Who Is a Seer?

Michael Attyah Flower

in The Seer in Ancient Greece

Published by University of California Press

Published in print July 2008 | ISBN: 9780520252295
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520934009 | DOI:
Who Is a Seer?

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A seer (mantis) was a professional diviner, an expert in the art of divination. There is no exact modern equivalent, since he or she combined the role of confidant and personal adviser with that of psychic, fortune teller, and homeopathic healer. Seers did not presume to “tell the future,” nor did they claim to possess a “paranormal” power that was independent of a god's inspiration or dispensation. Since Greek religious terminology is inexact, the person called a mantis dealt with a broad range of religious activities—anything that a freelance religious expert might be expected to handle. The term also embraces an array of prophetic types, ranging from the upper-class professionals who accompanied generals on campaign to the possessed mediums at oracular sites, to street-corner purifiers and dream interpreters. Despite the fact that both might lay claim to divine inspiration, there was no stage in Greek society in which the poet (aoidos) and the seer (mantis) were undifferentiated. They always performed different functions and had very different social roles.

Keywords: seers; mantis; Greek divination; Greek society; social roles; poets; aoidos

Chapter.  20090 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Religion in the Ancient World

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