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by H. Crosthwaite



WE have seen enough evidence to attempt an explanation. I shall deal with augury first.

I suggest that augury was an art, or science, based on the combined study of the behaviour of living creatures, especially birds, and of electrical fields both of the atmosphere and of the earth.

Even today, the electrical effects of a thunderstorm are easily detectable by the naked eye. Piezoelectric effects and earthquake light are recognised phenomena, and there are grounds for supposing that conditions were more turbulent, electrically, in the ancient world [1] .

The Greek augur faced north, the Roman south, and watched especially the behaviour of birds and animals. The Roman augur had a staff with a curved top. The contact with a boulder indicates the discovery of the importance of a good earth connection. Finally, since the augur worked in daytime, he threw part of his robe over his head to enable him to detect any variations of brightness of electrical glow. A Greek seer wore a net garment over his chiton.

It is not suggested that this technique would be useful under average present conditions, merely that there was a time when electrical conditions were different, as we can expect from the frequency of recorded earthquakes, and that elementary electrical principles were being studied. Certainly experiments with magnets were carried out, for example at Samothrace. Cicero mentions "auspicious militare in acuminibus", divination from the points of spears (De Divinatione II: 36). This was presumably the observation of electrical flashes.

When we bear in mind the fact that kings originally dealt with divine matters, we see the significance of such words as lauchme, chieftain, and of the fire playing round the head of a future king. Light, and lightning, were obvious indications of the presence of an electrical deity. At Delphi the force was used to affect the Pythia by direct contact, whereas at Dodona the emphasis was on sound effects, but there were tripods there too. At Delphi the Pythia was stimulated by a force of earth. The gods spread their force far and wide, sometimes enclosing it in caves in the earth, sometimes involving it in the human body. [2]

According to Cicero, poetic inspiration shows that there is a divine power in the soul [3] . He says it is possible that the earth force, which used to stimulate the soul of the Pythia with divine inspiration, has disappeared because of age [4] . In Trimalchio's Banquet, by Petronius, Trimalchio claims to have seen the Cumean Sibyl suspended in a jar. When asked what she wished, she said "I wish to die." The story of a Sibyl small enough to hang from the ceiling in a jar may originate in the gradual ebbing of the inspirational force of the place.

Cicero speaks of oracles which are poured forth under the influence of divine inspiration [5] .

I suggest that the breathing of the earth, spiritus, aspiratio terrarum, and the god's breathing upon the Pythia, afflatus dei, are both examples of electrical stimulation, rather like the feeling of the approach of a thunderstorm, as in the storm in Vergil, Aeneid IV.

Just as the Roman augur had to make contact with the earth via a boulder, so the Selli at Dodona were forbidden to wash their feet and had to sleep on the ground. The Flamen Dialis, or priest of Jupiter at Rome, slept in a special bed whose feet were smeared with mud. The name of the famous seer Melampus means Blackfoot. Frazer, in The Golden Bough, writes of the Agnihotris, Brahmin fire priests, who sleep on the ground. The 5th century B. C. dramatist Euripides, in his play The Bacchae, describes the behaviour of the worshippers of Dionysus, a god who fills his worshippers with frenzy. A Maenad, producing electrical effects from a thyrsus, which resembles the wand in which Prometheus brought divine fire down from heaven, went barefoot as she waved it in the air, then struck the ground [6] .

Good electrical effects could be obtained on high ground, e. g. Parnassus, Cithaeron, Mount Sinai, etc.. Cithaeron, as well as being the scene of The Bacchae, had below it the town of Erythrae. There is another Erythrae in Asia Minor. Clefts in rock if possible combined with water, as at Delphi, would be helpful. Homer speaks of "rocky Pytho." Such places, together with oak groves, as at Dodona, were likely to be enelysioi, containing Zeus Kataibates, Zeus the sky god who descends in a thunderbolt. One may compare the mysterious flame that burned in Thebes on the tomb of Semele, mother of Dionysus, killed by a thunderbolt from Zeus, and also the fire round the head which did not burn [7] .

The tripod and cauldron are clearly important. The tripod as a throne for Apollo was probably introduced between 1000 and 750 B. C., conventional dating. Votive offerings of tripods were made to other gods as well as to Apollo. At Dodona the many votive tripods were arranged in a circle, touching each other, round a sacred oak tree. I suggest two lines of investigation. Firstly, they are generally of metal, and the legs of the tripod would be a good electrical earth for the cauldron on which the Pythia sat. (See above for a reference to iron rollers at Ephyra). Secondly, three metal legs are the most inconspicuous safe support for a cauldron and occupant if one wishes to create the impression that the Pythia, who is in contact with the god Apollo, is hovering in the air. There is a third possibility which will be considered later in the section on tripod cauldrons. At this stage of the argument we can well consider the play King Oedipus by Sophocles. Oedipus, king of Thebes in Boeotia, is faced with plague in his city. A messenger has been sent to Delphi to ask the god's advice. The chorus say: "elampse gar tou niphoentos artios phaneisa phama Parnasou." Literally: "The voice of snowy Parnassus, recently shown, flashed (or: shone)." [8] The use of a verb of shining rather than of sounding calls for comment, especially as this usage is found elsewhere when describing oracular action. I give rough translations or paraphrases of some instances.

