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Monuments reported by ancient authors (1)

Ancient oracles

Oracle of Delos

Oracle of Delos. The singularity of this oracle is why it should not have existed in times when oracles were most important. It appeared to have every advantage; the Homeric hymn to the Delian Apollo (v. 81) shows that from the first it was designed to be an oracle; the island itself had the highest celebrity for its sacredness, and the religious ceremonials with which it was honoured were scarcely surpassed in Greece: yet an oracle it was not. When one asks why this was, the answer must be conjectural. Probably the reason was, that it lay out of the reach of those Greek races who had the disposition suitable for originating oracles (the Boeotians and Phocians), and was peculiarly under the thumb of that race (the Athenians) which was devoid of any such disposition. Under some circumstances, it might have been a religious centre for the Ionians and Aeolians of Asia Minor; but they probably found the seavoyage a deterrent, and they had their own highly celebrated oracles (see above) derived from Delphi. Not till the 2nd century B.C. is any reference made (outside the brief allusion in the Homeric hymn) to an oracle in the island, Then Zeno of Rhodes speaks of the Rhodians having inquired of this oracle (cf. Diod. v. 58). But Virgil (Aen. iii. 90-93) gave it a far higher reputation; though, considering the looseness of the Roman poets in such points, his reference has hardly any historical authority. The satirical allusion in Lucian (Bis accus. 1) is, however, real evidence; and in a still later age Julian consulted it (Theodoret. Hist. Eccles. iii. 16). When one asks whether the oracle, such as it was, was situated in the temple near the sea-shore or on the top of Mount Cynthus, in the really ancient shrine discovered by M. Lebegue (Recherches sur Delos), the testimony of Himerius (Orat. xviii. 1) seems to decide the point in favour of the latter. The story that Apollo spent the six summer months of the year at Delos, has already been referred to under the head of the Oracle of Patara.

This text is from: A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890) (eds. William Smith, LLD, William Wayte, G. E. Marindin). Cited July 2004 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks


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