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					                       Greek and Roman Divination Conference
                      University of Pennsylvania, April 20-21, 2001

                                                Abstracts
Walter Burkert, Zürich University
Keynote Speech: Signs, Commands, and Knowledge: Ancient Divination between Enigma and Epiphany..

           Does divination, that ubiquitous phenomenon in a Near Eastern-Mediterranean Koiné, represent
the coincidence or the antagonism of rationality and the supernatural?
          An approach to the question is tried following the lines of three paradoxes:
- The interference of scrupulous observation of signs, resulting in experience to be stored in old traditions,
with charismatic declarations, nay surprising proclamations of altered consciousness,
- The vacillations between belief and obedience, caustic critique, and attempts at control of divination. The
fact that divination exists is claimed to refute atheism; hence even drawing lots is taken as a religious
manifestation while the procedure is carefully construed as a randomizing device; miracle tales commend
themselves while games of intelligence are never excluded.
- The ambivalent effects of divination between integration in the political establishment and potential
revolt. Oracles are subservient to oriental kings, poleis communicate with Delphi, seers cooperate with the
generals in classical Greece, Rome develops elaborate rules how to play public roles in 'auspices' and
'augury'. Yet time and again certain outbreaks of prophecy can hardly be stopped; they are found to
motivate the Roman Bacchanalia, the great slave revolt in Sicily, and the 'orientalizing' message of
Sibylline oracles.


C.A. Faraone, University of Chicagmo
When Necromancy Goes Underground: Talking Skulls, Tents and Other Divinatory Apparatus in the Greek
Magical Papyri

The practice of consulting the dead for divinatory purposes is widely practiced cross-culturally and is
firmly attested in the Greek world, although in our literary sources it clearly plays second fiddle to the
oracular shrines of Apollo and Zeus. Nonetheless, poets do speak of the underworld journeys of heroes,
like Odysseus and Aeneas, to learn about the present or future and we hear of rituals of psychagogia
designed to lead souls or ghosts up from the underworld. These are usually performed at the tomb of the
dead person, as in the famous scene in Aeschylus' Persians, or at other places where the Greeks believed
there was an entrance to the underworld. Herodotus tells us that the Corinthian tyrant Periander visited a
nekromanteion, "oracle of the dead" in Ephyra to consult his dead wife (5.92) and that Croesus, when he
performed his famous comparative testing of Greek oracles, sent questions to the tombs of the heroes
Amphiareus at Oropos and Trophonios at Lebedeia (1.46.2-3). In general, it seems that the popularity of
certain Apolline oracles (Delphi and Clarus) grew during Roman Imperial times, as did that of various hero
shrines where necromancy was performed. It is clear, however, that more personal and private forms of
necromancy fell into disfavor, especially with the Romans, whose poets (beginning with Horace and
Lucan) repeatedly depict horrible, ugly witches performing graveyard rituals or battlefield ceremonies that
involve the handling and disfigurement of corpses. The Roman emperors, moreover, slowly began to make
certain forms of divination illegal, cracking down first on private ceremonies and itinerant professionals,
and then by the mid-fourth century CE more specifically on nocturnal graveyard visits and necromancy. In
my paper I address the relative absence of necromantic recipes in the magical papyri and argue that at least
two types of spell, a popular sunset offering charm to Helios and a series of spells connected to the
Thessalian king Pitys, seem to reflect this anxiety when they try to reconfigure standard necromantic spells
in such a way that the practitioner no longer needs to perform the spell at a graveside at nighttime. In
particular I will show how explicit references to the older graveside rites are rendered innocuous by the use
of ambiguous terminology, such as the Greek word skênos ("corpse" or "tent") and the word skyphos,
which means both "skull" and "drinking cup". I will argue that just as we see various public cults
domesticated and miniaturized in the PGM (e.g. dream divination at a healing sanctuary), we also see the
same process with rites of necromancy, which are now uprooted from the graveside and performed in the
privacy of one's own home.


