oracle in Greek religion, priest or priestess who imparted the response of a god to a human questioner. The word is also used to refer to the response itself and to the shrine of a god. Every oracular shrine had a fixed method of divination. Many observed signs, such as the motion of objects dropped into a spring, the movement of birds, or the rustle of leaves. Often dreams were interpreted. A later and popular method involved the use of entranced persons whose ecstatic cries were interpreted by trained attendants. Before an oracle was questioned consultants underwent rites of purification and sacrifice. There were many established oracles in ancient Greece, the most famous being those of Zeus at Dodona and of Apollo at Delphi and at Didyma in Asia Minor. Other oracular shrines were located in Syria, Egypt, and Italy.
It was the seat of the Delphic oracle, the most famous and most powerful of ancient Greece. The oracle originated in the worship of an earth-goddess, and later legend ascribed it to Gaea. It passed to Apollo; some stories say he won it by killing the Python, others that it descended to him peacefully through Themis and Phoebe. The Delphic oracle was the preeminent shrine of Apollo, but in winter, when Apollo was absent among the Hyperboreans, it was sacred to Dionysus, who was said to be buried there. The oracle was housed in the great temple to Apollo, first built in the 6th cent. B.C. (it was destroyed and rebuilt at least twice). The oracular messages were spoken by a priestess seated on a golden tripod, who uttered sounds in a frenzied trance; they were interpreted to the questioner by a priest, who usually spoke in verse. Delphi was unique in its universal position in the otherwise...
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...escent. The Cumaean Sibyl owned, according to tradition, nine books of prophecies, which she sold the remaining three to the Roman king Tarquin. In ancient legends women who could predict the future were called sibyls. These prophets were believed to be inspired by the gods and were found primarily in the famous oracle centers, particularly those of Apollo, the Greek god of prophesy. Sibyls were believed to live 900 to 1,000 years. According to the legends, some could interpret dreams and others could make their voices heard after death. Early Greek writers only mentioned only one sibyl, Erythraean Herophile, who predicted the Trojan war. Later on the number of sibyls were increased to ten, including the Samian, the Trojan, the Phrygian, the Cimmerian, the Delphian, the Cumaean, the Libyan, the Tiburtine, and the Babylonian. Of these the most important was Deiphobe.
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