th century B.C., in which
the last-named event was one of the closing scenes, is that which shows
Delphi at the height of its power. It begins with the first Sacred war,
in which Delphi was delivered from the rival pretensions and aggressions
of Cirrha and Crissa; yet the severity exercised towards those cities is
a blot on its fair fame. In the middle of the 6th century the great
gifts of Croesus were made; shortly after which (548 B.C.) the temple at
Delphi was burnt down, but rebuilt with great splendour by the
Alcmaeonidae. Inside this temple the sayings of the seven wise men (of
which γνῶθι σεαυτόν,
“know thyself,” is the most famous) were inscribed (Paus. 10.24.1
The Persian wars show, though almost imperceptibly, a turn in the tide of
greatness of Delphi. The oracle perhaps knew too much about the power of
the Persians; at all events its tendency was to counsel submission, or,
what was tantamount, inactivity. This was the effect of its utterances
to the Cnidians (Hdt. 1.174
), to the Argives
), and to the Cretans (Hdt. 7.169
But such advice was not given through mere cowardice; and in the
romantic history of the Persian war, few things are more interesting
than the clash of sentiment between the fiery and resolute Athenians and
the timid but clear-sighted oracle (Hdt.
). The counsel that was
hammered out, as it were, between these two contending (but not hostile)
forces--the counsel that the Athenians should betake themselves to their
“wooden walls” --was in fact the very best that could
have been given; though, had it failed, the oracle would have no doubt
sheltered itself under the ambiguity of the term.
The disastrous Peloponnesian war marks the first point in Greek history
in which the Delphic oracle sinks below the level required by the
situation. Not that it was unnatural, or wholly wrong, for it to support
the Spartans (Thuc. 1.118
); but it had no real command over the
combatants. The authority of Aelian (Ael. VH
) is hardly sufficient for what we would gladly believe, that
at the end of the war the oracle pleaded on behalf of Athens. After the
beginning of the 4th century B.C. its influence falls. Agesilaus (Plut.
Apophthegm. Lacon. Agesil.
10) set it below Dodona;
and Epaminondas seems not to have consulted it when Messina was made a
state (Paus. 4.27
, § §
3-6): though he made it gifts after the battle of Leuctra, as Lysander
had done at the close of the Peloponnesian war (Plut. Lysander
As the first Sacred war ushered in the highest fame of the Delphic oracle
(B.C. 600-590), so the second Sacred war (B.C. 357-346) marks the
beginning of the definite decline, alike of Greece and of Delphi; for it
introduced Philip of Macedon into Central Greece. Nor only that; but it
was marked by the dispersion of the vast Delphian treasures seized by
the Phocians. In the preceding century, such a sacrilege would have been
impossible. And though neither Philip nor Alexander intended harm to
Delphi, yet the enormous conquests of the latter dispersed the Greek
race over many lands, and (what was perhaps of still greater moment)
transferred the centre of public interest and of power away from Greece
altogether. With the saying of Demosthenes, 7 ἡ
and the exclamation extorted by
Alexander from the Pythia, “My son, thou art invincible,”
the public career of the Delphic oracle may be said to close.
Yet it must not be dismissed without one word more. When it declared
Socrates “the wisest of men,” it not only uttered the most
remarkable of its deliverances, but also transmitted the sign of its
great authority to a moral power that was far to transcend its own, and
gave the greatest of its vital impulses exactly when its own apparent
force was beginning to wane.
For the names of special works on Delphi, see the end of this
On the Oracular System generally.
Delphi and Dodona stand apart. These having been treated of, the occasion
is the best for some general remarks on all the oracles.
It must not be forgotten that oracles were only the most highly organised
form of the general effort to obtain supernatural knowledge and power;
that isolated diviners, unconnected with any oracle, abounded throughout
Greece; that modes of divination by sacrifice, the flight of birds, the
casting of pebbles, were known and practised in all quarters; and that,
even when diviners united into a college, there was no oracle, properly
speaking, unless the place itself through some known feature, as a tree
or a rocky cleft, co-operated. For lack of this, the college of diviners
at Telmessus in Lycia cannot be held to constitute an oracle (Hdt. 1.78
). A scarcely less necessary feature
of an oracle was that it should have an organised body of ministers.
This is sometimes wanting in a so-called oracle, but never in an oracle
of importance. Without priests and sacrifice, there could be no
solemnity of approach to the [p. 2.285]
divine power. In
an oracle, the intercourse between God and man was thought to be at its
A curious incidental fact is the excessive abundance of oracles in
Boeotia, their entire absence from Attica. The Attic temperament was too
keen-witted, seemingly, for an oracle to be able to flourish under its
close inspection; though, at a distance, the Athenians were very
reverential to oracles. On the other hand, the Boeotians were not
content unless they had a divinity close by.
The fact that Apollo, not Zeus, is the god who generally presides over
oracles, must be noted and understood. It was not meant in disparagement
of Zeus. Zeus was so great, that the human mind could not come in
immediate contact with him; an intermediary was necessary; and such was
Apollo. But what Apollo declared, Zeus had first conceived and intended.
(Aesch. Eum. 19
.) Yet this idea was not invariable, for the most primitive
oracle, Dodona, belonged to Zeus simply; and two others will immediately
The chief distinction of class between oracles, as respects the method by
which the prophecy was procured, was this: some were called artificial,
in which signs of future events were derived from external appearances
intellectually interpreted; others natural, in which, either through
dreams or through a prophetic frenzy, the divine intention was implanted
directly in the mind of the seer, and uttered by him (or generally by
) in involuntary phrases. Dodona
originally belonged to the first class, Delphi to the second. But
Dodona, as has been said, resorted afterwards to the method of
inspiration. Oracles of Apollo may be generally assumed to have some
tinge of the prophetic frenzy, though often softened down. Oracles to
which the sick resorted, generally made use of dreams (cf. Tertull. de
46); the patient slept a night in the temple
The two most important oracles, after Delphi and Dodona, are the oracle
of Zeus Ammon in Libya, and that of Apollo at Branchidae. Those who wish
to know the experiences of a consultant of the minor oracles may refer
to the discourses of Aelius Aristides (an abstract is given by M.
Bouchdé--Leclercq, vol. iii. pp. 299-307).
The oracles will now be set down according to their several classes.
Oracles of Zeus (other than Dodona).
1. Oracle of Zeus at Olympia. This is an instance of a true and very
ancient oracle, slowly metamorphosed under the influence of a system
of divination which had grown up under the shelter of the oracle,
but yet was not strictly oracular. Pausanias saw at Olympia an
enclosure sacred to Zeus the Thunderer (Ζεὺς
), close to the great altar; and also an
altar dedicated to Earth, and another to Themis, close by the mouth
) of a hollow chasm.
