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Notes and Reflections on Books and Media

by Hannah Leitheiser

fly, you fools!



440 bc



"wretches, why tarry ye thus? nay, flee from your houses and city, flee to the ends of the earth from the circle embattled of athens! body and head are alike, nor one is stable nor other, hands and feet wax faint, and whatso lieth between them wasteth in darkness and gloom; for flame destroyeth the city, flame and the war-god fierce, swift driver of syrian horses. many a fortress too, not thine alone, shall he shatter; many a shrine of the gods he’ll give to the flame for devouring; sweating for fear they stand, and quaking for dread of the foeman, running with gore are their roofs, foreseeing the stress of their sorrow; wherefore i bid you begone! have courage to lighten your evil." - orcale's response to athenians asking for advice as the persians prepare for invasion.

"you're so screwed." - signed, god.

makes you wonder, though, about these oracles. seems there are a lot in the ancient world -- important people go to the oracle at delphi, but regular folks need oracling, too.

and although there's certainly a fortune-cookie vagary to it, before asking of the gods, people give gifts. in short, there's a lot of money in being a respected oracle. so you wonder if there were informant networks involved. ships full of people stop at delphi. they will need hospitality services. means there's probably staff -- maybe they ask friendly questions of the guests and relay the info back to a hub of priests who can make sure the oracle utterances stay relevant to current events.

of course, it's the same sort of thing you can ask of any religious institution that speaks for god: genuine piety or a money-making scheme. and if there were informant networks, maybe asking for advice even from a secular perspective wasn't totally stupid, plus you want the people to believe god's on your side, so you can ask the same of the supplicants.