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MANDOSÝNI - (mantosyne, μαντοσύνη, ΜΑΝΤΟΣΥΝΗ. Pronounced: mahn-doh-SEE-nee) divination. A mándis (mantis, μάντῐς) is a seer.


The source of genuine oracle is Zefs (Ζεύς), for which he is known by the epithet Panomphaios (Πανομφαῖος), as says Ómiros (Homer, Ὅμηρος) in the epic poem, Iliás (The Iliad, Ἰλιάς):

"Beside the beautiful altar of Zeus he let fall the fawn where the Achaeans were used to offer sacrifice to Zeus from whom all omens come (Πανομϕαίῳ)." [1]

Why, as Ómiros states, do all oracles come from Zefs? ...for many reasons, not the least of which is that he has dominion over and complete knowledge of Destiny, which he shares with and administers through the Mírai (Moerae, Μοῖραι), the Fates. Zefs is Ýpatos (Ὕπατος), the highest, supreme deity, who even holds sway over the lives of mortals and the course of events.

Since oracle comes from Zefs himself, a most important divinity, it is necessary to understand how it is used and not used in Ællinismόs (Hellenismos, Ἑλληνισμός), the ancient Greek religion.


Oracle was first spoken by Earth and the gift of oracle was given to Thǽmis (Themis, Θέμις) and passed down, eventually becoming the possession of Apóllôn (Apollo, Ἀπόλλων), who holds it permanently.

Thǽmis (Themis, Θέμις) is the daughter of Ouranós (Uranus, Οὐρανός) and Yi (Ge = Earth, Γῆ). Ouranós is a pre-form of Zefs. Thǽmis is the face and voice of divine Law and with her oracular power reveals it to mortals. The Orphic hymn to Thǽmis does not speak of her dominion over Law and Justice, the dominions of which are usually associated with her, but, rather, speaks of her oracular ability; this oracular ability, however, is intimately connected with Law and Justice, as is elaborated by Diódohros Sikælióhtis (Diodorus Siculus, Διόδωρος Σικελιώτης) in his Library of History:

"Themis, the myths tell us, was the first to introduce divinations and sacrifices and ordinances which concern the Gods, and to instruct men in the ways of obedience to laws and of peace. Consequently men who preserve what is holy with respect to the Gods and the laws of men are called ‘law-guardians’ (θεσμοϕύλακας) and ‘law-givers’ (θεσμοθέτας), and we say that Apollo at the moment when he is to return the oracular responses, is ‘issuing laws and ordinances’ (θεμιστεύειν), in view of the fact that Themis was the discoveress of oracular responses." [2]

What is the source of the oracles of Thǽmis? The Homeric hymn to Zefs states that he...

"...whispers words of wisdom to Themis as she sits leaning towards him." [3]


Thǽmis received the oracle from her mother Yi (Earth). Thǽmis then gave the oracle to Apóllôn (Ἀπόλλων) for which he is known by the epithet Loxías (Λοξίας), the prophet and interpreter of Zefs. Some sources say that she first gave it to Phívi (Phoebe, Φοίβη) who then gave it to Apóllôn:

The Pythia speaks: "First, in this prayer, of all the Gods I name

The prophet-mother Earth; and Themis next,

Second who sat-for so with truth is said-

On this her mother's shrine oracular.

Then by her grace, who unconstrained allowed,

There sat thereon another child of Earth-

Titanian Phoebe. She, in after time,

Gave o'er the throne, as birthgift to a God,

Phoebus, who in his own bears Phoebe's name.

He from the lake and ridge of Delos' isle

Steered to the port of Pallas' Attic shores,

The home of ships; and thence he passed and came

Unto this land and to Parnassus' shrine.

And at his side, with awe revering him,

There went the children of Hephaestus' seed,

The hewers of the sacred way, who tame

The stubborn tract that erst was wilderness.

And all this folk, and Delphos, chieftain-king

Of this their land, with honour gave him home;

And in his breast Zeus set a prophet's soul,

And gave to him this throne, whereon he sits,

Fourth prophet of the shrine, and, Loxias hight,

Gives voice to that which Zeus his sire decrees." [4]

The important point is that Thǽmis had the oracle and it was at last given to Apóllôn and that by this oracle, Apóllôn is "the spokesman for his father, Zeus."

