Wednesday, August 07, 2013


A Problem for Polytheists

For a polytheist, who believes in the existence of many gods, a question naturally arises. To which of the gods in particular should he pray and sacrifice to achieve a specific goal? In ancient Greece, one way to answer this question was to consult an oracle. On this question posed to oracles see H.S. Versnel, Coping With the Gods: Wayward Readings in Greek Theology (Leiden: Brill, 2011 = Religions in the Graeco-Roman World, 173), pp. 46-49.

Jon D. Mikalson, Ancient Greek Religion (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2005), p. 109, provides a translation of a private inquiry of this type on a lead tablet from the oracle of Zeus at Dodona:
Gods. May I have good fortune.
Evandros and his wife consult Zeus Naios and Dione. To whom of the gods or heroes or divinities should they pray and sacrifice so that they themselves and their household may fare better both now and for all time?
Mikalson cites H.W. Parke, The Oracles of Zeus (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967), and I don't know whether the translation is Mikalson's or Parke's.

Here is the Greek text, from The Packard Humanities Institute's Searchable Greek Inscriptions, where it is dated "ca. 300-167 BC":
θεοί. τύχαν ἀγαθάν. ἐπικοινῆται Εὔβαν-
δρος {Εὔανδρος} καὶ ἁ γυνὰ τῶι Διεὶ τῶι Νάωι καὶ τᾶι Δι-
ώναι τίνι κα φεῶν {θεῶν} ἢ ἡρώων ἢ δαιμόνων
εὐχόμενοι καὶ φύοντες {θύοντες} λῶιον καὶ ἄμεινο-
ν πράσσοιεν καὶ αὐτοὶ καὶ ἁ οἴκησις καὶ νῦν
καὶ ἰς τὸν ἅπαντα χρόνον.
Some elementary notes to myself on the Greek:
The text of the lead tablet was first published in Constantin Carapanos, Dodones et ses ruines (Paris: Librarie Hachette et Cie, 1878), [T.I:] Texte, p. 71, and [T. II:] Planches, pl. XXXIV, no. 3. There is also a text with notes by August Fick in Sammlung der griechischen Dialekt-Inschriften, II.1 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1885), pp. 120-121, no. 1582. The most recent edition is in Éric Lhôte, Les lamelles oraculaires de Dodone (Genève: Droz, 2006 = Hautes Études du Monde Gréco-romain, 36), Corpus, No 8, which I haven't seen, because the relevant pages are hidden in Google Books.

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