Here we have something that sounds like the primary form of the
Delphic oracle; perhaps a still nearer reminiscence of Dodona. But a
family of priestly diviners, the Iamidae, whose origin is far
removed in the legendary past, in which their first father Iamus was
said to have been a son of Apollo (Pindar, Pind. O. 6.47
introduced methods of divination unknown to the earliest times; by
the observation of the entrails of victims (Hdt.
) and of the
flames of sacrifices (Pindar, Pind. O.
); and the true oracle gave way before the new-comers.
With the Iamidae were joined the Clytiades (Paus. 6.17.6
). The divination, according to these rites,
was performed before the altar of Zeus Olympius (Pindar,.
6.118, 119). Yet the oracle did not cease
to be called an oracle; Sophocles (Oed. Tyr.
assigns to it a high dignity; and the change was perhaps not
distinctly recognised by most. From what Strabo says (viii. p. 353),
and Lucian. Icar.
24, we conclude that it was hardly
consulted at all on ordinary occasions, in the historical period;
this impression is, however, removed by the interesting story in
Xen. Hell. 4.7. 2
2. Oracle of Zeus Ammon, in an oasis of Libya, in the north-west of
Egypt. This oracle came immediately after Delphi and Dodona in
importance and fame; and there is this point of great, interest
about it, that it was in all probability founded by Egyptians, and
then refined and humanised through the Greek inhabitants of Cyrene.
Two distinct national cults united to produce it.
Zeus, in this oracle, was represented as having a ram's head
). Such a representation cannot rationally be supposed
to have had any origin but one; namely, in the Egyptian Thebes,
where the chief god, Ammon (Amun), was also represented with a ram's
head. The derivation of the oracle of Ammon from the Egyptian Thebes
has already been spoken of in treating of Dodona; and though the
story of captive Egyptian women, given by Herodotus, could not
fairly be expected to have left any trace recognisable by modern
research, the other parts of the account of Herodotus do receive
confirmation from recent discoveries very remarkably. What Herodotus
says (2.42) is, that the inhabitants of the oasis of Ammon were
descended from a joint colony of Egyptians and Ethiopians, and he
implies that the Egyptians were from Thebes, and gives a fanciful
story why the Thebans and other Egyptians gave their chief god (whom
he calls Zeus) a ram's head. Now, R. Lepsius (in the
Zeitschrift für aegyptischen Sprache und
1877, pp. 8-23) has shown from the
monuments that it was precisely under the Ethiopian dynasty that the
god Ammon of Thebes (Amun) was first represented with a ram's head,
he having been previously depicted with a human head surmounted by
two large feathers; and that it was under a king of that dynasty,
Teharqou (692-664 B.C.), that the oasis of Ammon was colonised and
the oracle founded, a short time before the colonisation of Cyrene
by the Greeks. This fixes the origin of the Ammonian oracle very
precisely, and entirely in accordance with Herodotus.
The Cyreneans embraced the worship of Zeus Ammon with eagerness, and
extended it among their kindred in Greece, the Spartans and Thebans
). Nevertheless, there was always
some little hesitation among the Greeks in identifying this deity
absolutely with their own Zeus. The ram's head [p. 2.286]
naturally stood in the way; and hence sometimes only
the ram's horns were attributed to him, the head and face being
those of a man, and this would appear to have been the case in a
statue of him at Megalopolis in Arcadia (ἄγαλμα Ἄμμωνος, κέρατα ἐπὶ τῆς κεφαλῆς ἔχον κριοῦ,
). We may hope, and
perhaps believe, that it was so also in the statue of Ammon
dedicated in a temple of the god at Thebes by the poet Pindar (Paus. 9.16.1
). Pindar completely
identifies Ammon with Zeus (Pyth.
9.89), and, as we
learn from the Scholiast on that passage, addressed to him a hymn,
hailing him as “master of Olympus” ; which hymn was
engraved on a pillar by Ptolemy the First, king of Egypt, and seen
by Pausanias (l.c.
). On the other hand, in
Plato, Ammon is always Ammon, never Zeus. Few more quaint stories
are preserved than the complaint of the Athenians to this oracle as
to their own military failure in spite of their splendid sacrifices;
while the Lacedaemonians, who troubled themselves little about those
things, won their battles ([Plato], Alcib.
149). It is scarcely necessary to say that Alexander the Great
identified Ammon with Zeus.
We know but little of the methods of divination employed at this
oracle; but from Diodorus (17.50
) we gather that one was, to carry the
statue, flashing with emeralds, in solemn procession, and judge by
the changing appearances which it presented: 80 priests joined in
this ceremonial. The spring of water in the oasis must have
furnished another means; for when the oracle had fallen into decay,
the priests provided themselves with a supply of water from it,
which they carried about and sold as possessing qualities of
divination (Juv. 6.553
). The oracle had been nearly deserted
long before Juvenal's time (cf. Strabo
Oracles of Apollo (other than Delphi).
The oracles of Apollo will here be taken in a geographical order:
namely, first, those in Boeotia and the neighbouring parts (Phocis
and Euboea); next, those in Asia Minor and the adjacent islands;
lastly, the few (of which Delos is the most important) scattered
But it is necessary to say, in a few words, the order in which these
oracles actually grew. The peculiarity of the case is, that the
oracular impulse first came to birth in Greece, while the worship of
Apollo (as appears from the legends, from Homer, and from general
considerations) originated on the coasts of Asia Minor. The
prophetic god was separated from the chief oracular seats. But
gradually, the worship of Apollo crossed over the Aegean; and, at
Delphi, found the seat that fulfilled all that the imagination
required. Then, the centre having been found, the oracular impulse
was flashed back over the Aegean; and created on the Ionian coasts
those oracular seats which could not have originated there, but
which were resorted to and honoured, as soon as their pretensions
1. Oracle at Abae
Oracle at Abae, in the N.E. of Phocis. This oracle is first
mentioned in the 6th century B.C.,
when Croesus included it among the seven oracles which he tested
as a preliminary to his intended inquiry concerning the
expediency of making war on Cyrus. It was therefore an oracle of
distinction, though it proved unequal to satisfying the test
imposed by Croesus (Hdt. 1.46
). It pretended to great antiquity.
Shortly before the Persian wars it received from the Phocians a
great number of shields and other booty won in battle from the
Thessalians, an equal number being sent to Delphi. After the
battle of Thermopylae, the Thessalians determined to take their
revenge; they led a Persian army into Phocis, and destroyed
among other places the temple of Abae (Hdt.
). Pausanias (10.35.2
) tells us that the Greeks passed a resolution to
leave in their ruins all temples that had been destroyed in this
invasion, as a memorial of undying hatred. But this cannot have
been carried out here: it must be inferred from Sophocles
899) that the temple of Abae was
fully existent in the latter half of the 5th century B.C.
Moreover, we find it predicting victory to the Thebans before
the battle of Leuctra (Paus.
): in spite of which, those same Thebans burnt it,
and 500 Phocians in it, in the Sacred or Phocian War (B.C. 346).
