by H. Crosthwaite
READERS and students of the literature and histories of the ancient Greeks and Romans are faced immediately with a paradox. The people who did so much to develop rational thought in so many areas of life devoted much time and energy to studies, practices and beliefs which, in the eyes of many educated people today, are irrational and valueless, except in so far as a vivid imagination can be thought helpful for the smooth working of the psyche. I refer to the stories about the origin and deeds of the Olympian gods, the practice of pouring wine and other liquids on the earth (libations) as offerings to powers under the earth, the grotesque business of ceremonially slaughtering animals, especially bulls, goats, stags, pigs and sheep, tinkering with blood and entrails, the attempt to divine the future by consulting specialist prophets, the Pythia or Sibyl sitting on a tripod in an underground shrine, the Roman augurs, and so on. Nor were the ancient Greeks and Romans the only ones to hold such beliefs and indulge in such practices. Similar patterns of behaviour are found not only in the Mediterranean area, but world wide. In this short work I attempt an explanation of the apparent contradiction between the rational and irrational, and suggest that the Greeks and Romans were acting rationally according to their lights.
The will of the gods had to be ascertained before any important undertaking. The Greeks sent inquirers to Delphi and Dodona. The Romans and Etruscans relied heavily on the skill of augurs, who watched all animals, but especially birds, and lightning. In Greece, the eagle and vulture were associated with the supreme god Zeus, the crow with his wife and sister Hera, and the raven with the god of prophecy, Apollo.
The Roman haruspex and the Greek hiereus (priest) studied the entrails, especially the liver, of sacrificed animals. If the caput iecoris, head of the liver, was missing, it was a bad sign, dirum, ill-omened. (In the Elektra of Euripides, Aigisthos is dismayed to find the liver incomplete; shortly afterwards he is killed). Greek divination was di'empuron, by fire, or hieroskopia, the study of entrails.
The Etruscans, Rome's neighbor to the north-west, were the recognised masters of the art of augury, and claimed that the birth of their art was at Tarquinia, where a boy, Tages, sprang up out of a ploughed field. Although a child, he had the wisdom of an old man  .
The fulguriator at Rome specialised in the study of thunderbolts. There are frequent references to lightning and earthquakes in classical literature. Cicero, 1st century B. C., in his work on divination, writes that earthquakes have often given warning of disaster, and that the Etruscans have interpreted them  . Some of Rome's most important institutions were Etruscan in origin.
The general opinion in the ancient world was that Etruscans had come to Italy from the east. Cicero mentions the Lydian soothsayer of Etruscan race, "Lydius haruspex Tyrrhenae gentis." He mentions Etruscan books on divination, haruspicini (pertaining to entrails), fulgurales (about lightning), and tonitruales (about thunder)  .
Ancient peoples considered that it was a king's duty both to be wise, sapere, and to foretell the future, divinare  . At Rome in early times the augurs met regularly on the Nones of the month  . The magistrate is spoken of as auspicans, taking the auspices, and the augur is is qui in augurium adhibetur, he who is called in for augury.
In his history of Rome, Livy, 1st century B. C., tells us that during the reign of Tullus Hostilius there was a report of a shower of stones on the Alban Mount  . This seemed so improbable that they sent men to the Mount to check on the prodigium. They were assailed by a heavy fall of stones like a hailstorm. They thought they heard a voice from the grove (lucus) on the top (cacumen) of the hill, giving instructions about religious observances. A nine days festival, novendiales, was declared and became a regular festival whenever falls of stones occurred. The augur set up a tabernaculum, tent, in the centre of his station, inside the pomerium, the sacred boundary of the city. He must not cross the pomerium before the completion of the ceremony. He carried a lituus, a staff without a knot. Cicero has left us a description of Romulus's lituus: "Est incurvum et leviter a summo inflexum bacillum"; it is a staff, curved and slightly bent at the top. It was kept by the Salii, a college of priests, in the Curia Saliorum, on the Palatine Hill. After the temple was burnt down, it was found unharmed. Under the king Tarquinius Priscus, Attus Navius made a discriptio regionum with this staff  .
The augur wore the trabea, a state robe edged with purple. Such a garment was worn by kings, augurs, some priests, and knights. He had to stand on high ground, and a stone was needed. There are representations by Roman artists of the augur with his left foot on a boulder. On the arx, or citadel, at Rome, there was a stone, probably a meteorite, and it may appear in Livy's account of the procedure for finding whether the gods approved of the choice of Numa as successor to the throne on the death of Romulus (8th century B. C.).