"... Apollo learned the art of prophecy from Pan (Πᾶν), the son of Zeus and Hybris (Ὕβρεως in the text), and came to Delphi (Δελφοί), where Themis at that time used to deliver oracles; and when the snake Python (Πύθων), which guarded the oracle, would have hindered him from approaching the chasm, he killed it and took over the oracle." [5

Thus Thǽmis is a pre-form of Apóllôn, and Apóllôn, like Thǽmis, speaks the will of his father:

"...for Apollo hath power, for that he sitteth on the right hand of Zeus." [6]

This image of Apóllôn sitting on the right hand of Zefs (Ζεύς), Sympárædros (Συμπαρεδρος = joint-throne-holder) to Zefs, can be likened to that of Thǽmis receiving Zefs' whispered words, making Apóllôn the chief minister of Nómos, (Νόμος) the manifestation of the Law and Justice of Zefs. Thus, oracle is intimately connected with Law, Justice, and the will of Zefs, the father of Gods and man. Therefore, oracle and how it is used is no small matter.

In ancient times, Apóllôn spoke the mind of Zefs by means of the Pythía (Πυθία) at the sanctuary of Dælphí (Delphi, Δελφοί). The Pythía was merely the vehicle for Apóllôn, as the God himself is the true Oracle of Dælphí (Manteio tôn Dælphóhn, Μαντείο των Δελφών) and Apóllohn speaks the very will of Zefs himself, for which he is called the genuine Mántis (Μάντῐς), the Prophet, because he knows and speaks the mind of Zefs (Ζεύς).


Near the conclusion of the Homeric hymn to to Ærmís (Hermes, Ἑρμῆς), Apóllôn says to his brother:

"...μαντείην δέ, ϕέριστε, διοτρεϕές, ἣν ἐρεείνεις, οὔτε σὲ θέσϕατόν ἐστι δαήμεναι οὔτε τιν' ἄλλον ἀθανάτων· τὸ γὰρ οἶδε Διὸς νόος·"

"But as for sooth-saying, noble, heaven-born child, of which you ask, it is not lawful for you to learn it, nor for any other of the deathless Gods: only the mind of Zeus knows that." [7]

Apóllôn goes on to say that he reserves the power of oracle to himself:

"I am pledged and have vowed and sworn a strong oath that no other of the eternal Gods save I should know the wise-hearted counsel of Zeus." [7]

Further, the God warns people who might consult soothsayers with these words:

"But whoso shall trust to idly-chattering birds and shall seek to invoke my prophetic art contrary to my will, and to understand more than the eternal Gods, I declare that he shall come on an idle journey..." [7]

If Apóllôn says that it is not lawful for a God to learn the art of divination, so much more for a mortal.

Returning to the text, Apóllôn goes on to say a most unusual thing:

"There are certain holy ones, sisters born---three virgins gifted with wings: Their heads are besprinkled with white meal, and they dwell under a ridge of Parnassus. These are teachers of divination apart from me, the art which I practised while yet a boy following herds, though my father paid no heed to it. From their home they fly now here, now there, feeding on honey-comb and bringing all things to pass. And when they are inspired through eating yellow honey, they are willing to speak truth; but if they be deprived of the Gods' sweet food, then they speak falsely." [7]

In the hymn, Apóllôn definitively connects divination with oracle (oracle in Greek is khrismós, χρησμός), for he uses the word "sooth-saying" (μαντείην in the ancient text) in regard to asking for an ability which is forbidden [8] and that soothsaying infringes on his oracular dominion, for Apóllôn states that "only the mind of Zeus knows it" and that "no other of the eternal Gods save I should know the wise-hearted counsel of Zeus." This prohibition can be assumed to apply even more so to mortals. These words are worthy of repetition and grave deliberation.


There were many sanctuaries in antiquity which were oracular centers, answering the queries of suppliants. They are a special case in a discussion of divination, as these sanctuaries were the seats of mighty deities.