And though the town of Abae, at the end of that war, was
exempted from the ruin that fell on the rest of Phocis (Paus. 10.3.2
), the temple and oracle
were irretrievably gone. Centuries afterwards, Hadrian built a
smaller temple close by, and the Romans, from a feeling of piety
towards Apollo, allowed the people of Abae to govern themselves.
2. Oracle of Tegyra
This lay not far from Abae, but just within the Boeotian
frontier. Plutarch tells us that it flourished chiefly in the
Persian wars, when it had a high priest Echecrates
16), and promised the Greeks the
victory over the Persians (Defect. Orac.
Tegyra was on one occasion declared by the Pythia herself to
have been the birthplace of Apollo (Plutarch,
16; Defect. Orac.
Steph. Byz. s. v. Τεγύρα
3. Oracle of Mount Ptoon, near Acraephia, in the territory of
Mythology affirmed that Tenerus, son of Apollo and Melia, was the
first prophet here (Strabo ix.
). More interesting is it to know, on the same
authority, that Pindar sang of this oracle. When Mys the Carian
was sent by Mardonius to consult it, at the time of the Persian
wars, the prophet answered him in the Carian language, so that
the Thebans who accompanied him could not write down the reply,
and Mys was obliged to do this himself (Hdt. 8.135
). This oracle also was consulted by the
Thebans before Leuctra (Paus.
), but was destroyed in the general ruin of the
Theban territory by Alexander (Paus.
). In the time of Plutarch the whole district
was desolate (Plut. Defect. Orac.
4. Oracle of Apollo Ismenius, south of Thebes
This was the national sanctuary of the Thebans, and oracles were
given here, as at Olympia, by inspection of the entrails of
victims (Hdt. 8.134
) and by the
shape of altar-flames (Soph. Oed.
). A stone at the entrance of the
temple was pointed out as the seat on [p. 2.287]
which Manto, the daughter of Tiresias, had prophesied. In this
oracle a boy of good family and handsome appearance was selected
yearly as priest and termed δαφνηφόρος
(laurel-bearer); and if in more than
usually good position, dedicated a tripod before his year of
office was over. (Paus. 9.10
§ § 2-4; and compare Pindar, Pind. P. 11.7
.) Herodotus saw three such
tripods, inscribed with ancient Cadmean characters (5.58-61).
One was inscribed with the name of Amphitryon, and Pausanias
) says that it was dedicated on
behalf of Heracles, and was the most remarkable of all the
tripods he had seen. Possibly it was from this collection that a
yearly tripod was sent to Dodona (Strabo ix. p.402
). Before the disastrous conflict
with Alexander, the Thebans are said to have asked of this
oracle the meaning of a certain cobweb in the temple of Demeter,
and to have received an ambiguous answer (Diod. 17.10
5. Oracle of Apollo Spodios, also at Thebes
Here divination by voice-omens was practised, as at Smyrna.
.) This oracle,
like the last, was of course destroyed by Alexander.
6. Oracle of Hysiae, at the foot of Cithaeron, near Attica
The temple was unfinished: the mode of inspiration was by
drinking from a sacred well. (Paus.
7. Oracle of Eutresis, between Thespiae and Plataea, in the
neighbourhood of Leuctra
(Steph. Byz. s. v. Εὔτρησις
Schol. ad Il.
8. Oracle of Apollo Didymaeus, usually called the oracle of
the Branchidae, in the territory of Miletus
This oracle was, as has been intimated, the fourth in importance
of all in the Grecian world; and the legends respecting its
foundation are highly picturesque. (Conon. Narrat.
33; Varr. ap. Lutat. ad
antiquity of it has, however, been much doubted, and C. W.
Soldau (in the Zeitschrift für
1841, pp. 546-584)
endeavours to show that it was founded somewhere about the last
quarter of the 7th century B.C. But his arguments, though highly
ingenious, hardly seem to countervail these two facts: first,
that Herodotus calls it “an oracle founded in ancient
time” (μαντήϊον ἐκ παλαιοῦ
1.157); and, secondly, that
Pharaoh-Necho (who died in B.C. 601) sent to Branchidae,
“as an offering to Apollo,” his military dress
(Hierod. 2.159), which he would hardly have done to a quite
recent institution. It is true that it is suggested that the
temple was more ancient than the oracle; but no one supposes
that the family of the Branchidae were more ancient than the
oracle; and their arrival (in the person of the head of the
family, Branchus) could hardly have been a fact unknown to
Herodotus if it had taken place only a century and a half before
his own time. Branchus is probably a mythical person; the only
argument to the contrary being the obscure reference in Diogenes
), in which he is set side by side with the sage
Chilon as a person of brief terse speech.
The oracle, however, is quite unmentioned by Homer or the Homeric
hymns, and various points in the myths of its foundation
indicate that it was an offshoot from Delphi; to which
conclusion the reference in Strabo (xvii. p.814
) also leads. But at the beginning of the
5th century B.C., the sentiments of
the Delphic oracle towards Branchidae were the reverse of
friendly (Hdt. 6.19
). It was the
oracle chiefly consulted by the Aeolians and Ionians of Asia
Minor; and it was one of the seven selected by Croesus to answer
his test question; and though it appears not to have solved his
puzzle satisfactorily, he gave it, says Herodotus (1.92
), “offerings, as I learn,
equal in weight and similar to those which he made to
Delphi.” This, under all the circumstances, may be
doubted; but Croesus must have been liberal to the Branchidae,
to render such a statement possible.
The meaning of the word Didymaeus (Διδυμαῖος
) is not quite certain; but if we accept
the statement of Stephanus of Byzantium (s. v. Δίδυμα
) that the temple and oracle
were dedicated to Zeus and Apollo, “the twin
Apollo” (i. e. twin with Zeus) seems the natural
interpretation: though “twin with Artemis” cannot
be discarded as impossible, if Διδυμεὺς
has this meaning. In any case, if
Stephanus be right, such a dedication suggests an oracular
foundation (cf. Aesch. Eum. 19
and goes some way to show that the oracle is coeval with the
Of the constitution of the oracle of Branchidae only a few traces
are left. As its name implies, it was administered by a
sacerdotal family, and this appears further from its later
history; for in the unfortunate close of the history of the
Branchidae, far away in the Sogdiana, we find them preserving
their cohesion and identity. Other families are also mentioned
in connexion with this oracle, especially the Evangelides (cf.
44); but what their
relation to it exactly was we do not know. Perhaps they only
entered on the scene after the Branchidae had disappeared.
Though Strabo (l.c.
) describes this
oracle as similar to Delphi, in the fact of its replying by
words and not by signs, we cannot certainly infer that it had a
tripod and a prophetess in the early times; though it had in the
times of Iamblichus (de Myst.
3.2). But it had a
sacred spring more marvellous than Castalia, which rose in the
promontory of Mycale, then (it was said) dived under the sea and
reappeared near the temple of Apollo (Paus. 5.7.5
; and cf. Euseb. Psraep.