"Inde ab augure, cui deinde honoris ergo publicum id perpetuumque sacerdotium fait, deductus in arcem in lapide ad meridiem versus consedit. Augur ad laevam eius capite velato sedem cepit, dextra manu baculum sine nodo aduncum tenens, quem litaum appellarunt. Inde ubi prospectu in urbem agrumque capto deos precatus regiones ab oriente ad occasum determinavit, dextras ad meridionem partes, laevas ad septentrionem esse dixit, signum contra, quoad longissime conspectum oculi ferebant, animo finivit; tum lituo in laevam manum translato dextra in caput Numae imposita precatus ita est: Iuppiter pater, si est fas hunc Numam Pompilium, cuius ego caput teneo, regem Romae esse, uti tu signa nobis certa adclarissis inter eos fines, quos feci. Tum peregit verbis auspicia, quae mitti vellet; quibus missis declaratus rex Numa de templo descendit. 
Numa sat on a stone, facing south. The augur sat beside him, his head covered, lituus in right hand. He surveyed the city and countryside, prayed to the gods, and marked out the area from east to west, with south on his right, north on his left. He transferred the lituus to his left hand, put his right hand on Numa's head, and prayed to Jupiter for a sign. He recited the desired auspices, which were sent, and Numa then descended from the temple.
The augur marked out with movement of his lituus an area of the sky. The east-west division was called Decumanus (sc. limes), the north-south division Cardo (hinge). The templum from which Numa descended was originally the area corresponding to that which was cut off, and transferred to the ground. The templum corresponded to the Greek temenos, from temno, cut. Aeschylus, in his play The Persians, refers to the temenos aitheros, or temple of the sky, and the Roman poet Lucretius refers to "coeli templa"  . The survey of the city and fields may be referred to by Plautus: "Look carefully around you like an augur."  Words for the enclosure are curt, in Etruscan, gorod, in Slavonic, and garth, in English.
Before a solution to the problem of what the augur was really doing is possible, we need to consider some other words and their implications.
The cap worn by priests and augurs, especially by the flamen Dialis (the priest who attended the fire at the altar of Jupiter), was called an apex, after the name of the small rod on top, with a tuft of wool, the apiculum, wound round it. Such a white hat was also called an albogalerus. The connection with whiteness and light may also be seen in the word Luceres, the name of one of the original Roman tribes. The Etruscan word lauchume means a chieftain; it is related to the root luk, light. Livy tells us that the young slave-boy Servius Tullius was seen asleep with fire round his head. This was taken by Tanaquil, the queen, as a sign that he would be the saviour of the royal household, even that he would be the king  . Plutarch writes that the same thing happened to the young Romulus. In Homer, Iliad: XVIII, flames are seen round the head of Achilles.
Livy tells a story of the augur Attus Navius. The king, Lucius Tarquinius, challenged him to say whether what he, the king, had in mind could be done. When Attus said yes, the king said that he was thinking of Attus cleaving a whetstone with a razor. "Tum illum haud cunctanter discidisse cotem ferunt. Statua Atti capite velato, quo in loco res acta est, gradibus ipsis ad laevam curiae fuit..." He did it, and they put up a statue of Attus, with his head covered. 
Cicero mentions a rather similar occurrence. Numerius Suffustius of Praeneste, acting on a dream, split open a flint rock. Oak lots with carvings in ancient letters emerged, "sortes in robore insculptas priscarum litterarum notis." Honey is said to have flowed from an olive tree at the same place  .
The authority of the augur was great. "Quae augur iniusta, nefasta vitiosa dire defnerit, irrita infectaque sunto." What the augur marks as unjust, impious, harmful or inauspicious, let it be invalid and of no effect  .
The names of the augur Attus Navius probably mean father (attus, at), and prophet (navi). ('Navi' is a Semitic word).
Having begun with examples of Etrusco-Roman prophecy, let us go back in time to the establishment of the Greek oracles. Much valuable information is to be found in The Delphic Oracle by Parke and Wormall; Greek Oracles by H. W. Parke; The Oracles of Zeus by H. W. Parke, and Greek Oracles by R. Flaceliere. Generally speaking, an oracle was a place where a deity spoke through a prophet or prophetess. The word means literally 'mouthpiece. ' The most famous oracle was situated in central Greece at Delphi not far inland from the north coast of the Corinthian Gulf. It was consulted by private individuals, cities, and kings, and exercised a conservative and unifying influence on the Greek world.
The problem that has so far resisted attempts to find a generally accepted solution is that of the nature of the prophetic inspiration in terms that are understandable in the modern world. One may begin by distinguishing two kinds of activity: mantle, and inductive. The Trojan seer Helenos understood in his heart (thumos) the plan of Apollo and Athene  . The Roman augur, however, is described as using observation and induction.
For the most part, divining the future at a Greek oracle combined the two methods, mantic and inductive. It was a matter of interpretation by priests or priestesses of the utterances of a woman in a 'manic' or inspired state. The word 'mantis' for a prophet is related to the word 'mania', or raging (of love as well as anger). The Greeks thought in terms of possession of a human being, whether prophet or poet, by a divinity. They used the word 'enthousiasmos', god (theos) being in one. It is usually translated as 'inspiration, ' but, as we shall see later, was not caused by breathing in, as the word inspiration suggests. At Delphi, the woman whom the god or goddess entered was called the Pythia, and was inspired, at any rate in classical times, by Apollo. She went into an underground chamber and, in imitation of the deity, sat on the lid of a cauldron fixed on a tripod. Tripods were of metal, and were highly valued.