David Frankfurter, University of New Hampshire
Voices, Books, and Dreams: The Diversification of Divination Media in Late Antique Egypt

This paper will discuss the ticket oracles, incubation oracles, and book oracles that developed around two
major oracle centers in late antique Egypt: the Bes-shrine at Abydos (I-IV CE) and the Colluthus shrine at
Antinoe (IV-?? CE). The promulgation of such diverse media from the same shrines suggests that tradition
and authority played a
larger part in divination and its popular appeal than has usually been assumed, and that "centers" retained
their importance, even while shifting under religious change.


Fritz Graf, Princeton University
Rolling the Dice for an Answer. Dice Oracles and Similar Methods of Divination in Asia Minor

Among the many lesser known methods of divination in Asia Minor - a region rich in all sorts of
techniques of divination - are the dice oracles. They are attested only by inscriptions that record, often in
alphabetical order, the hexameters that were given as answers; those answers were picked out by rolling
several dice whose outcome corresponded to a given verse. The rather neglected inscriptions pose several
interesting questions for the history and theory of divination. Provided Giovanni Manetti's opposition
between a Near Eastern, literal approach to divination and a Greek, oral one is correct, these texts go
together with the Ancient Near East: what do we know about their tradition, and could there be even a
connection with the many dice oracles in Italy, on the lines of the Hittite-Latin isoglosses pointed out long
ago by Roberto Gusmani? What made them so popular in a rather narrowly defined part of Asia Minor?
Given the fixed text, what are the textual mechanism to make the answers match all sorts of questions –
how does a text achieve the necessary blend of openness and precision that makes it work in such a
situation? Or were there professional mediators between the texts and the clients who could interpret the
text in order to adapt it to a given situation? Even if not all questions will find a clear answer, the texts in
themselves form an exciting and provocative corpus.


Cristiano Grottanelli, University of Pisa
'Sors unica pro casibus pluribus enotata': Some Aspects of Ancient Cleromancy

In Apuleius' novel usually referred to as "The Golden Ass", the wandering, effeminate devotees of the
Syrian Goddess are presented as practicing 1) trance divination and 2) the peculiar type of divination by
drawing lots ( s o r t e s ) that was widespread in ancient Italy. In both cases, the votaries cheat and easily
collect money from the gullible inhabitants of the countryside; but they are found out in the end and duly
punished. Apulieus' ways of presenting the trance- and the lot-divination are consistent with
his view of the relationships between humans and gods and with some ideological stances of the ruling
classes of Hellenistic and Roman societies. The paper discusses those views as well as the various forms of
divination by lots (cleromancy) practiced in Antiquity. Inscribed pebbles or metal lamellae used for
cleromancy in Antiquity and found in various parts of Italy are also examined in order to show that
Apuleius' caricature of the votaries' cleromantic practices is not too distant from the practice testified by
such documents.


Sarah Iles Johnston, Ohio State University
Delphi and the Dead

A surprising number of our extant Delphic oracles address problems that have arisen due to improper or
inadequate treatment of the dead (= about 11% of the corpora found in Parke/Wormell or Fontenrose, a
figure slightly higher than that, e.g., for oracles concerning the foundation of new cities or colonies). In the
first part of my paper I will offer some reasons for this, contextualizing the Oracle's responsibility for
communicating between the dead and the living within some other notable features of Greek religion. For
example, unlike many other cultures, the Greeks never developed the idea of nekuomanteia to any
significant degree; they preferred not to "talk" to the dead directly and used Delphic Apollo to help bridge
this gap. I will also look at the pattern into which most of the oracles concerning the dead fall: (1)
plague/famine; (2) consultation of oracle; (3) establishment of cult/honors to the dead, after which the dead
often become beneficent. In the second part of my paper, I will look at a few mythic narratives concerning
relationships between the living and the dead in which the Delphi Oracle appears, with particular attention
to the Oresteia. I will discuss the ways in which Aeschylus adapted both the traditional narrative and the
three-part pattern mentioned above, and will show how these adaptations contribute to the Oresteia's
exploration of different sorts of communication: between humans, between humans and the dead, and
between humans and gods.