The Branchidae failed in patriotism (Schol. Aristoph. Pl. 1002
5.80); yet the impression which the few stories that have come
down to us about them leave, is not wholly unfavourable. When we
find the historian Hecataeus proposing to take the treasure of
their temple, and to derive thence a fund for repelling the
Persians (Hdt. 5.36
), their coolness
for the Greek cause, if not admirable, is intelligible. About
the beginning of the 5th century B.C. a catastrophe overwhelmed
them. Darius, after capturing Miletus, burnt their temple (Hdt. 6.19
) and, we must infer, appropriated its treasures; and
when the historian goes on to say that Darius “carried
away the Milesians to Ampe on the Tigris,” we should
suppose that the Branchidae were at any rate among those carried
off. But a different story was current in Greece in later days;
namely, [p. 2.288]
that it was Xerxes, not
Darius, who carried away the Branchidae; that they voluntarily
surrendered their treasures to him, bargaining for a safe home
in Persia, since they dared not dwell among the Greeks, and that
they were accordingly settled in Sogdiana (Curtius, 7.23
; Aelian, ap. Suid. s. v. Βραγχίδαι
: Strabo xi. p.518
, xiv. p. 634;
Plut. de ser. num. vindicta,
Strabo says, finally, that it was Xerxes who burnt their temple.
Amid this contradictory evidence, it is impossible for us now to
decide how the case lay; but the easiest supposition is, that
Herodotus was not aware of the exact place to which the
Branchidae were transported, and that on this point the four
later historians are right; that the four historians, on the
other hand, are mistaken in saying that Xerxes had anything to
do with the matter (since Herodotus could hardly have erred
here); and that the story of the treachery of the Branchidae was
the exaggerated shape which the sense of their want of
patriotism took in the minds of after-generations. Be that as it
may, the final upshot, as reported by the four above-named
historians, was tragical. Alexander the Great, in his wild
arrogance regarding himself as the avenger of the past wrongs of
Greece, slew the descendants of the Branchidae, in their
peaceable remote retreat in Sogdiana.
The oracle of Apollo Didymaeus, no longer the oracle of the
Branchidae (though still sometimes called so), revived from the
ruins in which the Persians had left it; though how soon, we do
not know. In the time of Alexander we find it under the
direction of the authorities of Miletus (cf. O. Rayet,
1874, ii. pp. 106,
107); the priests were chosen annually by lot from among the
principal families of the city (cf. C. I. G.
2884, 2881): the chief of the priestly body was called στεφανηφόρος,
“crownbearer,” and it seems possible that he
combined with his religious office, either sometimes or always,
the position of chief magistrate of the city, for we find him in
one case admitting certain persons to citizenship (O. Rayet, p.
108); besides these, there was a prophet, also annually
ordained. The temple had been rebuilt, but on a scale so grand
that the roof was never put on (Strabo xiv. p.634
). The oracle flattered Alexander,
and after him Seleucus Nicator, from whom it received gifts; and
from this time onwards it rapidly became rich. In the year 74
B.C. it was pillaged by pirates, yet Strabo in his visit still
found it in a condition of great magnificence. It seems (like
the other Asiatic oracles) to have been less affected by a
decline in prestige
than the oracles in
Greece proper; and the Roman senate included it among those
religious institutions which it was legally permissible to endow
with inheritances (Ulpian, Fragm.
shared in the oracular revival of the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D., but after the death of Julian
fell irretrievably into ruin.
9. Oracle of Claros
This was situated north of Miletus, near Colophon. It was said to
have been founded by Cretans under Rhacius, who were joined
afterwards by a Theban colony sent out under the auspices of the
Delphic oracle, at an extremely early date. Manto, daughter of
Tiresias, was among the Thebans; she married Rhacius, and their
son was the prophet Mopsus, from whom the prophets of Claros may
have traced their descent; but this is doubtful, (Paus.n. 7.3,
§ § 1, 2.) In later times, the prophets were
generally taken from Miletus (Tac. Ann.
). The oracle at Claros had its centre in a cave
with a beautiful clear pool in it, near a sacred wood, in which,
it was said, there were no serpents (Aelian, Ael. NA 10.49
). We hear but little
of this oracle in early times: Alexander was said to have been
encouraged by it in a design he had of rebuilding Smyrna (Paus. 7.5.1
). A prophet, who drank
the sacred water, was the revealer of the divine will (Tac. l.c.
) and pronounced oracles in verse,
answering the questioner without even having heard the question.
The cynic philosopher Oenomaus of Gadara (in the 2nd century
A.D.) was, however, by no means impressed with the truthfulness
of the replies (Oenom. ap. Euseb. Praep. Evang.
5.2). Germanicus consulted this oracle, which was said to have
prophesied his death (Tac. l.c.
); it was
sometimes consulted by letter (Ovid, Ov. Fast. 1.20
); and it was patronised by Apollonius
of Tyana (Philostr. Vit. Apoll.
Alexander of Abonotichos (Lucian, Pseudom.
Inscriptions prove that its fame extended even to Britain.
Porphyry (ad Aneb.
p. 3) and Iamblichus
3.11) speak of it, but after that time
it is unmentioned.
10. Oracle of Patara, in Lycia
The story (not of course likely to be approved of at Delphi) was
that Apollo spent six months of the year here (the winter time)
and the six summer months at Delos. (Tzetz. ad
Lycophr. 401; Servius ad
Verg. A. 4.143
: cf. Hdt. 1.182
11. Oracle at Cyaneae, in Lycia
is mentioned in Pliny, 5.101
.) Here was an oracle of
Apollo Thyrxeus (perhaps = θυραῖος
: cf. Tertull. de coron.
354), near which was a well, into which any one
looking saw “all that he desired” (πάντα ὁπόσα θέλει,
12. Oracle at Seleucia, in Cilicia
(cf. Steph. Byz. s. v. Σελεύκεια
). Here Apollo was invoked as
“Sarpedonius” (from the neighbouring
promontory, dedicated to the hero Sarpedon). The people of
Palmyra, in the height of their pride under Zenobia, asked this
oracle if they could conquer the empire of the East. It is not
surprising that they were repelled (Zosim. 1.57). It would seem
that this is the oracle called by Strabo the oracle of Artemis
13. Oracle at Hybla, near Magnesia
(cf. Ath. 15.13
). Possibly the true
name of this oracle is Hylae
). It seems from its
situation to be the same as that of Hiera Kome,
mentioned in Liv. 38.13
14. Oracle at Gryneia or Grynium
The principal oracle among the Aeolic cities of Asia Minor.
(Strabo xiii. p.622
Verg. Ecl. 6.72
; Athen. 4.149
211.) The town itself is mentioned
in Herodotus (1.149
), and appears
from Strabo to have been dependent on Myrina; and as Myrina sent
tribute to Delphi (Plut. Pyth. Orac.
Grynean oracle was no doubt an offshoot from Delphi. (For an
instance of a consultation of this oracle, cf. C. I. G.