Aeschylus, Eumenides 797 ff: Orestes, who has killed his mother to avenge the murder by her of his father Agamemnon, is tried at Athens. The Furies, instruments of justice, are the prosecutors. His defence has been that he was acting on the instructions of the god Apollo. Athene, patron goddess of Athens, has a casting vote, and Orestes is acquitted. When the Furies grumble, Athene consoles them: "But there was shining (lampra) evidence from Zeus, and he who gave the oracle and he who bore witness were one and the same."

In the first play of the trilogy, the Agamemnon, the captive prophetess Cassandra sees disaster looming when the triumphant procession arrives at Agamemnon's palace at Mycenae, on his return from the capture of Troy. (Cassandra starts to prophesy) "Ah, it is like fire! He is coming to me. Ah, woe, Lycian Apollo, woe is me!" [9] .

Certain Greek words are of significance in an oracular context. Pheme is a divine voice or oracle, as also is omphe. The verb phao means to make known either by sight or by sound. Aeido, sing, is sometimes used of wind in the trees, and of the twang of a bowstring. Audan, to utter, of oracles, and aoide, contracted to ode, a song, are similar. Aoidos, like the Latin vases, means a singer or prophet, and, in the Trachiniae of Sophocles, an enchanter. The link between sound, sight, and divine revelation is close.

Heraclitus, the Obscure, was one of the philosophers working in Ionia in the 6th century B. C., known as the Pre-Socratics. They all studied the problem of the nature of the physical world, trying mostly to find a single underlying substance behind the variety of appearances, whereas Socrates in the 5th century turned his attention to the problem of how one ought to live. The ideas of Heraclitus are known from fragments quoted by later writers. Fragment 93 (Diels) reads: "The god whose is the oracle at Delphi neither speaks nor hides. He signals."

Gaia, the earth goddess, was the mother of various powerful creatures. She is probably to be equated with Demeter, the Earth Mother. De is the same as Ge, earth. She was worshipped as a source of fruit and crops, and was connected with the mystery religion of Eleusis. In the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, 275 ff., Demeter appears to Metaneira to instruct her about her cult at Eleusis. Radiance like lightning fills the house.

Earlier I mentioned two kinds of electrical activity, that of the atmosphere, lightning, auroras, etc., and that of the earth, earthquake phenomena such as earthquake light and piezoelectric effects. It is possible to see in the succession of deities at Delphi the development of Greek thought about electricity. The opening of the Eumenides of Aeschylus is a good starting point.

Gaia, earth, is the first occupant of the shrine. She is succeeded by her daughter, Themis, whose name implies 'the way things are established', and by Phoebe. There is a red figure vase illustrating Themis on the tripod. According to Hesiod she was mother of Leto and of Asterie by her brother Koios. Themis and Gaia are referred to by Aeschylus as pollon onomaton morphe mia', one form with many names.

Koios suggests stones. The poet, Antimachus, tells us: "Koias ek cheiron skopelon meta rhiptozousin", they hurl stones at the rock with their hands. The 'thriobolus' was a sooth sayer who threw pebbles into a divining urn. There may be a link with the Thriae, three goddesses who practiced divination at Delphi. They are compared by Hesiod to bees, and feed on honey. Vergil describes honey as 'caelestia', and the infant Zeus was fed by bees [10] .

There are other points of interest in Georgic IV. Vergil speaks of a skilled farmer and beekeeper, Corycium senem, an old man from Corycus. The Corycian cave above Delphi was dedicated to Bromios, a name of Dionysus, and there was another cave of the same name in Asia, where Zeus was kept prisoner for a time. Vergil also reports a belief that bees have a share of the divine mind and ethereal essence [11] .

Themis is shown as the Pythia on the Vulci goblet. The name Phoebe, one of the successors of Gaia, like Apollo's name Phoebus, suggests light, but before we move on to discuss Apollo in detail, there is another occupant of the cauldron to consider, Dionysus.

There is a story that the god Zeus fought a battle in the sky against a monster, Typhon. Typhon cut the sinews of Zeus's hands and feet and took him to Corycus in Cilicia. He hid the sinews in a cave, with the dragon Delphyne on guard. Vide 'Homeric Hymn to Apollo', 39; 'korakos' means a leathern quiver. Corycus was the site of the sanctuary of the Hittite weather god, and the incident illustrates the Oriental background of early Greece. Hesiod says that Typhon married Echidna, a monster half nymph and half snake. The episode seems to be duplicated at Delphi, where Delphyne is the name of the female dragon killed by Apollo, and the Corycian cave was sacred to Bromios, or Dionysus. Heb. obh is a leather bag, spectre, conjuring ghost, sorcerer, necromancer. Cf. obi, African witchcraft.