For a poet's description of an oracle in action, we can turn to Virgil. Aeneas goes to Cumae to consult the prophetess or Sibyl about the journey he is destined to make into the underworld to consult the ghost of his father Anchises. "The side of the Euboean cliff is cut out into a huge cave, into which lead a hundred wide entrances, a hundred mouths, whence rush out as many voices, the Sibyl's answers. They had come to the threshold, when the maiden said. 'It is time to ask your fate; look, the god is here! ' As she said this at the entrance, her colour and expression changed, her hair went wild; she panted, her heart was filled with frenzied raging, she seemed to grow in stature, and her voice was no longer natural, as she was breathed upon by the presence, now close, of the god." 
There is a resemblance between the Latin rabidus, raging, and Hebrew rabh, great.
Line 77 ff.: "The prophetess, not yet accepting Phoebus, is filled with Bacchic frenzy, trying to shake the great god from her breast; but he exercises her raving mouth all the more, subduing her fierce feelings, and moulds her to his will with his force. And now the hundred huge mouths of the place opened of their own accord, and carried the answer of the prophetess out into the open."
Cicero says: "To presage is to have acute perception (sentire acute). Old women and dogs are 'sagae. ' This ability of the soul, of divine origin, is called 'furor' (frenzy), if it blazes out." 
Again in Aeneid VI: "With such words from the shrine the Cumaean Sibyl sings frightful riddles that resound in the cave, wrapping true words in obscure ones; Apollo plies the reins and drives his spurs into her breast." 
The oracle of Zeus at Dodona in northern Greece was held to be most ancient. In its oak groves a dove, or doves, were said to speak. The priestesses were called peleiae (doves). The priests, called Selli, slept on the ground and never washed their feet. The sound of a sacred dove, of leaves in the wind, of water in a spring, and of bronze gongs suspended in the trees, helped the interpreter to give an answer. At Delphi, the inspired utterances of the Pythia were interpreted by the priests and put into verse, giving what was often an equivocal answer, such as that to King Croesus: "If you cross the river Halys you will destroy a great kingdom." It turned out to be his own that was destroyed.
Delphi is situated on the slopes of Mount Parnassus. Parnassus has a huge cleft, with the Phaedriades, the shining cliffs, on each side. The oracle was associated with a chasm in the ground, and the inner room where the Pythia prophesied was underground. There were two sacred springs, Cassotis and Castalia.
Oracles were not confined to the Greek mainland. The west coast of what is now Turkey, especially the area known to the Greeks as Ionia, had many oracles, and it is even possible that their existence was a factor in the choice of site for a city by colonists from the Greek mainland. The writer, Berossus, mentions a Babylonian Sibyl. There was an oracle at Marpessus in the Troad. The Hebrew marpe means healing. There was another oracle of Apollo, also in a cavern, at Erythrae in Ionia. The late 4th century writer Heracleides Ponticus mentions various Sibyls, including Herophile, the Sibyl at Erythrae. There was an Erythrae in Boeotia, at the foot of Mount Cithaeron, and another in Locris on the Corinthian Gulf. The red soil at Marpessus may account for the name of one of the towns (Erythrae = red). Heracleides Ponticus expresses the view that the oracle at Canopus is an oracle of Pluto, the god of the underworld.
The Sibyl Bacis, in Boeotia, and Epimenides of Crete, were manteis, inspired prophets.
Telmessus in Caria was famous for haruspicum disciplina. At Elis, two families, the Iamidae and the Klutidae, were famous for their prophetic skills. In early times, the Roman Senate decreed that six (some said ten) of the sons of the noblest families should be handed over to each of the Etruscan tribes to study prophetic technique.
An Aeduan Druid, named Divitiacus, claimed to have studied the naturae rationem which the Greeks called physiologia, the study of nature, and made predictions by augury and by inference (coniectura).
Among the Persians, the Magi "augurantur et divinant" practised augury and divination. Their king had to know the theory and practice (disciplina et scientia). 
The Spartans assigned an augur to kings and elders, and consulted the oracles, of Apollo at Delphi, of Jupiter Hammon, and of Zeus at Dodona  .
Cicero writes: "Appius Claudius observed the practice not of intoning an oracular utterance (decantandi oraculi), but of divination"  .
Cicero appears to refer to shamanism when he writes: "There are those whose souls leave the body and see the things that they foretell. Such animi (souls) are inflamed by many causes, e. g. by a certain kind of vocal sound and Phrygian songs; many by groves, forests, rivers and seas. I believe also that there have been certain breaths of the earth, which filled the people's souls so that they uttered oracles"  .