15. Oracle of Apollo Napaeus (Ναπαῖος）
Near Methymna in Lesbos. (Steph. Byz. s. v. Νάπη
; Schol. Arist. Nub.
Macrob. 1.17, 45: cf. Strabo ix.
16. Oracle of Apollo Actaeus and Artemis at Adrastaea, in the
north of the Troad
（Strabo xiii. p.588
17. Oracle at Zeleia, in the north of the Troad (Tzetz
18. Oracle at Chalcedon
(Dion. Byzapt. Anaplus Bospori, Fragm.
C. I. G.
19. Oracle of Delos
The singularity of this oracle is why it should not have existed
in times when oracles were most important. It appeared to have
every advantage; the Homeric hymn to the Delian Apollo (v.
81) shows that from the first it was
designed to be an oracle; the island itself had the highest
celebrity for its sacredness, and the religious ceremonials with
which it was honoured were scarcely surpassed in Greece: yet an
oracle it was not. When one asks why this was, the answer must
be conjectural. Probably the reason was, that it lay out of the
reach of those Greek races who had the disposition suitable for
originating oracles (the Boeotians and Phocians), and was
peculiarly under the thumb of that race (the Athenians) which
was devoid of any such disposition. Under some circumstances, it
might have been a religious centre for the Ionians and Aeolians
of Asia Minor; but they probably found the seavoyage a
deterrent, and they had their own highly celebrated oracles (see
above) derived from Delphi. Not till the 2nd century B.C. is any
reference made (outside the brief allusion in the Homeric hymn)
to an oracle in the island, Then Zeno of Rhodes speaks of the
Rhodians having inquired of this oracle (cf. Diod. 5.58
). But Virgil
3.90-93) gave it a far higher reputation;
though, considering the looseness of the Roman poets in such
points, his reference has hardly any historical authority. The
satirical allusion in Lucian (Bis accus.
however, real evidence; and in a still later age Julian
consulted it (Theodoret. Hist. Eccles.
When one asks whether the oracle, such as it was, was situated
in the temple near the sea-shore or on the top of Mount Cynthus,
in the really ancient shrine discovered by M. Lebègue
(Récherches sur Delos
testimony of Himerius (Orat.
seems to decide the point in favour of the latter. The story
that Apollo spent the six summer months of the year at Delos,
has already been referred to under the head of the Oracle of
20. Oracle at Abdera
(Pindar, ap. Tzetzes, Lycophr. 445.)
21. Oracle of Apollo Deiradiotes, at Argos
This is stated to have been an offshoot from Delphi (Paus. 2.24
); but in one point the
ceremonies differed remarkably from those of Delphi: the
priestess once a month sacrificed a lamb during the night, and
tasted the blood, in order to obtain the prophetic ecstasy. This
appears to show that the oracle had a higher antiquity than
belonged to its Delphic origin, and was in the first instance an
oracle of the dead. It was kept alive by the patriotism of the
Argives, always mindful of their primaeval renown, and was still
active in the time of Pausanias.
22. Oracle of Apollo Lycius, also at Argos
The prophetess is said to have warned Pyrrhus, just before his
death (Plut. Pyrrh. 31
Pausanias, however, does not mention this oracle and some doubt
consequently attaches to it. Except the two at Argos, there was
no oracle of Apollo in Peloponnesus: the neighbourhood of Delphi
overpowered minor establishments.
23. Oracle of Daphne, near Antioch in Syria
A very late oracle, and of no good repute. The prophetic fountain
had here the name of Castalia, and a bay-tree grew close by.
Hadrian obtained fiom this oracle a prophecy that he should be
emperor; but on his becoming such in reality, he destroyed the
fountain, lest any one else should draw from it a similar
augury. Julian attempted to restore it, but the temple was burnt
down (accidentally, it seems) during the struggle which he waged
against the Christians, and this practically meant the end of
the oracle. (Strabo xv. p.750
C. I. G.
1693; Sozom. Hist.
5.19; Amm. Marcell. 22.12, 8.)
Oracles of other Gods.
Oracles of other divinities.
Though the overwhelming prestige
as the revelar of the will of his father Zeus to men, tended to
exitinguish the prophetic function of other divinities in the eyes
of their adorers, it could not quite succeed in doing so. To be a
god, and not to be able to predict the future, was to fall so
seriously beneath the divine level, that the worshipper of Athene or
Hermes would never admit that the object of his worship was reduced
so low. Hence, scattered through Greece, though few in number by
comparison, were the oracular seats of the other supernatural powers
of the upper or nether world; the rites by which they were
approached being sometimes of a very singular nature.
The Earth, as has appeared already, was to the primitive populations
almost the chief discloser of the future (thus, originally, at
Delphi). The oracle of Earth (γαῖα
at Aegira in Achaia, mentioned by Pliny (28.147
), may be a mistake of that writer (cf. Paus. 7.25.13
); but at Patrae, not far
from Aegira, Earth, associated with Demeter (i. e. Γῆ μήτηρ
) and Persephone, gave oracles
respecting the sick. A mirror was let down by a rope into a sacred
well, so as to float upon the surface. Prayers were then performed
and incense offered, whereupon the image of the sick person was seen
in the mirror either as a corpse or in a state of recovery. (Paus. 2.24.1
A vague tradition of an oracle of the Nymphs called Sphragitides
existed on Mount Cithaeron (Plut. Arist.
; Paus. 9.3.9
tradition of an oracle of Poseidon Hippios, at Onchestus in Boeotia,
is preserved in the Homeric hymn to Apollo (230-238), with which
compare Paus. 9.26.5
, and, as
emphasising the word Hippios, Hom. Il.
. An oracle of
Ino-Pasiphae, who seems to represent the moon, existed in Laconia
between Oetylus and Thalamae; the revelation being made through
dreams (Paus. 3.26.1
). The other
oracle of this deity mentioned by Pausanias, at Epidaurus Limera,
seems hardly rightly so called [INOA
There was an oracle of Pluto and Core (Persephone) at Acharaca,
between Tralles and Nysa, in Asia Minor, in the basin of the
Maeander. A large grove, a temple, and a cave called the [p. 2.290]
Charonium, were the seat of the oracle.
“The sick resort thither, and live in the village near the
cave, among experienced priests, who sleep at night in the open
air and direct the mode of cure by their dreams. The priests
invoke the gods to cure the sick, and frequently take them into
the cave, where they remain in quiet without food for several
days. Sometimes the sick themselves observe their own dreams,
but apply to the priests to interpret them. To others the place
is interdicted and fatal.” (Strabo xiv. p.650
, abridged.) The singular ceremony
which Strabo proceeds to narrate has no direct bearing on the
oracle. There appears to have been an oracle of Pluto at Eana in
Macedonia (cf. L. Henzey, Mission archéol. de
Inscr. N, 120).
