Athens and Sparta: Constructing Greek Political and Social History from 478 BC

By Anton Powell | Go to book overview

9

Religious Prophecy at Athens

Our ancient sources suggest that in all social classes the lives of Athenians were profoundly affected by religious prophecy. Signs from gods were sought and interpreted in the regulation of private affairs. Divination also influenced decisions on strategy, at one stage possibly preserving, but ultimately helping to shatter, the naval power of Athens. Herodotos, Thucydides and Aristotle give considerable detail on the impact of faith in religious prophecy. Comic sources imply that divination was one of the most familiar aspects of Athenian life. 1 We can occasionally detect traces of ancient controversy as to whether divination deserved to be influential, 2 but there seems to have been no dispute that it actually was so. Thucydides records “the majority” of men in one large Athenian force as having based a crucial decision on a religious prophecy. 3 In another connection he represents an Athenian speaker as stating that most people depend on divination in crises. 4 Yet the influence of religious prophecy on the Greeks forms a subject which was long neglected by scholars. 5 As a result there is scope for much reconstruction. In addition, the unusual resistance of scholars to ancient evidence on this topic may, paradoxically, make the subject an unusually helpful one in illustrating the nature of modern historical method.

Greek religion lacked the widespread and tenacious organisation, regulating matters of cult and doctrine, which has characterised Christian churches. What one Greek interpreted as an omen of divine purpose might be disregarded by another theist. The prophecy issued by one shrine might be at odds with that from another. 6 Even the priestess of Apollo at Delphoi, the most widely revered source of oracles in Greece, was sometimes suspected of having prophesied from corrupt motives. 7 Patterns of belief can, however, be identified.

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Athens and Sparta: Constructing Greek Political and Social History from 478 BC
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vi
  • Introduction xii
  • 1 - The Delian League: Its Origins and Early History 1
  • 2 - From Delian League to Athenian Empire 35
  • 3 - The Athenian Empire 60
  • 4 - Sparta: Her Problems and Her Ingenuity, 478-431 97
  • 5 - The Peloponnesian War, 431-404 138
  • Notes 202
  • 6 - Life Within Sparta 218
  • 7 - Athenian Dēmokratia 271
  • 8 - Citizen Women of Athens 348
  • 9 - Religious Prophecy at Athens 404
  • Appendix 436
  • Index 449
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