He then quotes words spoken by Cassandra, who saw the future long beforehand.
The Latin word anhelitus, breath, which is sometimes translated as 'vapours', does not justify the assumption that inspiration at Delphi was caused by gases, steam from boiling laurel leaves, or smoke. Inspiration is associated much more closely with panting as the god 'breathes' fire into the soul, as Cassandra puts it in the Agamemnon. Furthermore, Cassandra could prophesy anywhere, without restriction to caves. See, for example, Aeschylus, Agamemnon, line 1072 ff., where she prophesies before the palace at Mycenae.
Caverns and water were favoured surroundings for oracles. Mopsus founded one at Claros, near Colophon, where there was a sacred spring under the temple. Cumae, near Naples, is a good example. In 1932 Amadeo Maiuri found a cavern at Cumae. There was a passageway 150 yards in length, 8 ft. wide, 16 ft. high, of trapezoidal section, narrow at the roof. It ran parallel to the cliff, and had a series of openings at regular intervals. The Cumaean oracle is thought to have flourished in the 6th and 5th centuries B. C.. The oracle of the dead at Ephyra in Thesprotia was in a labyrinth with many doors, reminiscent of Cumae, and iron rollers were found there. Strabo, a Greek writer born in 64 B. C., quotes an early writer, Ephorus, on the Cimmerians at lake Avernus. They lived in subterranean houses called argillae, tended an oracle, and only emerged at night. Homer describes them as never looked on by the sun, whether Helios is high up in the sky or underneath the earth. There was an oracle of Apollo at Didyma, near Miletus, where the priestesses had to wet their feet in a sacred spring.
The earliest reference to a Sibyl is by Heraclitus, one of the pre-Socratic philosophers living in Ionia about 500 B. C., quoted by Plutarch, 1st century A. D.: "But Sibylla with frenzied mouth speaking words without smile or charm or sweet savour reaches a thousand years by her voice on account of the god."
At Delphi, before consulting the god, one paid a fee, a 'pelanos', or honey cake. The Pythia was purified with water from Castalia, and drank from Cassotis. The latter was for purification, not inspiration. A goat was sprinkled with water to make it shiver, and was then slain. It is noteworthy that at Aigeira, opposite Delphi and Crisa across the gulf, there was an oracle of Ge, the earth, where a Sibyl drank bull's blood and descended into a cavern to be inspired by the goddess. The name Aigeira suggests goats (aix, aigos, goat). When the goat was slain, the Pythia went into the 'cella', or shrine, where there were an altar of Poseidon, the iron throne of Poseidon, the 'omphalos', votive tripods (dedicated to the god), a hearth for burning laurel leaves and barley, and a fire that was always kept alight. There was a golden statue of Dionysus, the god who was killed and restored to life at Delphi. The Pythia descended into the innermost shrine. Livy, 1.56, has: "ex infimo specu vocem redditam ferunt," "They say that a voice answered from the depths of the cavern." She sat on the cauldron lid, in imitation of the god Apollo. The cauldron was supported by a tripod. Plutarch mentions emanations. There is no archaeological or geological evidence for fumes, only solid rock, nor is there any clear reference to vapour in the context of other oracles. More will be said later about Plutarch's account.
The priests at Delphi wrote out the answer given by the Pythia, and put it into the 'zygasterion', the collection of answers. There is a tradition that answers had at one time been written on leaves. Aeneas at Cumae asks the Sibyl not to do this. References to the Pythia chewing leaves are late, and there is no experimental evidence of such a practice causing inspiration.
Diodorus Siculus, a historian writing in about 40 B. C., gives us valuable information. "Since I have mentioned the tripod, it seems appropriate to refer to the old traditional story about it. It is said that goats found the ancient oracle; because of this the Delphians even today use goats for consulting the oracle. They say that the manner of the discovery was as follows: There was a chasm in this place, where now is what is called the sanctuary of the temple. Goats fed round it, since it was not yet inhabited by the Delphians, and whenever a goat went up to the chasm and looked over, it leaped about in a remarkable way and uttered sounds different from the usual. The goatherd marvelled at the strange occurrence, went up to the chasm, and having examined it suffered the same experience as the goats; he acted like people whom a god enters, and he proceeded to prophesy things that were going to happen. Subsequently the report was passed on among the locals about the fate of those who approached the chasm, and more people went to the place, and because of the unusual occurrence all made trial of it, and all those who went near were inspired by the god. Thus the oracle was the object of admiration and was held to be the oracle of Ge (Earth). For some time those who wished to get answers went up to the chasm and prophesied to each other. Later, many jumped into the chasm and prophesied to each other in their frenzy, and all disappeared. The inhabitants of the region all decided, for safety reasons, to appoint one woman as prophetess, and that answers should be given through her. So a contraption was rigged which she mounted. She 'enthused' in safety and gave answers to those who asked. The device has three supports, hence its name 'tripod'. Almost all, even today, are bronze tripods modelled on the lines of this one."