An oracle of Dionysus existed at Amphicaea or Amphicleia, in Phocis,
to the north of Parnassus. Like the oracle at Acharaca, its function
was limited to the cure of the sick, and its mode of operation was
by dreams interpreted by an inspired prophet (Paus. 10.33.11
). Another oracle of
Dionysus was at Satrae in Thrace, and the prophets were called Bessi
). The oracles, however,
were given by a prophetess, “as at Delphi, and are not more
recondite,” says Herodotus. The oracle of Dionysus in
Thrace, mentioned by Pausanias (9.30.9
), may perhaps be the same as the one just mentioned.
Oracles of Pan were to be found at Troezen (Paus. 2.32.6
), and in the cave at Paneas, one of the
principal sources of the river Jordan (C. I. G.
4539); the oracles were given through dreams. An oracle of Aphrodite
existed at Paphos in Cyprus, and was consulted by Titus (Tac. Hist. 2.3
). An oracle of Hera Acraea (i. e.
the goddess of the hill-tops) was between Lechaeon and Pagae, on the
gulf of Corinth (Strabo viii.
Hermes, from his close connexion with Apollo, was a god that might be
expected to give oracles: this power, however, in the Homeric hymn
to Hermes, 552 sqq.,
is only accorded to him
in a limited degree by the more exalted deity. He had an oracle at
Pharae in Achaia, where his altar stood in the middle of the
market-place. Incense was offered there, oil lamps were lighted
before it, a copper coin was placed upon the altar, and after this
the question was put to the god by a whisper in his ear. The person
who consulted him immediately left the market-place. The first
remark that he heard made by any one after leaving the marketplace
was believed to imply the answer of Hermes (Paus. 7.22.2
). This mode of oracular disclosure was so
much associated with Hermes that he received the name of Κλεηδόνιος
from it; as we learn from an
inscription found at Pitane, near Smyrna (Le Bas et Waddington,
5.1724a). Hence it is probable that the Κληδόνων ἱερὸν
at Smyrna, mentioned by Pausanias
), was an oracle of Hermes.
Athene, the goddess of rational valour, had scarcely any oracles;
though Plato, identifying her with the Egyptian Neith, says that she
introduced into Greece “prophecy and medicine” (Plato,
p. 24 C). Characteristically enough, the
only oracle attributed to her is to the effect of “Help
thyself, and heaven will help thee.” (Zenob.
5.93; Diogenian. Cent.
Suidas, s. v. τὴν χεῖρα
: cf. Babr.
Oracles of Heroes.
Asclepius (Aesculapius) lies almost half-way between gods and heroes;
still he may be more properly reckoned among the latter. And the
oracular seats where he was believed to instruct men are of peculiar
interest, because they furnish the meeting-point between religion
and science, as those were conceived in the classical Greek world.
For, on the one hand, he was thought of as the god of healing, the
son of Apollo, begotten by Apollo that he might heal bodily
sicknesses (Menand. Rhet. Epidict.
p. 327 Olympiod.
p. 4, 42); in whose temples the sick
would spend a night in hope of being miraculously relieved by the
morning (Paus. 2.27.2
). This aspect of
him had a tendency to gain ground; to Aeschylus (Aesch. Ag. 1022
) and Pindar (Pind. P. 3.96
) he is a faulty man;
), with all his mockery, treats
Asclepius as a god. But, on the other hand, Asclepius was the
legendary father of a crowd of descendants, the Asclepiadae, who, in
whatever degree they considered religious communications important
for success in the healing art, had genuinely scientific qualities
iii. p. 405 sqq.;
). These two
phases of the doctrine and practice connected with the name of
Asclepius were so intermingled, that they cannot now be separated.
Epidaurus was the chief seat of the religious worship; there
Asclepius had a temple and a grove, and a magnificent gold and ivory
statue, and innumerable votive tablets on the walls attested the
cures wrought on sick persons by the method of incubation (Paus. 2.26
), But at Cos the medical school culminated, and there
Hippocrates, the first great light of medical science, lived and
wrote. Yet Epidaurus and Cos were not hostile to one another, and we
read of an embassy sent by the Epidaurians to the Asclepius of Cos
). We must assume
that in the generality of the shrines of Asclepius (of which nearly
a hundred are reckoned: cf. Th. Panofka, Asclepios und die
pp. 271-361) the religious element, the
prophecy by dreams and incubation, greatly outweighed the
scientific. It is a question of much interest why, in view of the
paucity of oracles of ordinary gods, other than Apollo, so
remarkable an exception should be found in the case of Asclepius.
was (Menand. Rhet.
and Olympiod. l.c.
) that Apollo committed to
Asclepius this part of his functions; but it is impossible to
suppose that persons erecting a temple to Asclepius had any clear
theory of delegation. No doubt the truth is, that the worship of
Asclepius was antecedent to the worship of Apollo, and his emblem,
the snake, had an origin quite distinct from the Apolline worship;
and his affiliation to Apollo was a device of the worshippers of
Apollo, in order that they might appropriate a power that they could
not expel. At Pergamus, another great seat of Asclepius, the
celebrated physician Galen, starting from pure faith in the oracular
cures, taught himself principles of more exact medical science. In
the year 293 B.C. the Sibylline books commanded the Romans to
“seek Asclepius at [p. 2.291]
Epidaurus.” They did so, and brought away a mysterious
serpent; then, on the spot where this serpent disappeared, they
built a temple to Asclepius (Aesculapius). Oracles were given there
through dreams, and miracles performed (C. I. G.
5977, 5980). Serapis was joined with Aesculapius in the worship at
this temple (Suet. Cl. 25
). This also
was the case at Pergamus. F. A. Wolf (Vermischte
pp. 382 sqq.
to show that mesmerism was used in the curative rites of Asclepius;
but the experiences of Aelius Aristides hardly bear this out.
Oracles of Heracles.
One was at Hyettus in Boeotia
); another at Bura,
in Achaia. Those who consulted it prayed and put their questions,
and then cast four dice painted with figures, and the answer was
given according to the position of these figures (Paus. 7.25.6
). Another oracle of
Heracles was at Gades (D. C. 77.20
Like Asclepius, Heracles was almost to be reckoned as a god; had he
been merely the Greek son of Zeus and Alcmena, this would not have
been so: but he was identified with foreign deities, such as
Oracle of Trophonius at Lebadea.
One of the most
celebrated of the Greek oracles, and in a place of sombre and
impressive aspect, in Boeotia. There were different versions of the
legend of Trophonius: the most dignified (found in Plut.
Consol. ad Apoll.
14) tells us that Trophonius
and Agamedes built the temple of Delphi, and, upon desiring a reward
of the god, he told them that he would give them one on the seventh
day; on which day they were found dead. Apollo made Trophonius a
prophet; and the Boeotians were bidden to consult him at Lebadea on
the means to put an end to a drought that afflicted the land. A
swarm of bees led them to the sacred cave, and the oracle was
established (Paus. 9.40
). The rites
necessary before consulting it were complicated and terrifying.
