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date: 02 December 2022



  • Herbert William Parke,
  • B. C. Dietrich
  •  and Alan A. D. Peatfield


  • Greek Myth and Religion

Dodona (Δωδώνη‎), the sanctuary of Zeus Naϊ‎os in Epirus, and reputedly the oldest Greek oracle. The god's temple-sharer is Dione Naϊ‎A, and both are shown together on coins. Settlement on the site probably began in early Helladic, but there is no evidence of an early Earth (or any other) oracle. Also stories of a mantic gong or oracular spring rising from the roots of Zeus' sacred oak are later inventions (Plin. HN 2. 228; Serv. on Aen. 3. 466). Traditionally oracular responses emanated from the rustling leaves of the sacred oak or from doves sitting in the tree (Hdt. 2. 55; Hes. frs. 240, 319 M–W). Oracular doves are shown on two Epirote coins (P. R. Franke, MDAI1956, 60 f.). Odysseus claimed to have gone to Dodona in order to ‘hear Zeus' will from the lofty oak’ (Od. 14. 327 f. = 19. 296 f.). Achilles prayed to the Pelasgian Zeus at Dodona whose prophets the Selli (or Helli, scholiasts Soph. Trach.1167) ‘sleep on the ground with unwashed feet’ (Il. 16. 233–5). These mysterious male prophets may have been identical with the Tomari (after Mt. Tomaros) of Strabo (7. 328), but by the mid-5th cent. bce the oracle was operated by three priestesses who later on themselves were called ‘the Doves’ (Paus. 10. 12. 10; Strabo 7. 329; Hdt. 2. 55). Their method of issuing responses in a trance was borrowed from Apollo's inspirational oracle at Delphi (Aristid. Or. 45. 11 (ed. Dindorf); cf. Pl. Phdr. 244b). Though sometimes consulted officially by states, the Dodonian oracle generally offered advice on private problems. The enquirer scratched his question on a lead tablet and was answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’. A number of tablets survive and can be seen in the museum at Ioannina. In the reign of Pyrrhus, Dodona was made the religious centre of his kingdom and the festival of the Naϊ‎A was instituted. The sack by the Aetolians in 219 bce was followed by a restoration, but the sanctuary never really recovered from the Roman ravaging of Epirus in 167 bce. The festival of the Naϊ‎A was revived and lasted till the 3rd cent. ce. A simple tree-sanctuary remains on the site, and the ruins of a small 4th-cent. temple stand beside the recently restored large theatre (17,000 seats) of the 3rd cent. bce. See Delphic oracle; Aetolia.


  • M. P. Nilsson, Geschichte der griechischen Religion 13.
  • N. G. L. Hammond, Epirus.
  • H. W. Parke, The Oracles of Zeus (1967).
  • S. I. Dakaris, Dodona (1986).
  • E. Lhôte, Les lamelles oraculaires de Dodone (2006).
  • E. Eidinow, Oracles, Curses and Risk among the ancient Greeks (2007), esp. 56–138.
  • F. Quantin, Kernos 21 (2008), 9–48.