It is significant that the Hebrew 'chaghagh' is to dance, stagger; 'chaghav' is a ravine.
Next there is a valuable clue from Plutarch, 1st century A. D.. As well as giving the name of the goatherd in the story, Koretas, he reports that during his term of office as priest of Apollo at Delphi there was a fatal accident. The goat refused to shiver, and was repeatedly dowsed with water. The Pythia went reluctantly to take her seat on the cauldron, spoke in a strained voice, then rushed out shrieking and collapsed. Plutarch gives no more details beyond saying that she died within a few days.
I append some examples concerning omens and divination, starting with Homer's Iliad:
II: 100: Agamemnon calls an assembly and stands up holding a staff. It was made by Hephaestus, who gave it to Zeus the son of Kronos, and Zeus gave it to the guide, the slayer of Argus. And Hermes gave it to Pelops the charioteer, who gave it to Atreus, shepherd of the people. Atreus died, leaving it to Thyestes rich in flocks, and Thyestes gave it to Agamemnon to carry, to rule over many islands and all Argos. Leaning on the staff he spoke to the Argives. II: 265: Odysseus strikes Thersites with his staff, for criticising Agamemnon.
II: 305: Odysseus tells how at Aulis, while waiting for a favourable wind for the voyage to Troy, they were sacrificing hecatombs at the holy altar round a spring under a beautiful plane tree, whence sparkling water emerged. Then there was a great portent: A snake, red-backed, frightful to see, which Zeus himself had caused to emerge, shot out from the altar towards the tree. On the topmost branch there was a nest of young sparrows, hiding under the leaves, eight of them, nine including the mother. The snake ate them all up, but then the son of Kronos of the Crooked Ways turned the snake into stone. The prophet Calchas interpreted the omen. The nine birds were the nine years of the siege of Troy. The city would be captured in the tenth.
II: 447: The Greeks prepare for battle. Athene joins them, wearing the aegis, unageing, immortal with a hundred gold tassels fluttering from it. She gives them courage and eagerness to fight.
At the start of Book V Athene inspires Diomedes. She makes his helmet and shield blaze with tireless fire like the summer star which is brighter than others when it rises from bathing in Ocean. Such was the fire that she kindled round his head and shoulders.
VI: 76: Homer mentions Priam's son, Helenus, the best augur in Troy.
VIII: 245: Zeus answers Agamemnon's prayer for help by sending an eagle -the most sure of birds to bring something about -holding a fawn in its talons. It lets go the fawn by Zeus's beautiful altar, where the Achaeans used to sacrifice to Zeus Panomphaios (Zeus Father of Oracles). When they see that the bird comes from Zeus, they rush at the Trojans all the more and remember the joys of battle. IX: 236: Odysseus talks to Achilles. The Trojans are doing too well. Zeus, son of Kronos, has encouraged them with flashes of lightning on the right.
X: 272: Diomedes and Odysseus set out at night on an intelligence-gathering mission behind the Trojan lines. As they set off, Athene sends a heron on the right. They hear its cry, and Odysseus sends up a prayer to Athene.
XII: 200: As the Trojans were about to storm the wall protecting the Greek ships, an eagle appeared high up on their left, with a huge red snake in its claws, still alive and gasping, still full of fight. It bit the eagle, which dropped it among the crowd and flew away with a cry. The Trojans were terrified when they saw the snake lying wriggling among them, an omen from aegis-bearing Zeus.
XIII: 821: When the Trojans are fighting by the Greek ships, Ajax taunts Hector. An eagle appears on the right, and the Achaeans take heart.
XVI: 233: Achilles encourages his troops, the Myrmidons, for the battle, and prays to Pelasgian Zeus of Dodona, where his hypophetae, announcers of the oracular answer, live, the Selli, who never wash their feet and who sleep on the ground.
XVI: 450: Hera urges Zeus to allow Sarpedon to be killed by Patroclus. Zeus agrees, but sends a shower of bloody raindrops to the earth to honour his son, whom Patroclus is about to kill.
XVIII: 202: Hera sends Iris to Achilles with instructions to appear in the battle over the body of Patroclus. Achilles has lost his armour, but Athene spreads her tasselled aegis over his shoulders, and puts a crown of golden mist round his head, and creates a blaze of fiery light from him. The charioteers are astonished when they see the terrible fire, sent by Athene of the bright eyes, steadily burning on the head of the valiant son of Peleus.
XIX: At the end of Book XIX, when Achilles sets out in his new armour to avenge Patroclus, his horse Xanthus speaks to him and says that the day of his death is at hand. It is noteworthy that Hera enabled the horse to speak and the Erinyes, the Furies, checked its speech.