First, the consultants had to purify themselves by spending some
days in the sanctuary of the good spirit and good luck (Ἀγαθοῦ Δαίμονος καὶ ἀγαθῆς
); to live soberly and purely; to abstain from warm
baths, but to bathe in the river Hercyna; to offer sacrifices to
Trophonius and his children, to Apollo, Cronos, king Zeus, to Herb
who holds the reins (Heniocha), and to Demeter Europe, who was said
to have nursed Trophonius; and during each of these sacrifices a
soothsayer examined the entrails of the victim. On the last night,
the consultant had to sacrifice a ram to Agamedes. Only in the event
of all the signs being favourable was admission to the cave granted.
If it were granted: two boys, 13 years old, led the consultant again
to the river Hercyna, and bathed and anointed him. The priests then
made him drink from the well of.Lethe, that he might forget all his
former thoughts, and from the well of Mnemosyne, that he might
remember the visions he was about to receive. They showed him an
ancient statue of Trophonius, which he adored; led him to the
sanctuary, dressed him in linen garments, with girdles and a
peculiar kind of shoes (κρηπῖδες
and bade him descend a ladder into the cave. Close to the bottom was
an opening into which he put his foot; some invisible power then
drew his whole body through the opening. In each hand he held a
honeycake to appease the subterranean deities. The vision then seen
by him was carefully remembered, and told to the priests on his
remounting to the light; and when he had recovered from his fears,
the priests informed him of the meaning of the oracle. (Paus. 9.39.3
cf. Philostr. Vit.
8.19.) But the vision sometimes left men melancholy
for a long time. Epaminondas consulted this oracle just before the
battle of Leuctra, and received from it the shield of Aristomenes,
the Messenian hero (Paus. 4.32
§ § 5, 6). It preserved a certain reputation even
down to the time of Plutarch (de Orac. Defect.
though Sulla had plundered it. It was much consulted by the Romans
(Origen, c. Celsus,
vii. p. 355). Lebadea
is the origin of the modern
Oracle of Tiresias at Orchomenus.
Oracles of Amphiaraus.
Thebes and Oropus (on the
Euripus) contended for the honour of possessing the spot in which
the hero Amphiaraus was swallowed up by the earth. Hence there were
two oracles at which he was invoked: one between Thebes and Potniae,
the other in a narrow valley close to the sea, between Oropus and
Psaphis (Strabo, 9.1.22). The first was the one consulted by
Croesus; it was among the seven to which he proposed his test
question, and it was even said to have given an answer not
altogether wrong (Hdt. 1.46
). Hence the Thebans possessed the golden
shield and spear presented by Croesus (Hdt.
) to this oracle; they placed these gifts, however, not
in the temple of Amphiaraus, but in the temple of Apollo Ismenius.
Moreover, the Thebans would not themselves consult this oracle; they
affirmed that the hero was their ally, and that they would not
disturb his impartiality (Hdt. 8.134
This looks like a pretext to cover a feeling of hostility;
Amphiaraus had fought against the Thebans. Pausanias (9.8.2
) tells us that the grass round this
temple, and the columns of it, were the scene of a perpetual
miracle; cattle would not crop the one, nor birds settle upon the
other: doubtless as a proof of the genuineness of the tradition
attached to the spot. The oracles were given through dreams to
persons sleeping in the temple (Hdt.
): they had to prepare themselves for this incubutio
by fasting one day, and by
abstaining from wine for three days (Philostr. Vit.
At the other oracle, that of Oropus, were two sacred wells and an
altar of elaborate workmanship (Paus.
, § § 2 sqq.
It was especially consulted by the sick, who had to purify
themselves and sacrifice a ram; on the skin of which they afterwards
slept in the temple. The means of recovery was then supposed to be
intimated to them in dreams. If they recovered, they had to throw
some pieces of money into the well within the sanctuary. The sacred
ground alleged to belong to this oracle was the subject of a curious
controversy, which occasioned the speech of Hyperides pro
Oracle of Hemithea,
at Castabos in the Carian
Chersonese. (Diod. 5.62
Oracle of Mopsus,
otherwise called the oracle of
Amphilochus, at Mallos in Cilicia. The two rival seers, Mopsus and
Amphilochus, had slain [p. 2.292]
each other, and
their oracles, which were adjacent, had great celebrity in times
succeeding the commencement of our era, and one of the most curious
stories connected with oracles is told of that of Mopsus by Plutarch
(de Orac. Defect.
45. See also Paus. 1.34.3
28; Tertullian, de
46; D. C. 72.7
Oracles of Calchas and Podalirius,
on Mount Drion, in
South Italy (Daunia). The character and ceremonial of these oracles
were similar to each other, and also to the oracle of Amphiaraus at
Oropus (see above). (Strabo vi.
Oracle of Protesilaus,
at Elaeus, in the Thracian
Chersonese. This oracle is not mentioned till the 3rd century A.D.
by Philostratus (Heroic.
2.6), and probably was of
recent date then.
Oracle of Autolycus
(an Argonaut, and not
the celebrated thief) at Sinope. (Strabo xii. p.545
Oracle of Odysseus,
in Aetolia. (Tzetz. ad
Oracle of Menestheus,
the companion of Aeneas, near
Gades, in Spain. (Strabo iii.
Oracles of Neryllinus,
in the Troad, and of
at Parium (Athenagor. Supplic. pro
26). The oracles are said to have been localised
The oracle which Alexander of Abonotichos endeavoured to found in the
age of the Antonines can hardly be reckoned among the number, as it
died with him.
Oracles of the Dead.
It was thought that at certain places, where deep openings were seen
in the solid earth, the shades of the dead could rise from their
subterranean abode, and give answers to the living. Such a place was
The most ancient oracular
seat of this kind was near lake Aornos among the Thesprotians.
; Diod. 4.22
; Paus. 9.30.3
Periander, the sage and tyrant, had recourse to this. Another
celebrated Greek, Pausanias the Spartan king, sought relief for his
troubled spirit at Phigalia in Arcadia, by summoning the shade of
Cleonice (Paus. 3.17
§ 8, 9). Taenarus, in the south of Laconia, presented in
its cave another such oracular seat; thither the slayer of
Archilochus, the poet, was sent by the Delphic oracle (Plut. de sera num. vind.
17). Heraclea on the
Propontis was another seat of the kind (Plut.
). As at other oracles, sacrifice was necessary
before the shade could be moved to appear; and also prayers (Hom. Od. 11.23
Generally speaking, Oracles, in the sense of special places where
divine answers were given to men, were not known to the Italian
nations. Their modes of divination were different. (Of course, such
oracles as those of Calchas and Podalirius mentioned above, or that
of Aesculapius at Rome, were of Greek origin.) Yet if we could trust
the poets, there were true oracular seats of Faunus at Albunea
(Verg. A. 7.81
) and on the Aventine (Ovid, Ov. Fast. 4.650
). Virgil was so imbued with Greek
models that his historical authority on such a point is very small.
