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Michael Scott

The origins of the oracle of Apollo date to the very end of the 9th centurybce. Eventually it developed into the most important Greek oracle and was consulted by poleis (see polis) as well as individuals. It played an important guiding role in the formation of the Greek poleis and in colonization; it gave guidance on warfare, pollution, “release from evils,” (rarely) laws, and—above all—cult. The story that Apollo was not the original owner of the oracle but replaced an earlier deity (different versions naming different deities, but all including Gaia or Themis, or both) is unlikely to reflect cult history; it is a myth, expressing the perception that at Delphi the chthonian, dangerous, and disorderly aspects of the cosmos have been defeated by, and subordinated to, the celestial guide and lawgiver.1 Apollo’s oracle has tamed the darker side of the cosmos—both at the theological (Gaia’s defeat) and at the human level: it therefore gives men divine guidance through which they can cope with this side of the cosmos.


Hanne Eisenfeld

Seer and warrior, member of royal family of Argos, descended from Melampus. Son of Oecles, husband of Eriphyle, father of Alcmaeon (1) and Amphilochus. Unwilling participant in the expedition of the Seven against Thebes, whence he did not return. Consulted as an oracle and, from the later 5th centurybce, as a healer, on the model of Asclepius.Amphiaraus opposed the expedition against Thebes, knowing through his mantic foresight that it was doomed to failure. He was nonetheless forced to participate through the intervention of his wife, Eriphyle, who was also the sister of Adrastus (1). During an earlier quarrel between her husband and her brother, she had been empowered to decide disputes between them (Ap. Bib. 3.6.2; Diod. Sic. 4.65.6). Polynices, the Theban prince who was seeking Argive support for the attack against Thebes, knew of this arrangement and offered her a golden necklace in exchange for exercising her influence and forcing her husband to take part in the expedition (some variation on this is already alluded to at Od.


Massimo Nafissi

Lycurgus was the legendary founder of Sparta’s political order and of many of its social institutions. His legend initially developed as part of the transformation that gave Sparta its distinctive features during the Archaic period. The role that Spartan tradition attributed to Lycurgus ended up subsuming and eventually cancelling any memory of this process, and his role in the establishment of the city’s laws and customs, along with Apollo’s blessing, rendered them more legitimate and binding. As it was Lycurgus’s laws that granted Sparta her distinctive greatness, the lawgiver continued to be an influential source of civic identity throughout antiquity, and in Sparta, his legend continued to be revived through a process known as invention of tradition. Throughout the Greek world, Lycurgus and his legislation were the object of deep historical, political and ethical-philosophical interest, usually admired or idealised, but occasionally viewed more critically.

Scholarly views concerning ancient evidence relating to Lycurgus vary.


Erich S. Gruen

The Sibylline Oracles had a long life. The Sibyl was in origin a single Greek prophetess, renowned for the accuracy of her forecasts, divinely inspired, but portrayed as mad or raving, and regularly spewing forth dire forebodings. Additional Sibyls gradually sprang up in a variety of locations in the Mediterranean world, including the renowned Cumaean Sibyl whom Aeneas reputedly consulted. Sibylline prophecies were eventually collected in written form in Rome and used by Roman authorities to provide interpretation of unusual prodigies or natural disasters or to offer advice on significant matters of foreign entanglements and wars. Although that collection (insofar as it is historical) has long since disappeared, the voice of the Sibyl was reproduced in literary form. The extant Sibylline verses, composed in Homeric Greek hexameters, constitute twelve books of oracles, fashioned over a period of several centuries by numerous different and no longer identifiable hands. They constitute a motley assemblage of grim forecasts, historical references, apocalyptic visions, and denunciations of various peoples, especially Romans, for their abandonment of piety and indulgence in evil. The genre was appropriated by anonymous Jewish authors, speaking through the voice of the Sibyl, and employed to convey condemnation of cities and nations for the sins of idolatry, licentiousness, and a range of vices. Vivid portrayals of the end time and eschatological conflagration feature many of the texts. Subsequent Christian writers interpolated verses, added exaltations of Christ, and appropriated Sibylline pronouncements for their own ends. Others manipulated the oracles to record historical personages and events in the framework of prophetic pronouncements. The result was a complex and unsystematic compilation of reconstructed or fabricated prophecies ascribed to Sibyls but largely representing the ingenuity of Jewish and Christian compilers.


Corinne Ondine Pache

That a human being might become possessed by a supernatural power was a fairly common ancient belief. The effect might be a sudden change in behavior, the altered state of consciousness associated with Dionysiac ritual, or a prophetic frenzy as in the case of a divinely inspired trance (see Delphic oracle). Plato (Phaedr. 244a ff., esp. 265a-c) distinguishes between prophetic (mantikê, inspired by Apollo), mystical (telestikê, inspired by Dionysus), poetic (inspired by the Muses), and erotic (inspired by Aphrodite and Eros) possession. Sources also differentiate between unprompted possession and possession sought through ritual, as in the case of the Pythia at Delphi who became ἔνθεος (“inspired” or “filled with a god”) and whose body became a medium for the god’s voice.Words such as θεόληπτος, θεοφόρητος, or κάτοχος (expressing the notion “possessed by (a) god”), carried an ambivalent meaning. On the one hand, they referred to terrifying pathological experiences, such as epileptic strokes or various types of insanity. On the other hand, possession involved direct contact with a god and thus could effect a kind of sacralization. Socrates mentions the possibility of becoming “seized by the nymphs” (νυμφόληπτος) while conversing in a sanctuary dedicated to nymphs (Phaedr.