Oracle in Greek Religion
oracle in Greek religion, priest or priestess who imparted the response of a god to a human questioner. The word is also used to refer to the response itself and to the shrine of a god. Every oracular shrine had a fixed method of divination. Many observed signs, such as the motion of objects dropped into a spring, the movement of birds, or the rustle of leaves. Often dreams were interpreted. A later and popular method involved the use of entranced persons whose ecstatic cries were interpreted by trained attendants. Before an oracle was questioned consultants underwent rites of purification and sacrifice. There were many established oracles in ancient Greece, the most famous being those of Zeus at Dodona and of Apollo at Delphi and at Didyma in Asia Minor. Other oracular shrines were located in Syria, Egypt, and Italy.
It was the seat of the Delphic oracle, the most famous and most powerful of ancient Greece. The oracle originated in the worship of an earth-goddess, and later legend ascribed it to Gaea. It passed to Apollo; some stories say he won it by killing the Python, others that it descended to him peacefully through Themis and Phoebe. The Delphic oracle was the preeminent shrine of Apollo, but in winter, when Apollo was absent among the Hyperboreans, it was sacred to Dionysus, who was said to be buried there. The oracle was housed in the great temple to Apollo, first built in the 6th cent. B.C. (it was destroyed and rebuilt at least twice). The oracular messages were spoken by a priestess seated on a golden tripod, who uttered sounds in a frenzied trance; they were interpreted to the questioner by a priest, who usually spoke in verse. Delphi was unique in its universal position in the otherwise fragmented political and social life of Greece. It was the meeting place of the Amphictyonic League, the most important league of Greek city-states, and also the site of the Pythian games. Persons seeking the help of the oracle brought rich gifts, and the shrine grew very wealthy. The prestige and influence of the Delphic oracle prevailed for centuries through all of Greece. During Hellenistic times, however, the importance of the oracle declined. Delphi was frequently pillaged from early Roman times, and the sanctuary fell into decay. One of the art works excavated there is the beautiful 5th-century bronze statue called the Delphic Charioteer
in classical mythology and religion, prophetess. There were said to be as many as 10 sibyls, variously located and represented. The most famous was the Cumaean sibyl, described by Vergil in the Aeneid. When she offered Tarquin her prophetic writings, the so-called sibylline books, he refused to pay her high price. She kept burning the books until finally he bought the remaining three at the original price. Although the historical origins of the books are uncertain, they were actually kept at Rome in the Capitol and were consulted by the state in times of emergency. The books...