oracle

/awr"euh keuhl, or"-/, n.
1. (esp. in ancient Greece) an utterance, often ambiguous or obscure, given by a priest or priestess at a shrine as the response of a god to an inquiry.
2. the agency or medium giving such responses.
3. a shrine or place at which such responses were given: the oracle of Apollo at Delphi.
4. a person who delivers authoritative, wise, or highly regarded and influential pronouncements.
5. a divine communication or revelation.
6. any person or thing serving as an agency of divine communication.
7. any utterance made or received as authoritative, extremely wise, or infallible.
8. oracles, the Scriptures.
9. the holy of holies of the Temple built by Solomon in Jerusalem. I Kings 6:16, 19-23.
[1350-1400; ME < OF < L oraculum, equiv. to ora(re) to plead (see ORATION) + -culum -CLE2]

* * *

Source of a divine communication delivered in response to a petitioner's request.

Ancient Greece and Rome had many oracles. The most famous was that of Apollo at Delphi, where the medium was a woman over 50 called the Pythia. After bathing in the Castalian spring, she apparently would descend into a basement cell, mount a sacred tripod, and chew the leaves of the laurel, sacred to Apollo. Her utterances, which were often highly ambiguous, were interpreted by priests. Other oracles, including those at Claros (Apollo), Amphicleia (Dionysus), Olympia (Zeus), and Epidaurus (Asclepius), were consulted through various other methods; for example, the oldest of the oracles, that of Zeus at Dodona, spoke through the whispering of the leaves of a sacred oak. At some shrines, the inquirer would sleep in the holy precinct and receive an answer in a dream.

* * *

      (Latin oraculum from orare, “to pray,” or “to speak”), divine communication delivered in response to a petitioner's request; also, the seat of prophecy itself. Oracles were a branch of divination but differed from the casual pronouncements of augurs by being associated with a definite person or place. For example, the oracles of Zeus originated at Dodona, Olympia, or Siwa; those of the Sibyl were in general circulation, but their provenance was unknown.

      Oracular shrines were numerous in antiquity, and at each the god was consulted by a fixed means of divination. The method could be simple, such as the casting of lots or the rustling of tree leaves, or more sophisticated, taking the form of a direct inquiry of an inspired person who then gave the answer orally. One of the most common methods was incubation, in which the inquirer slept in a holy precinct and received an answer in a dream.

      The most famous ancient oracle was that of Apollo at Delphi, located on the slopes of Mt. Parnassus above the Corinthian Gulf. Traditionally, the oracle first belonged to Mother Earth (Gaea) but later was either given to or stolen by Apollo. At Delphi the medium was a woman over fifty, known as the Pythia, who lived apart from her husband and dressed in a maiden's clothes. Though the oracle, at first called Pytho, was known to Homer and was the site of a Mycenaean settlement, its fame did not become Panhellenic until the 7th and 6th centuries BC, when Apollo's advice or sanction was sought by lawmakers, colonists, and founders of cults. The Pythia's counsel was most in demand to forecast the outcome of projected wars or political actions.

      Consultations were normally restricted to the seventh day of the Delphic month, Apollo's birthday, and were at first banned during the three winter months when Apollo was believed to be visiting the Hyperboreans in the north, though Dionysus later took Apollo's place at Delphi during that time. According to the usual procedure, sponsors were necessary, as was the provision of a pelanos (ritual cake) and a sacrificial beast that conformed to rigid physical standards. The Pythia and her consultants first bathed in the Castalian spring; afterward, she drank from the sacred spring Cassotis and then entered the temple. There she apparently descended into a basement cell, mounted a sacred tripod, and chewed leaves of the laurel, Apollo's sacred tree. While in her abnormal state, the Pythia would speak, intelligibly or otherwise. Her words, however, were not directly recorded by the inquirer; instead they were interpreted and written down by the priests in what was often highly ambiguous verse.

      In addition to Delphi, there were less frequented oracles at Thebes, Tegyra, and Ptoon in Boeotia, at Abae in Phocis, at Corope in Thessaly, and on Delos, Apollo's birthplace. In Anatolia the god's oracles at Patara, Branchidae, Claros, and Grynium were also well known, though none rivaled Delphi.

