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Ancient Greek Divination Paperback – August 18, 2008

ISBN-13: 978-1405115735 ISBN-10: 1405115734 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell; 1 edition (August 18, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1405115734
  • ISBN-13: 978-1405115735
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 5.9 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,037,936 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"This is a very accessible volume that explores the complicated roles and methods of divination throughout the Greek world. Johnston successfully elucidates the uses, importance, and pliancy of divination in the ancient world using both Greek and Roman sources. She bravely approaches this inherently vague realm and has created a text that is very useful in its breadth and scope." (Religious Studies Review, June 2010)

"It is, in fact, difficult to find fault with this work." (Aestimatio: Critical Reviews in the History of Science, June 2010)


"A highly readable and engaging work. The complex and fascinating modes through which the Greeks discerned the will of the gods has never been more accessible to a modern audience. Johnston's sweeping yet detailed discussion will surely be of interest to a generously wide readership."
Derek Collins, University of Michigan

“The most comprehensive, accessible treatment of ancient Greek divination available in English. It will be of interest to both specialists and students. Sarah Johnston brings lucid clarity to the shadowy range of ancient technologies by which the Greeks found messages from their gods.”
Peter T. Struck, University of Pennsylvania

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Timaeus on February 2, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This is truly one of the best books I've read in a long time.

In modern times, divination (tarot reading, astrology and other popular forms) is at best, taken as a form of entertainment, and at worst, a dirty little secret. If people engage in these sorts of things, then they typically have no explanation for how they work, and no interest finding an explanation.

To the ancient Greeks, it couldn't be more different. Their whole religious ethos, of which divination was a part, had deeply esoteric philosophical explanations. Most modern people, and even scholars, have tended to view the Greeks in light of their own modern, post-enlightenment prejudices, and see these ancient people as merely being superstitious or following in the footsteps of some kind of "primitive" understanding of the world. The reality could not be further from the truth. Many brilliant and rational thinkers such as Socrates consulted with, and had belief in the value of oracles.

The Stoics, such as Zeno, came up with the idea of Sympatheia. That is, strings of associations which connected the Gods, certain occurrences and certain symbols regardless of how far apart they were. This was used to explain both divination and magic. In divination, one could foretell the future by the symbols around, and in magic, one could create the future by using the symbols. This Stoic idea of "sympatheia" would later influence the Neoplatonist movement. In truth, the complex theology, ontology and philosophy of the Greeks which imbues reality itself with divine intelligence, beauty and inherent existential purpose puts modern theology and outdated 19th century materialism to shame.
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