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ORACLES
Form: Gr. manteia, "oracular responses," or the "seats of oracles"; chresteria is used in the same senses, and also of victims offered by those consulting an oracle.

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The seats of the worship of some special divinity, where prophecies were imparted with the sanction of the divinity, either by the priests themselves or with their co-operation. There were a great many such places in all Greek countries, and these may be divided, according to the method in which the prophecy was made known, into four main divisions: (1) oral oracles, (2) oracles by signs, (3) oracles by dreams, and (4) oracles of the dead. The most revered oracles were those of the first class, where the divinity, almost invariably the seer-god Apollo, orally revealed his will through the lips of inspired prophets or prophetesses. The condition of frenzy was produced for the most part by physical influence: the breathing of earthly vapours or drinking of the water of oracular fountains. The words spoken whilst in this state were generally fashioned by the priests into a reply to the questions proposed to them. The most famous oracle of this kind was that of Delphi (see DELPHIC ORACLE). Beside this there existed in Greece Proper a large number of oracles of Apollo, as at Ab' in Phocis, in different places of Boeotia, in Euboea, and at Argos, where the priestess derived her inspiration from drinking the blood of a lamb, one being killed every month. Not less numerous were the oracles of Apollo in Asia Minor. Among these that of the Didym'an Apollo at Miletus traced its origin to the old family of the Branchid', the descendants of Apollo's son Branchus. Before its destruction by Xerxes, it came nearest to the reputation of the Delphian. Here it was a priestess who prophesied, seated on a wheel-shaped disc, after she had bathed the hem of her robe and her feet in a spring, and had breathed the steam arising from it. The oracle at Clarus near Colophon (see MANTO) was also very ancient. Here a priest, after simply hearing the names and the number of those consulting the oracle, drank of the water of a spring, and then gave answer in verse. The most respected among the oracles where prophecy was given by signs was that of Zeus of Dodona (q.v.), mentioned as early as Homer [Od. xiv 327=xix 296], where predictions were made from the rustling of the sacred oak, and at a later time from the sound of a brazen cymbal. Another mode of interpreting by signs, as practised especially at the temple of Zeus at Olympia by the Iamid', or descendants of Iamus, a son of Apollo, was that derived from the entrails of victims and the burning of the sacrifices on the altar. There were also oracles connected with the lot or dice, one especially at the temple of Heracles at Bura in Ach'a; and prophecies were also delivered at Delphi by means of lots, probably only at times when the Pythia was not giving responses. The temple of the Egyptian Ammon, who was identified with Zeus, also gave oracles by means of signs. Oracles given in dreams were generally connected with the temples of Asclepius. After certain preliminary rites, sick persons had to sleep in these temples; the priests interpreted their dreams, and dictated accordingly the means to be taken to insure recovery. The most famous of these oracular shrines of the healing god was the temple at Epidaurus, and next to this the temple founded thence at Pergamum in Asia Minor. Equally famous were the similar oracles of the seer Amphilochus at Oropus, of Trophonius at Lebadea in Boeotia, and of the seers Mopsus and Amphilochus at Mallus in Cilicia (q.v.). In later times such oracles were connected with all sanctuaries of Isis and Serapis. At oracles of the dead (psychomanteia) the souls of deceased persons were evoked in order to give the information desired. Thus in Homer [Od. xi] Odysseus betakes himself to the entrance of the lower world to question the spirit of the seer Tiresias. Oracles of this kind were especially common in places where it was supposed there was an entrance to the lower world; as at the city of Cichyrus in Epirus (where there was an Acherusian lake as well as the rivers of Acheron and Cocytus, bearing the same, names as those of the world below), at the promontory of T'narum in Laconia, at Heraclea in Pontus, and at Lake Avernus near Cum' in Italy. At most of them oracles were also given in dreams; but there were some in which the inquirer was in a waking condition when he conjured up the spirits whom he wished to question. While oracles derived either from dreams or from the dead were chosen in preference by superstitious people, the most important among oral oracles and those given by means of signs had a political significance. On all serious occasions they were questioned on behalf of the State in order to ascertain the divine will: this was especially the case with the oracle of Delphi (see DELPHIC ORACLE). In consequence of the avarice and partisanship of the priests, as well as the increasing decline of belief in the gods, the oracles gradually fell into abeyance, to revive again everywhere under the Roman emperors, though they never regained the political importance they had once had in ancient Greece. Such investigation of the divine will was originally quite foreign to the ROMANS. Even the mode of prophecying by means of lots (see SORTES), practised in isolated egions of Italy, and even in the immediate neighbourhood of Rome, as at C're, and especially at Pr'neste, did not come into use, at all events for State purposes, and was generally regarded with contempt. The Romans did not consult even the Sibylline verses in order to forecast the future. On the other hand, the growth of superstition in the imperial period not only brought the native oracles into repute, but caused a general resort to foreign oracles besides. The inclination to this kind of prophecy seems never to have been more generally spread among the masses of the people than at this time. Apart from the Greek oracular deities, there were the oriental deities whose worship was nearly everywhere combined with predictions. In most of the famous sanctuaries the most various forms of prophecy were represented, and the stranger they were, the better they were liked. In the case of the oral oracles the responses in earlier times were for the most part composed in verse: on the decay of poetic productiveness, they began to take the form of prose, or of passages from the poets, the Greeks generally adopting lines of Homer or Euripides, the Italians, lines of Vergil. The public declaration of oracles ended with the official extermination of paganism under Theodosius at the end of the 4th century.
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