Ancient Greek Divination by Sarah Iles Johnston

By Sarah Iles Johnston

The 1st English-language survey of historical Greek divinatory tools, old Greek Divination deals a large but specific remedy of the earliest makes an attempt by way of old Greeks to hunt the information of the gods.

  • Offers in-depth discussions of oracles, wandering diviners, selfmade tools of foretelling the longer term, magical divinatory ideas, and lots more and plenty extra
  • Illustrates how the research of divination illuminates the mentalities of old Greek religions and societies

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In each case, myth simultaneously presents a girl as the privileged object of Apollo’s attention and as being exceptionally committed to celibacy; that this celibacy implies exceptional purity, too, is particularly well marked in Daphne’s myth because the laurel was also used in Apollonian purification processes. In each case, myth “explains” the contradiction inherent in the combination of privileged attention and celibacy by presenting Apollo (who like most gods, typically had his way with whomever he desired) as a failed lover, but real divinatory practices spun the combination differently: to be “desired” by Apollo, that is, to be considered an adequate receptacle of his divinatory force, the Pythia had to be pure and therefore had to be celibate.

II, 154). Other oracular shrines also made sure their personnel were well fed. At the Amphiareion, for example, priests received one shoulder of meat and the hide from each animal that was sacrificed; the meat was eaten and the hides were probably sold to tanners at a nice profit, as was the case at most sanctuaries. Nor was it only priests who made out well. Because the process of consultation at many oracles might consume days or even weeks, local hotels and taverns had a steady trade in housing and feeding visitors.

In other words, the reviewer valued Halliday’s work precisely because it had taken up the Ritualists’ banner. qxd 19/5/08 11:43 AM Page 19 Why Divination? ) This Ritualist stance undoubtedly was one of the biggest reasons that Greek Divination had little effect on the scholarly world. Soon after its publication, interest in the Ritualists’ approach began to wane among academics, perhaps in part because it was interrupted by World War I, but also because it was simply running out of steam. After the war, it fell even further out of favor: classicists began to re-embrace a picture of the Greeks as paradigmatically rational, and rejected comparisons between them and the “savage” and “primitive” peoples of whom the Ritualists had been so fond.

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