      The oracle of Zeus at Dodona in northwestern Greece was regarded as the oldest. At Dodona the priests (later priestesses) revealed the god's will from the whispering of the leaves on a sacred oak, from a sacred spring, and from the striking of a gong. Zeus also prophesied from his altar at Olympia, where priests divined from offerings, as well as from the oasis of Siwa in Libya, which was originally an oracle of the Egyptian god Amon.

      Oracles delivered through incubation were believed to come from chthonian (underworld) powers. Thus invalids slept in the hall of Asclepius, the god of medicine, at Epidaurus and claimed to receive cures through dreams. At the oracle of the hero Amphiaraus at Oropus in Attica, consultants slept on skins, while visitors to the oracle of Trophonius (son of Erginus the Argonaut) at Levádhia slept in a hole in the ground. Incubation was also practiced at the oracle of Dionysus at Amphicleia, while an oracle for consulting the dead existed beside the river Acheron in central Greece.

      Oracles in the formal sense were generally confined to the classical world. The Egyptians, however, divined from the motion of images paraded through the streets, and the Hebrews from sacred objects and dreams. Babylonian temple prophetesses also interpreted dreams. In Italy the lot oracle of Fortuna Primigenia at Praeneste was consulted even by the Roman emperors. The goddess Albunea possessed a dream oracle at Tibur (Tivoli), and the incubation rites of the god Faunus resembled those of the Greek hero Amphiaraus.

* * *


Universalium. 2010.

Synonyms:

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Oracle — Corporation Rechtsform Corporation ISIN US68389X1054 Gründung …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • ORACLE — Plus ou moins consciemment, les hommes voient dans tel ou tel événement inattendu un signe capable d’orienter leur conduite; ils ont souvent chargé des exégètes d’interpréter certains phénomènes – foudre, éclipses, crues de rivières, naissances… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Oracle — • A Divine communication given at a special place through specially appointed persons; also the place itself. Catholic Encyclopedia. Kevin Knight. 2006. Oracle     Oracle      …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • oracle — ORACLE. s. m. Response que les Payens croyoient recevoir de leurs Dieux, & qui estoit renduë par leurs Idoles ou par d autres voyes. Les oracles estoient ordinairement ambigus. rendre des oracles. expliquer un oracle. Il se prend aussi pour la… …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie française

  • Oracle — Or a*cle, n. [F., fr. L. oraculum, fr. orare to speak, utter, pray, fr. os, oris, mouth. See {Oral}.] [1913 Webster] 1. The answer of a god, or some person reputed to be a god, to an inquiry respecting some affair or future event, as the success… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Oracle — es un sistema de administración de base de datos (o RDBMS por el acrónimo en inglés de Relational Data Base Management System), fabricado por Oracle Corporation. Se considera a Oracle como uno de los sistemas de bases de datos más completos,… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Oracle — Oracle, AZ U.S. Census Designated Place in Arizona Population (2000): 3563 Housing Units (2000): 1534 Land area (2000): 11.382188 sq. miles (29.479730 sq. km) Water area (2000): 0.000000 sq. miles (0.000000 sq. km) Total area (2000): 11.382188 sq …   StarDict's U.S. Gazetteer Places

  • Oracle, AZ — U.S. Census Designated Place in Arizona Population (2000): 3563 Housing Units (2000): 1534 Land area (2000): 11.382188 sq. miles (29.479730 sq. km) Water area (2000): 0.000000 sq. miles (0.000000 sq. km) Total area (2000): 11.382188 sq. miles (29 …   StarDict's U.S. Gazetteer Places

  • oracle — (n.) late 14c., a message from a god, expressed by divine inspiration, from O.Fr. oracle (12c.), from L. oraculum divine announcement, oracle, from orare pray, plead (see ORATOR (Cf. orator)), with material instrumental suffix culo . In antiquity …   Etymology dictionary

  • oracle — [ôr′ə kəl, är′ə kəl] n. [OFr < L oraculum, divine announcement, oracle < orare, to speak, pray, beseech < os (gen. oris), the mouth: see ORAL] 1. among the ancient Greeks and Romans, a) the place where, or medium by which, deities were… …   English World dictionary

  • Oracle — Or a*cle, v. i. [imp. & p. p. {Oracled}; p. pr. & vb. n. {Oracling}.] To utter oracles. [Obs.] [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.