Posted by: History Of Macedonia | June 8, 2007

Oracles of Dodona – Ephyra

Dodona, the sanctuary of Zeus in Epirus, boasted of bring the oldest oracle. The Iliad has Achilles pray to the Pelasgian Zeus of Dodona; “about you dwell the Helloi (Selloi?), the interpreters, with unwashed feet, sleeping on the ground.’4 That remarkable body of priests later disappeared, and even their name is discussed only on the basis of this Iliad text. Odysseus alleges he has gone to Dodona, in order to learn the plan of Zeus from the oak of lofty foliage; the Hesiodic Catalogues perhaps already spoke of three doves which dwell in the oak tree;” according to later tradition it is three priestesses who are called the doves; they enter a state of ecstasy, and ‘afterwards they do not know anything about what they have said.’ The excavations have exposed the simple tree sanctuary; not until the fourth century was a small temple added, after the Molossian kings of Epirus had assumed the protectorship of Dodona. From that time onwards, Dodona enjoyed a certain popularity; nevertheless, it is mostly private individuals who on the surviving lead tablets approach the god for advice on everyday problems.

 The Oracle of the Dead at Ephyra must be of ancient repute and the name of the surrounding Thesprotoi clearly points to their divine mission; the association of Odysseus’ journey to Hades with this spot is probably older than our Odysseust The two rivers there were then given the names of the rivers of the underworld, Acheron and Kokytos.” About 600 the tyrant Periandros of Corinth conjured up the soul of his dead wife there,” The installation uncovered through recent excavations dates only from the fourth century; earlier structures were doubtless lost when that monumental new building was erected. The centre is a square complex with walls of polygonal masonry three metres thick giving a Cyclopean appearance. Around this runs the approach corridor, once completely dark, passing a bathroom, incubation and dining chambers, places for purification, for throwing a stone, and for bloody sacrifice, and finally leading through a labyrinth with many doors into the central chamber, beneath which a vaulted crypt represents the world of the dead. Perhaps there was a machine for producing ghostly appearances – iron rollers which have been found are interpreted in this way – or perhaps the eating of certain kinds of beans had a hallucinogenic effect; numinous experience and manipulation may overlap.

 Source: Greek Religion:Archaic and Classical By Walter Burkert


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