Beyond oracular ambiguity

Olaf Almqvist

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In studies of ancient Greek divination, oracles are often claimed to pronounce ambiguous but true statements within an intricately ordered cosmos. There exist, however, several problematic exceptions. In Book 2 of the Iliad, Zeus deliberately deceives Agamemnon through a prophetic dream; Hesiod’s Muses speak truths or lies depending on their mood; and Apollo’s utterances can harm as easily as help. The possibility of divine deceit forces us to reconsider the ontological assumptions within which early Greek divination was understood to operate. Adopting Philippe Descola’s concept of ‘analogism’, I argue that rather than a means of reading the cosmos, early Greek divination resembles more an act of diplomacy, an attempt to establish successful communication with supernatural beings within an always potentially fragmented world.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-61
Number of pages21
JournalSocial Analysis
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2021


  • Agents
  • Ambiguity
  • Analogism
  • Deception
  • Greek divination
  • Infallibility
  • Oracles


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