A story of blood, guts and guesswork: synthetic reasoning in classical Greek divination

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This paper explores the interpretative strategies at work in a range of examples of ancient Greek divination. Anthropological studies indicate that contemporary divination depends not on scientific notions of objective and replicable truth but on the performative efficacy of the decisions that it supports. Divinatory outcomes are negotiated through a complex interplay between diviner, client and the known and suspected features of their environment. Similar processes may be detected in a number of well-known episodes of divination in Herodotus and Xenophon. Greek divination can be seen as a deliberative process in which the human protagonists progressively synthesise salient features of their surroundings to disclose hidden threats and potential courses of action. Divination emerges as an improvisational process akin to story-telling, in which each element of the story acquires its full meaning only when brought into the appropriate relationship with the other elements, and in which the overall significance of the tale is not known until it reaches its conclusion.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProphets and Profits
Subtitle of host publicationAncient Divination and Its Reception
EditorsRichard Evans
PublisherRoutledge Taylor & Francis Group
Number of pages14
VolumeActa Classica Supplement 9
ISBN (Electronic)9781315266527
ISBN (Print)9781138290150
Publication statusPublished - 5 Sept 2017
Event 2015 Classics Colloquium - University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa
Duration: 5 Nov 20157 Nov 2015


Conference 2015 Classics Colloquium
Country/TerritorySouth Africa


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