Herodotean oracles: moral and rational responses to ambiguity

Author: Rodkey, Krista
Source document: Graeco-Latina Brunensia. 2015, vol. 20, iss. 2, pp. [161]-176
Extent
[161]-176
  • ISSN
    1803-7402 (print)
    2336-4424 (online)
Type: Article
Language
English
License: Not specified license
Abstract(s)
The oracles that appear in Herodotus's Histories are usually ambiguous, yet despite this ambiguity it is clear from his narratives that Herodotus holds oracle-recipients morally responsible for their oracular interpretations, whether correct or incorrect. Though these two commitments seem to be in tension, I challenge the traditional view that Herodotus' responsibility standard is too high given the ambiguity of the oracles. Instead of examining the ambiguity of the oracular texts in isolation, I argue the texts must be considered in an interpretive situation involving four sources of uncertainty: the genuineness of the oracle, the disposition of the god consulted, the oracular text itself, and the appropriate response to it. Facing these ambiguities, I argue, Herodotus's characters can take one of two coherent attitudes toward the oracle decision-making process: the attitude of the powerful and controlling who hope to overcome the uncertainty surrounding oracles by making use of their cleverness and power, or the attitude of the pious who hope to understand the oracles from within a framework of piety, good sense, and community integrity.
Document
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