The most important oracular sanctuary in the ancient world was Dælphí (Delphi, Δελφοί), which was the geographical heart of Ællinismόs as it was thought to be the center of the world. Dælphí is the principal seat of Apóllôn where oracles were delivered by a priestess called the Pythía (Πυθία), who sat upon a tripod and uttered answers to questions. These came in the form of riddles which were somewhat interpreted by priests. Ultimately, it was up to the recipient to decipher the meaning of the oracle, and this was determined by their virtue, for Apóllôn uses his oracular power to both assist and impair mankind:

"As for men, I will harm one and profit another, sorely perplexing the tribes of unenviable men." [9]

It was universally accepted that the oracles delivered by the Pythía were from Apóllôn himself, and, as explained above, the authority of this mighty God is based on his perfect knowledge of the will of his father, Ýpatos (Supreme, Ὕπατος) Zefs. The Oracle of Dælphí was consulted by all who were able to do so, rulers and common folk, sometimes journeying great distances to have their questions answered. These oracles figure prominently in the history of the ancient world as momentous decisions were made based upon the advise received; there are several hundreds of these which have been preserved, some of the more famous can be found here: List of Oracular Statements from Dælphí.

There were many other oracular centers in antiquity; some of the more notable include the following, grouped according to the deity associated with the sanctuary:

Apóllôn: The sanctuary at Dídyma (Δίδυμα) was an oracular shrine of Apóllôn Philísios (Philesius, Φιλήσιος), Apollo the amicable. The oracles given there were interpreted by priests after having been delivered by a priestess who sat above a sacred spring. The entire proceedings were conducted by the priestly Vrángkhidai (Branchidae, Βράγχιδαι), descendants of Vrángkhos (Branchos, Βράγχος), a beautiful youth to whom Apóllôn gave the gift of prophecy. And there were more oracular sanctuaries dedicated to Apóllôn, those at Ávai (Abae, Ἄβαι) and Dílos (Delos, Δήλος), as well as many others.

Zefs: At Dohdóhna (Dodona, Δωδώνᾱ), the sanctuary was dedicated to Zefs and Dióhni (Dione, Διώνη), and the oracles were construed from the sounds of the rustling leaves of oak, a tree sacred to Zefs. This place is regarded as the oldest oracular temple complex of the ancient Hellenic world. The sanctuary of Zefs at Olympía (Ολυμπία) was also an oracular shrine. The sanctuary of Zefs-Ammon at the Siwa Oasis in Egypt was another notable source of oracles; it was visited by Alǽxandros (Alexander the Great, Ἀλέξανδρος ὁ Μέγας) as he journeyed east.

Asklipiós: The numerous temples of Asklipiós (Asclepius, Ἀσκληπιός) made medical diagnosis by means of a type of divination, the interpretation of dreams which patients had while visiting; these temples included the most famous of all, that at Æpídavros (Epidaurus, Ἐπίδαυρος) at the Gulf of Aiyina (Aegina, Αίγινα), the principal seat of the God, but there were many others throughout the Hellenic and Hellenistic world, for there is no place from which mortal beings are exempt from illness.

With the closing of the ancient temples by the Christian emperor Theodosius I, beginning in 381 CE, these eminent oracular centers have receded into history.


The ancient literature provides ample evidence of historical personages who practiced various forms of divination, and in mythology, we have numerous examples of people who were given the gift of prophecy, usually from Apóllôn or Zefs. Providing here just a few examples, would be Mópsos (Μόψος) of Kláros (Claros, Κλάρος), Kassándra (Cassandra, Κασσάνδρα), the priestess of Apóllôn from Troy, and Kálkhas (Calchas, Κάλχας) of Árgos (Ἄργος), who was given this gift by Apóllôn. Perhaps the most famous of all the ancient seers would be Teiræsías (Teiresias, Τειρεσίας), the blind prophet of Thívai (Thebes, Θῆβαι), who figures prominently in many of the myths.

