Show Summary Details

Page of

Printed from Oxford Classical Dictionary. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a single article for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 31 January 2023



  • A. Schachter


  • Greek Myth and Religion

Amphiaraus, seer descended from Melampus (1), resident at Argos (1), whence he participated in the expedition of the Seven against Thebes. In one tradition, he died with all the other champions save Adrastus (1) (Od. 15. 243–55). Since he knew that the expedition was doomed, Amphiaraus was unwilling to go, but—as pre-arranged with Adrastus—he was obliged to obey the judgement of his wife Eriphyle (sister of Adrastus), who had been bribed by Polynices with the necklace of Harmonia.

In a second version, which became more popular and perhaps originated with the epic Thebaid (see the plot summary proposed by West, 6–9), that Amphiaraus was not killed at Thebes, but, while fleeing from the city, was swallowed up live, chariot and all, in a cleft made by Zeus' thunderbolt (the earliest surviving literary references are in Pindar, Ol. 6. 12–7, Pyth. 8. 39–56, Nem. 9. 24–7, 10. 8–9. For the iconography, which begins at about the same time, see Sineux, 63–5). The motif of pursuit, swallowing up live by the earth, and subsequent operation as an underground oracle, figures in the aition of Trophonius at Lebadea, with whom Amphiaraus shared another characteristic, direct consultation (see oracles).

Amphiaraus' major sanctuary was near Oropus. Scholarship is divided between those who reject Strabo’s statement (9. 2. 10) that there was originally another sanctuary near Thebes, which was abandoned in favour of Oropus, and those who accept it. The latter are in the majority (see, e.g., Hubbard, Parker, and Sineux). It is, however, not easy to accept that Thebans would have been barred from using a sanctuary within their own territory (as Herodotus 8. 134 seems to imply).

The oracle was one of those consulted by Croesus and Mys (for Mardonius) according to Herodotus (1. 46. 2, 1. 52, 8. 134). Amphiaraus gave Croesus the right answer.

The sanctuary at Oropus became popular during the Peloponnesian War, when the Athenians invested Amphiaraus with healing powers on the model of Asclepius. Consultation was by incubation: the consultants/patients bedded down on a ram-skin on the ground, and were visited by Amphiaraus as they slept (IG 7. 235 = IOrop 277 = Rhodes and Osborne 27, and see Lupu).

The sanctuary, which has been excavated and is a charming place, was popular in the 4th cent. under the Athenians, under the Hellenistic Boeotian Confederacy (when that body used it as a show-case for the display of proxeny decrees), and under the Romans, thanks to the impetus given by Sulla, who granted it tax-free status (the inscription IG 7. 413 = IOrop 308 is worth reading in this regard; for translation see Sherk, Augustus no. 70).


  • C. W. J. Eliot, Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites 656, “Oropos.”
  • T. K. Hubbard, Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 1992, 101–107.
  • I. Krauskopf, Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae 1 (1981), 690–713.
  • A. Schachter, Cults of Boiotia 1 (1981), 19–26.
  • T. Gantz, Early Greek Myth (1993), 506–519.
  • T. K. Hubbard, Museum Helveticum 50, 1993, 193–203, esp. 196, n. 16.
  • I. Krauskopf, Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae 7. 730–48, “Septem.”
  • E. Lupu, Hesperia: Journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens 72 (2003), 321–340.
  • R. Parker, Athenian Religion: A History (1996), 147–149.
  • P. Sineux, Amphiaraos. Guerrier, Devin et Guérisseur (2007).
  • M. L. West (ed.), Epic Greek Fragments (2003), 6–9.