Chapter

· The Role and Image of the 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: http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/california/9780520252295.003.0003
· The Role and Image of the Seer

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What the Greeks called “the craft of divination” (mantik ē technē) was the art of interpreting the meaning of signs that were sent by the gods. The god-sent sign was the instrument of mediation between the knowledge of the gods and the more limited knowledge of humans. It was not only the responsibility of the seer to choose the correct interpretation amidst a range of possible interpretations; it was also essential first to recognize the sign as a sign. A chance event becomes an omen when the circumstances require it, “when the underlying tension of a personal situation kindles the signifying power of an omen.” The meaning of some omens and portents was obvious once they were recognized as such, of others less so; but in either case there could be no interpretation until the act of recognition had taken place. The experienced seer, therefore, needed both to recognize the portent and then to interpret it. The social function of divination, averting bad omens, a typology of Greek divination, the self-image of a seer, and what one could ask a seer are discussed.

Keywords: seers; omens; portents; Greek divination; social function; typology of divination; self-image

Chapter.  14710 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Religion in the Ancient World

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