Passages from Homer's Odyssey. II: 37: Telemachus summons an assembly. He stands up, and the herald, Peisenor, puts the skeptron, the staff, into his hand. Antinous, chief of the suitors, urges Telemachus to send his mother away. When Telemachus refuses, Zeus shows his support by sending two eagles, who fight in the air above the assembly (1.146). The omen is interpreted by Halitherses, who is best at bird lore and prophecy.
III: Telemachus goes to Pylos. At line 406 Nestor gets up and sits on a smooth white stone, shining and polished, in front of his house. It is the seat where he sat with his staff in his hand to rule his people.
XI: Odysseus goes to the underworld, and consults the ghost of Teiresias, who appears holding a golden staff.
XVIII: 354: Eurymachus says that the beggar (Odysseus in disguise) must have been guided to Ithaca by some god --at any rate light seems to emanate from his head.
XIX: 33: Athene accompanies Odysseus and Telemachus as they hide the suitors' weapons before the battle. She carries a golden lantern. Telemachus cries to his father: "The walls and fir rafters and panels and pillars look as if a fire were blazing. There must be some god from heaven in the house."
XIX: 536: Penelope tells the beggar of her dream that an eagle swooped down on twenty geese, killed them, and flew away. The eagle returned and told her that the geese were her suitors and that the eagle was her husband Odysseus. When the beggar endorses the interpretation, Penelope is dubious: dreams reach us through two gates, one of horn, the other of ivory. Dreams from the ivory gate are deceitful and unfulfilled.
XX: 98: A double omen. Early in the morning Odysseus raises his hands to the sky and prays for a pheme, utterance, from somebody in the house, and for a sign out of doors, that his return is approved of by the gods. At once there is a clap of thunder. Then a slave, grinding barley and wheat, amazed at thunder from a clear sky, expresses a wish and belief that the suitors should eat in the palace for the last time. This second omen almost falls into the category of kledons, which are discussed later in the book.
XX: 243: The suitors plan to kill Telemachus, but an eagle appears on the left holding a dove in its claws. Amphinomus at once warns that the plan will miscarry, and proposes dinner instead.
XX: 345: Athene leads the suitors' minds astray. When Telemachus has made a short speech refusing to drive his mother from the house, unquenchable laughter, asbestos gelos, seizes them. Theoclymenus, a god-like seer, is present. Their laughter stops and they seem to see blood on the food they are eating. The seer speaks: "Your heads, faces and knees are shrouded in night; a cry of mourning is kindled; your cheeks are wet with tears, the walls and panels are sprinkled with blood. The porch and courtyard are full of spectres, rushing down to darkness and Hades. The sun has perished from the sky, and an evil mist has come upon all."
At the end of Book XXI, as Odysseus strings his bow, Zeus marks the occasion with a great clap of thunder. Passages from Vergil's Aeneid. I: 393: Aeneas has been shipwrecked on the coast of Africa. Venus meets him and gives him encouragement. An eagle has just swooped down on twelve swans. They escape, some coming to land, others still in the air. Thus, she says, some of the Trojan ships are safe in port, others are approaching.
II: 682: During the escape from Troy, "levis summo de vertice visus Iuli fundere lumen apex tactuque innoxia mollis lambere flamma comas et circum tempora pasci." Iulus's cap poured out light, and a gentle flame, harmless to touch, licked his hair and played round his forehead.
While others tried to extinguish it with shaking and with water, Anchises prayed to Jupiter. He was answered by thunder on the left, and "de caelo lapsa per umbrae stella facem ducens multa cum luce cucurrit. Illa summa super labentem culmina tecti cernimus Idaea claram se condere silva signantemque vias; tum longo limite sulcus dat lucem et late circurn loca sulphure fumant."
A star fell from the sky through the darkness and moved fast, trailing a torch of brilliant light. We saw the shining object glide over the roof of the house and plunge into the forest on Mount Ida, illuminating the paths; then it left a long trail of light in its wake, and everywhere around, far and wide, was sulphurous smoke.
III: 1-12: We have a summary of the fate of Troy. Its destruction was the will of those above (visum supers), and the Trojans were driven into exile to seek new homes by divine auguries (auguriis divam). They carry the Penates and Great Gods.
III: 90: Delos is one of their first stops. Aeneas enters the temple to pray. Suddenly the hill seems to move, the shrine to open, and the cauldron (cortina) to bellow (mugire) like a bull. III: 135: When they have sailed to Crete, home of their ancestor Teucer, pestilence from a disturbed part of the sky afflicts trees, crops, and limbs. Anchises urges a return to Delos to ask the oracle for guidance. Before they can go, the Trojan gods appear to Aeneas in a dream, with advice from Apollo that Hesperia is their goal, not Crete.