Examples to illustrate this chapter: Vergil, Aeneid IV: 518: "Unum exuta pedem vinclis." In a temple at Carthage Dido stands before the altar with one foot bare. Pausanias, X: 5.9: The Delphians say the second shrine at Delphi (the first was of bay branches) was of beeswax and feather, made by bees, and sent by Apollo. Another legend is that it was built by a Delphian called Feathers. Aptera in Crete (north-west coast) was named after him. The theory that the shrine was woven out of feather grass growing on the mountain is not generally accepted.

The third temple was of bronze. A fragment of Pindar describes it as having enchantresses in gold over the pediment, and reads "... opened the ground with his lightning and hid the holiest..."

Pausanias mentions the bronze house of Athene in her sanctuary at Sparta, and refers to a temple in the forum at Rome, which had a roof of bronze.

There was a story that Apollo's bronze temple dropped into a chasm in the earth or was burnt. The fourth temple was built by Trophonius and Agamedes, of stone. It was burnt down in 548 B. C.. The temple still standing at the time Pausanias visited it was, he said, by the Corinthian architect Spintharos. He mentions legends about the founding of the city, e. g., that one Parnassos discovered divination from the birds here, that it was flooded at the time of Deucalion, that Delphos was the son of Apollo and Kelaino, that Kastalios had a daughter Thuia, who was a priestess of Dionysus. (In Greek, Thuia suggests fire). As to Pytho, the snake shot by Apollo was corrupted (Pytho in Greek implies corruption).

Pausanias X: 12: 1: A rock sticks up out of the hillside below Apollo's temple at Delphi. The Sibyl Herophile used to stand on this to sing her oracles. The former Sibyl was the daughter of Zeus and Lamia, daughter of Poseidon. The Libyans named her Sibyl. Herophile was younger but prophesied the events of the Trojan war. She claimed that her mother came from Marpessus, a city near Troy, on Mount Ida. Herophile is associated with Sminthean Apollo.

Other Sibyls mentioned by Pausanias are Demo, who came from Cumae, and Sabbe, who was brought up in Palestine by Jews. Sabbe's father was Berosus, her mother Erimanthe. She was also known as the Babylonian Sibyl, and as the Egyptian Sibyl. Phaennis was the daughter of the king of the Chaonians; she and the doves at Dodona gave oracles. The doves were earlier than Phemonoe. They were the first women singers to sing these verses: "Zeus was, and is, and shall be, O great Zeus. Earth raises crops. Cry to the earth-mother."

Euklous was a Cypriot prophet, Mousaios and Lykos were Athenians; Bakis from Boeotia was possessed by the nymphs.

Pausanias, X: 7: There is mention of the bronze head of a bison. X: 13: 4: The fight for the tripod between Herakles and Apollo. Athena restrains Herakles, Leto and Artemis restrain Apollo.

X: 24: 4: In the temple an altar has been built to Poseidon, because the oldest oracle was his also. There are two statues of Fates, and the iron throne on which the poet Pindar used to sit whenever he came to Delphi to compose songs to Apollo. Near the temple is the stone. It is oiled every day, and at every festival unspun wool is offered to it.

III: 22: 1: In Laconia, near Gythion, is a stone called Zeus kappotas, fallen Zeus, where Orestes sat with the result that his madness left him.

One may compare the Old Testament, Genesis XXVIII: 11: "And (Jacob) lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac..."

And from verse 16: "And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not. And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it. And he called the name of that place Bethel: but the name of that city was called Luz at the first."

Romans sometimes swore by Stone Jupiter, 'per Iovem Lapidem. '

Pausanias, IV: 33: 6: There are two rivers, Elektra and Koios. They might refer to Atlas's daughter Elektra and Leto's father Koios, or Elektra and Koios might be local divine heroes. V 11: 11: When I asked the attendants why they didn't pour oil or water for Asklepios, they said that the statue and throne of Asklepios were over a well.

The Old Testament, I Samuel VI. tells how the Philistines sent back the ark which they had captured. It was transported on a cart.

Verse 14: "And the cart came into the field of Joshua, a Beth-Shemite, and stood there, where there was a great stone: and they crave the wood of the cart, and offered the kine a burnt offering unto the Lord."

Verse 18: "And the golden mice, according to the number of all the cities of the Philistines belonging to the five lords, both of fenced cities, and of country villages, even unto the great stone of Abel, whereon they set down the ark of the Lord: which stone remaineth unto this day in the field of Joshua, the Beth-Shemite." Pausanias, II: 35: 4: There is a sanctuary of Klymenos at Hermion, through which Herakles dragged up from Hades the dog Kerberos.

Notes (Chapter Two: The Electric Oracles)

1. For destruction of Bronze Age sites, vide: Schaeffer-Forrer, 'Stratigraphie comparée et Chronologie de l'Asie Occidentale (III. et II. Millénaires)( Oxford 1948).

2. Cicero: 'De Divinatione' I: 36

3. Ibid. I: 37

4. Ibid. I: 19

5. Ibid. I: 18

6. Euripides: 'The Bacchae' 665

7. Ibid. 757

8. Sophocles: 'Oedipus Tyrannus' 473

9. Aeschylus: 'Agamemnon' 1251 ff.

10. Vergil: Georgic IV 149

11. Ibid. 219

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