Pietro Pucci, Cornell University
Prophecies in Sophocles

 The importance of oracular and prophetic utterances in Sophocles is shown by the simple fact that most of
his plots are in some part or even entirely determined by the presence of such utterances; it is furthermore
enhanced by all sort of rhetorical images that present edifying aspects of the oracular truth as light, as
unconquerable, as an assailing god, etc.
Often the rhetorical means to emphasize the privileged status of these divine utterances are more subtle and
almost hidden. In my book, Oedipus and the Fabrication of the Father 1992, I noticed that in the quarrel
between Teiresias and Oedipus (OT. 297-462), the text avoids qualifying Oedipus' knowledge by the verbs
oida and phroneo, that are exclusively used for Teiresias' knowledge. The only exception constitutes a
confirmation of the practice, since it occurs when Oedipus puns on his name (397)-- a clear and underlined
form of tragic parody.
Even the terms themselves that qualify the "uttering" of the divine words are special: I notice for instance
that in the information scene in OT, 87-132 Creon never uses the mere verb legein to designate the
speaking of the god, but emphatic expressions as anôgen emphanôs (96),epistellei saphôs (96), ephaske
(110,114, 122), and analogously Oedipus, in the Coloneus, defines the uttering of the divine words
avoiding the simple verbs of saying as legein (only one, 88) against 87, 94, 96-97, 102.

Such a care even in the almost invisible details, such large rhetorical devices to extol the power of truth of
these divine utterances, such hopes or defiances put on them, all of this contrast with the poor performances
of such divine voices: no clarity, no indisputable truth, no timely presence. This voice manifests itself too
late to save Antigone and too late to save Thebes from the plague. Is this the meletê theôn ? Apollo's oracle
to Creon defining the cause of the plague must be wrong in mentioning plural murderers (OT,106-07);
Apollo's oracle to Orestes in the Electra tells him how to proceed and act in killing Clytemnestra and her
lover, but not how to shine as a star after the murder (65-66); Apollo's oracle to Oedipus about his destiny
as a parrincestual son occurs in a context that leads Oedipus to misconstruct the reality of his own family
(787-797). In the Philoctetes, Helenus' oracle is central to the action, but its precise content remains
obscure, and is variously interpreted by the characters.

It seems then that the voice of truth, contrary to the image of light that the text attributes to it, may be better
defined as a mysterious and enigmatic voice, sometimes more a paradigme of truth for the audience than
for the characters, sometimes a riddle for both. It is a "literary" oracular voice and as such it functions as a
term and as a device of Sophocles' poetics. In this poetics, "truth" is often obscured, premonitions are often
unclear or deceptive: a sort of open, unsettled text to be compared with the "unwritten laws" of the
Antigone, with the hupsipodes nomoi of the OT. 865-66, etc. The oracle itself therefore functions exactly as
Sophocles says in fr. 771: "And this, I know well is god's nature: to the clever men he is always riddling
with his oracles, but to the fools he is a poor and quick teacher."

Peter Struck, University of Pennsylvania
Divination and Literary Criticism?
Well-established ties between poets and prophets provoke a question. If some, and perhaps many, viewed
the poet as a mantic figure, might we expect that some in a poet's audience, and perhaps even many, would
have approached the poem with expectations and techniques of exposition that mirrored those they used to
decipher an oracle? While much of ancient literary criticism draws from rhetoric, I will here suggest that
one group of ancient readers found their models for reading poetry not in the law courts or the agora
but at Delphi -- where they were accustomed to hearing many layers of meaning built into riddling
hexametric lines. That divination is the field of inquiry with which allegorism is most closely allied is
strongly suggested by a somewhat striking overlap of central conceptual categories and as well as a
similarity in general approach. Of course, ancient allegorists did not uniformly subscribe to the traditional
poet/prophet association, any more than rhetorical critics would have claimed the poet is somehow
coextensive with the orator. It is however beyond doubt, in my view, that the structures of thought that
organize divination share central feature with those that organize allegorical reading. A mapping of these
points of overlap shows that divinatory thinking expanded well beyond divinatory practice.

				
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