III: 245: They approach the Strophades islands, home of Celaeno and the Harpies. Celaeno, the prophetess of evil (infelix vates), prophesies that they will reach Italy, but fail to build a city, and be so hungry that they will eat their tables. We shall see later that the eating of tables is a kledon. III: 359: Epirus is their next port of call. Here the Trojan seer Helenus has succeeded King Pyrrhus. When Aeneas asks Helenus for advice, he addresses him as interpreter of the gods, who perceives (sentis) the presence (numina) of Phoebus, the tripods, bay trees of Claros, the stars, the tongues of birds and omens of their flight. Helenus sacrifices bullocks, asks for divine permission (pacem), unties the fillet from his consecrated forehead, and leads Aeneas to the threshold of the god, and prophesies (canit = sings).
III: 405: Helenus tells Aeneas that when he has sailed past the Italian cities on the nearer coastline, he must, when sacrificing on the beach, wear a purple robe which will cover his hair, lest while busy with the sacred fires in honour of the gods some hostile face may be seen and disturb the omens. This is to be the Mos Sacrorum (sacred custom). After urging him to be particularly careful to honour Juno, Helenus describes the raging prophetess of Cumae; Aeneas must insist on direct spoken answers, not writing on leaves which get blown away.
V: 704: After the funeral games held in Sicily on the anniversary of the death of his father, Anchises, Aeneas consults the prophet, Nautes. He was the only pupil of Tritonian Pallas (Athene). He could explain what the great anger of the gods portended, or what order of events the fates demanded. VI: 779: In the underworld, Anchises reveals to Aeneas the future greatness of Rome. The soul of Romulus is seen: "See how twin crests stand on his head (vertex), and his father himself marks him out for the life of the gods above."
VII: 59: After his visits to the underworld, Aeneas sails north and reaches the river Tiber. Lavinia, daughter of Latinus, the aged king of the Latins, is to marry Turnus, prince of the Rutuli, but the gods send two signs. A swarm of bees settles on a laurel in the palace. A prophet interprets this as the arrival of an army who will rule from this citadel. Next, Lavinia's hair and dress catch fire as she stands beside her father, who is kindling the altar fire. Prophets sing that she has a distinguished destiny, but that great war is the fate of the nation.
The king visits the oracle of his father, Faunus, predictor of fate. At this oracle the inquirer sacrificed sheep, then lay down to sleep on the sheepskins. The voice of Faunus was heard prophesying the future.
Shortly afterwards the Trojans sit down under a tree for a meal. They use cakes of meal instead of plates. Iulus exclaims "We are eating our tables!" Aeneas recognises the kledon, and declares that this is the land promised them by destiny. He wreathes his head with laurel and utters prayers to various deities, while Jupiter thunders three times from a clear sky and displays a cloud gleaming and quivering with golden rays.
VIII: 608: Venus brings Aeneas his armour, made by Vulcan. The helmet is terrible with its crests, spouting flames.
XII: 244: Iuturna, wishing to break the truce and prevent or postpone the death of her brother Turnus in a duel with Aeneas, sends a confusing omen. An eagle seizes the leader of a group of swans, but is attacked by combined tactics of the other swans, drops his prey, and flees. The augur, Tolumnius, says, "This is the omen I prayed for. Follow me into battle." VIII: 663: On the shield of Aeneas:
"hic exsultantis Salios nudosque Lupercos lanigerosque apices et lapsa an cilia caeloextuderat..." "Vulcan had hammered out the dance of the Salii and the naked Luperci, and caps with wool on their peaks, and shields that had fallen from heaven..."
VIII: 680: On the shield of Aeneas, at the battle of Actium, Augustus is seen, his brow shooting forth twin flames.
Pausanias, a Greek from Asia Minor of the 2nd century A. D., wrote a guide to Greece. There are many references to augury and oracles. The Penguin Classics translation, 'A Guide to Greece' by Peter Levi, 1985 reprint, is readily available. The following are among the many relevant passages. References are to the Greek text in the Loeb Classical Library edition. I: 4: 4: When the Gauls tried to sack Delphi, they were attacked by thunderbolts, and by stones and rock falling from Parnassus.
I: 21: 7: At Gryneion in Asia Minor there is an oracular temple of Apollo, mentioned in Vergil, Eclogue VI: 72, and Aeneid IV: 345. Linen breastplates were on show there, a fact whose significance will appear infra, Chapter IV.
II: 26: 5: Re the sanctuary of Asclepius near Epidaurus, he tells how the child Asclepius was found by a goatherd, abandoned. A flash of lightning came from the child.
VII: 25: 10: At Boura, in Herakles's grotto, the oracle is consulted by throwing dice on a table before the statue. There are many dice, and for every throw there is an interpretation written on the board.