That of Ovid is better; but on the whole there is no sufficient
proof of anything f that can be called an oracular seat of Faunus.
It is noticeable, that while Virgil makes his oracle complete by
bringing in a priest, this essential mark of a fixed place of
revelation is absent in Ovid. Moreover, in the somewhat similar
Numa sacrifices, not to Faunus, but to the fountain;
and certainly here it can hardly be thought that an oracular seat of
Faunus is indicated. Similarly, the tradition preserved by Dionysius
of Halicarnassus (1.14), that at Tiora Matiene, one of the
aboriginal cities of Italy, a woodpecker used to perch on a wooden
column and pronounce oracles given by Mars, cannot be considered as
evidence of a real historical oracular seat.
But the temples of Fortune at Praeneste and Antium were real oracles,
and the only instances in Italy. The story of the foundation of the
Praenestine oracle is told by Cicero, de Div.
85. A noble Praenestine, Numerius Suffucius, was bidden by a dream
to cleave open a rock; upon his doing so a large number of wooden
out, inscribed with antique characters. At the same time honey
flowed out of an olive-tree near; and at the bidding of the
haruspices, the olive-tree was carved into a wooden box, and the
lots were enclosed in it. This took place near an image of the
infant Jupiter, who was represented (with Juno) as sucking the
breast of Fortune (who must be regarded, not as in our sense of the
word, but as Primigenia, the origin of life. The Romans borrowed
this characterisation of Fortune: cf. Liv.
). Once a year,
in the month of April, a two-days' festival was held at Praeneste in
honour of Fortune and Jupiter, the box was opened, and a child drew
out the lots at random (Cic. l.c.; Kal. Praenest.
iii. Id. April). See, for further mention of the “lots”
of Praeneste, Propert. 2.32, 3; Suet. Tib.
15; Strabo v. p.238
The temple of Fortune at Antium has been made famous by Horace (Od. 1.29
). Two sister Fortunes were represented, and were said to
give the oracles by bending their heads (Macr.
: compare Suet.
57, and Ernesti's note on the passage).
Martial calls them veridicae sorores
At Caere (Liv. 21.62
) and Folerii (Liv. 22.1
) there appear also to have been
“lots” fiom which omens were derived.
On the Roman oracles, Niebuhr, Hist. of Rome,
p. 508, &c.; Hartung, Die Relig. der
vol. i. p. 96 (besides
Bouché--Leclercq's work mentioned below), may be
Egyptian and Syrian Oracles.
A brief mention may be made of these, in so far as they touch Greek
or Roman history.
The connexion of Serapis with Asclepius has been already mentioned.
But the oracles of Serapis himself at Alexandria (Tac. Hist. 4.81
; Suet. Vesp.
xxxii.), at Canopus
(Strabo xvii. p.801
probably at Memphis (see Bouch& acute;--Leclercq, vol. iii.
pp. 385-6), had great fame. So had the oracle of Apis at Memphis
(Diog. Laert. [p. 2.293]
8.90; Amm. Marcell. 22.14;
Plin. Nat. 8.46
; Dio Chrysost.
32.13), and of Isis at Philae
(C. I. G.
Of Syrian oracles, that of Heliopolis (Baalbek) is mentioned by
Macrobius (Macr. 1.23
, and 1.17, 66), that of Hierapolis by
Lucian (Dea Syr.
36): in each of these the Sun was
the revealing deity. At Nicephorium on the Euphrates an oracle of
Zeus is mentioned in the Augustan history (Hadrian,
2); how far the oracle was Greek, how far Syrian, is uncertain. It
will suffice to mention the oracles at Apamea (D. C. 78.8
and 40), at Gaza (Steph. Byz. s. v. Γάζα,
and Act. Bolland.
Februar. iii. p. 654), and Aphaca (Zosim. 1.58). A reference to the
singular story related by Gregory of Nyssa respecting the oracle at
Neocaesarea in Pontus (Greg. Nyss. iii. pp. 915, 916, Migne) may
conclude this article.
The most complete work on the subject of oracles is
Bouch&-acute;Leclercq's Divination dans
(Paris, 1879-1882). Great use of
this work has been made in the present article; the whole subject is
elucidated by it in a very remarkable manner. The author's proofs of
his views are sometimes rather scattered, and there are some
inaccuracies in the quotation-references in the notes. His
disposition is to be somewhat too severe on the Delphic oracle; and
his views respecting the origin of the Peleiades at Dodona, and the
antiquity of the oracle of Branchidae, have not been followed in
this article. His work, however, must always be an authority.
Other works on oracles that may be mentioned are Wachsmuth,
ii. p. 585, &c.;
Klausen, in Ersch and Gruber's Encyclop.
A. Maury, Histoire des Religions
de la Grèce antique,
vol. ii. ch. xiii.
Paris, 1857; K. F. Hermann, Lehrbuch der griechischen
§ § 37-41; E. Curtius, Die Hellenische
(Gòttingen, 1864); L. H. de Fontaine,
De divinitatis origine et progressy,
1867; and an interesting essay by F. W. H. Myers, in
pp. 425-492, London, 1880, since
republished among the author's essays.
On Dodona specially, the important works of C. Carapanos
(Mémoire sur Dodone et le Culte de Jupiter
1877, and Dodone et ses ruines,
Paris, 1878) take the first place. Besides these, may be mentioned
Cordes, de Oraculo Dodonaeo,
Gròningen, 1826; J. Arneth, Ueber das Taubenorakel
orakel von Dodona,
Wien, 1840; L. von Lassaulx,
Das Pelagische Orakel des Zeus zu Dodona,
Wùrzburg, 1840; L. Preller, Dodona,
1842, in Pauly's Real-Encyclop.
ii. pp. 1190-1195; F. D. von Gerlach, Dodona,
Basel, 1859; G. Perthes, Die Peleiaden zu
Merseb. 1869; H. R. Pontow, Die
Orakelinschriften von Dodona,
Neue Jahrbùicher fùr
for 1883, pp. 305-360. This last work is, it
will be seen, subsequent to the discoveries of M. Carapanos.
On Delphi specially, it is impossible to quote a quarter of the works
written during this century. But these may be mentioned: C. F.
Wilster, De Religione et Oraculo Apollinis
Hafniae, 1827; H. Piotrowski, De gravitate Oraculi Delphici,
1829; R. H. Klausen, in Ersch und Gruber's
Wùrdigung des Delphischen Orakels,
Bonn, 1837; W. Gòtte, Das Delphische
&c., Leipzig, 1839; L. Preller, art.
1842 (Pauly's Real
ii. pp. 909-919); J. Kayser,
Darmstadt, 1855; P.
Foucart, Mémoire sur les Ruines et l'histoire de
Paris, 1865; A. Mommsen,
Other works on oracles in general, and the particular oracles, will
be found referred to in the above-mentioned treatise of