Thursday, September 1, 2011

Greek's Oracles Relied on Nature's Signs

"Priestess of Delphi," 1891, John Collier.

Oracles in ancient Greece relied greatly on natural phenomena ~ sounds, smells, the rustling of leaves ~ to glean information regarding the fate of individuals and nations alike. According to an article in the Greek journal,
Unlike fortunetellers today … ancient soothsayers dealt less with making specific predictions about the future than offering assurances that particular decisions were correct or incorrect or that the gods looked favorably or unfavorably upon particular actions. Ancient augury took many forms, including the reading of flights of birds and the examination of sacrificial animals’ livers or other internal organs. Sometimes right and wrong, or favor and disfavor, were determined through the casting of lots -- like the rolling of dice today. Colored pebbles or animal bones (including pigs’ “knucklebones”) were commonly used in these divinations.  
More formal, highly ritualized prophetic practices also took place in or beside certain ancient Greek temples. Among the gods associated with oracles and prophesies were Apollo and Zeus, whose sanctuaries at Delphi and Dodona were well-known in Greek lands and elsewhere in the Mediterranean world for their priests’ and priestesses’ strange abilities to convey divine pronouncements.
Click here for the complete article.


Glen Gordon said...

When you mention knucklebones and divination, I'm reminded of the odd link that exists between boardgames and divination.

Etruscans and Romans used dice like we do now, however most people might not be aware of their religious connection. When we think "dice" today, we tend to solely think of games, not of oracular prophecy.

Even the Egyptian game known as Senet doubled as a metaphor for life. Its pieces are like living people, controlled by players (as if controlled by unseen gods). They travel across the serpentine route of life towards the end goal, afterlife, where they are taken off the board. We might wax poetic that the removed piece is now enjoying eternal life in the blissful fields of Osiris. Similar interpretations can be extended to the so-called Game of Ur, a Babylonian boardgame.

Gregory LeFever said...

Glen, thanks as always for your informative and insightful comment. Very interesting!