IX: 16: 1: Teiresias's observatory is behind the sanctuary of Ammon at Thebes. IX: 39: 5: At Lebadeia in Boeotia is an oracle of Trophonius. To consult it, one had to live for some days in a building nearby dedicated to Good Fortune and the Good Spirit. No hot water was allowed for washing. Sacrifice was offered to Trophonius and his sons, to Apollo, Kronos, Zeus, Hera the charioteer, and Demeter Europa, the nurse of Trophonius. One then had to slaughter a ram, calling to Agamedes. Priests checked the entrails of all the sacrificed animals. The inquirer had to bathe in the river Herkyne; he was then washed and anointed with oil by two boys called Hermae. He drank water, first of forgetfulness, then of memory. He looked at the statue of Daedalus, put on a linen tunic tied with ribbon, and wore heavy boots.
The oracle was on the hillside above a sacred wood. It was surrounded by a circular platform of white stone, the size of a small threshing-floor, about four feet six inches in height. There were bronze posts joined by chains. Inside the circle was a chasm, like a kiln ten feet in diameter, twenty feet deep. The inquirer descended a ladder to a hole at the bottom, and took honey cakes. He was snatched down feet first as though by a river. Inside, some heard sounds, others saw things. He returned feet first, and was put by the priests on the nearby Throne of Memory. He was possessed with terror, but finally recovered in the building of Good Spirit and Fortune.
X: 5: 7: Phemonoe was Delphi's first priestess and first to sing the hexameter. But a local woman called Boio wrote a hymn for Delphi saying that Olen and the remote northerners came and founded the oracle, and Olen was the first to sing in hexameters. Russian olenj is a reindeer.
IV: 10: 6: The Messenian prophet Ophioneus was blind from birth. He found out what was happening to everyone, private and public, and thus predicted the future.
VI: 2: 4: The Elean prophet Thrasyboulos son of Aineias was of the clan of the Iamidae. These were prophets descended from Iamos (Pindar, Olympian Odes VI: 72). They studied lizards and dogs.
The Cypria, scholiast on Pindar, Nemean X: 62: Lynceus climbed Taygetus and saw Kastor and Polydeukes hidden in a hollow oak.
Herodotus, writing in the 5th century B. C., says that, according to the Egyptians, two priestesses of Zeus at Egyptian Thebes were carried off by the Phoenicians. One was sold in Greece, the other in Libya. The oracles at Thebes and Dodona were similar.
Callimachus writes: "Servants of the bowl that is never silent," of the bronze gongs at Dodona.
Zenobius refers to Bombos the Prophet at Dodona. In Homeric pyromancy (telling the future from fire) the priests burnt the thighs of the victim first. The altar flames should rise high. The thigh may have been significant; cf. Zeus concealing the infant Dionysus in his thigh, and Jacob and the angel.
A statue could apparently come to life, enabling a prophet to give a warning, as we see in the next example:
Vergil, Aeneid II: 171: Sinon tells the Trojans that Minerva gave clear signs of disapproval. The Palladium, an image of Minerva in Troy, was stolen by two Greeks, Diomedes and Ulysses. Flames flickered from its staring eyes, salt sweat covered its limbs, and three times it jumped from its base with trembling shield and spear. The prophet Calchas sang of the need to leave Troy at once.
Aeneid III: 466: Fleeing from Troy, the Trojans stay with Helenus in Epirus. He gives them presents when they leave, cauldrons from Dodona, etc. Homer, Odyssey XIV: 327: Odysseus has returned in disguise to Ithaca. In the hut of Eumaeus the swineherd, he says that he has heard of Odysseus. The king of the Thesprotians had said that Odysseus had gone to Dodona to learn the will of Zeus from the oak trees with lofty foliage.
Asbolus the diviner is mentioned by Hesiod, Shield of Herakles line 185, in the representation of the battle between Lapiths and Centaurs. Asbolus is with the Centaurs.
Frazer, in his edition of Apollodorus, mentions wizards in Loango, West Africa, who descend into a pit to get inspiration.
Apollodorus I: 9: 24: The ship Argo speaks as the Argonauts sail past the Apsyrtides islands. Apsyrtus was the brother of Medea, whom she murdered to facilitate her escape. The Argo says that Zeus's anger will not cease until the murder is expiated.
Notes (Chapter One: Augury)
1. Cicero: 'De Divinatione' II: 23
2. Ibid. I: 18
3. Ibid. I: 33
4. Ibid. I: 40
5. Ibid. I: 41
6. Livy: I: 31.
7. Cicero: 'De Divinatione' I: 17
8. Livy I: 18
9. Lucretius: I: 1014
10. Plautus: 'Cistellari' IV: 2: 26
11. Livy: I: 39
12. Ibid. I: 36
13. Cicero: 'De Divinatione' II: 41
14. Cicero: 'De Legibus= II: 8
15. Homer: 'Iliad' VII: 44
16. Vergil: 'Aeneid' VI: 42
17. Cicero: 'De Divinatione= I: 31
18. Vergil: 'Aeneid' VI: 98
19. Cicero: 'De Divinatione' I: 41
20. Ibid. I: 43
21. Ibid. I: 47
22. Ibid. I: 50