"They say that Teiresias saw two snakes mating on Cithaeron (ed. Kithairóhn; Gr. Κιθαιρών, a mountain range in central Greece) and that, when he killed the female, he was changed into a woman, and again, when he killed the male, took again his own nature. This same Teiresias was chosen by Zeus and Hera to decide the question whether the male or the female has most pleasure in intercourse. And he said:

'Of ten parts a man enjoys one only; but a woman's sense enjoys all ten in full'

For this Hera was angry and blinded him, but Zeus gave him the seer's power." [10]


The long Homeric hymn to Ærmís, as illustrated above, limits the practice of divination to Apóllôn alone, forbidding it even to other Gods. It must be stated, however, that there is plentiful evidence from the ancient world which would seem to contradict such a prohibition. We are not allowed to violate the freedom of individuals nor to make judgments: we are mortals, not Gods. Nonetheless, the author of this little essay prays that those who dabble in divination actually know what they are doing, that their hearts are pure and consumed with genuine virtue, that they do not squander the precious time both of themselves and others, and that the three "sisters" mentioned above in the hymn have "fed on the honey-comb" and have not been "deprived of the Gods' sweet food," for if they have been deprived, says Apóllôn, they will speak falsely.

"And now there is no seer among mortal men such as would know the mind of Zeus who holds the aegis." [11]

In the tradition this author follows, not even this form of divination is permitted; all divination is strictly apórritos (ἀπόρρητος): forbidden.

Please also visit: Magic, Ancient Greek Religion, and Orphism.

Please also visit: Glossary of Magic and Divination in Ancient Greek Language.

The story of the birth of the Gods: Orphic Rhapsodic Theogony.

We know the various qualities and characteristics of the Gods based on metaphorical stories: Mythology.

Dictionary of terms related to ancient Greek mythology: Glossary of Hellenic Mythology.

Introduction to the Thæí (the Gods): The Nature of the Gods.

How do we know there are Gods? Experiencing Gods.


[1] Ὅμηρος Ἰλιάς 8.250, trans. A. T. Murray, Revised by William F. Wyatt, 1924.

[2] Διόδωρος Σικελιώτης Βιβλιοθήκη ἱστορική 5.67.4, trans. C. H. Oldfather, 1939.

[3] Homeric hymn Διός, trans. Hugh Evelyn-White, 1914.

[4] Αἰσχύλος Εὐμενίδες 1-19, trans. E. D. A. Morshead, 1881.

[5] Ἀπολλόδωρος Βιβλιοθήκη 1.4.1, trans. James George Frazer, 1921.

6] Καλλίμαχος Απόλλωνος 27-29, trans. A. W. Mair and G. R. Mair, 1921.

[7] Homeric Hymn 4 Ἑρμοῦ 524-578 [conclusion of the hymn], trans. Hugh G. Evelyn-White, 1914. Apóllohn is referring to the Thríai (Thriae; Gr. Θρίαι), three prophetic nymphs of divination by means of pebbles.

[8] A soothsayer is a mándis (μάντῐς) who possesses mandeia (μαντεία), prophetic power, and delivers khrizmós (χρησμός), oracle.

[9] Homeric Hymn 4 Ἑρμοῦ 541-542, trans. Hugh Evelyn-White, 1914.

[10] Ἡσίοδος Μελαμποδία fragment 3, trans. Hugh Evelyn-White, 1914.

[11] Ibid. Hugh Evelyn-White, p. 271, Isíodos Mælampodía fragment 9.

Please visit this page: Glossary of Divination.

AISOHPOS (Aesop; Gr. Αἴσωπος): "THE PROPHET: A WIZARD, sitting in the marketplace, was telling the fortunes of the passers-by when a person ran up in great haste, and announced to him that the doors of his house had been broken open and that all his goods were being stolen. He sighed heavily and hastened away as fast as he could run. A neighbor saw him running and said, "Oh! you fellow there! you say you can foretell the fortunes of others; how is it you did not foresee your own?' " (Aesop's Fables, Fable No. 195, trans. George Fyler Townsend, 1871.)

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The story of the birth of the Gods: Orphic Rhapsodic Theogony.

We know the various qualities and characteristics of the Gods based on metaphorical stories: Mythology.

Dictionary of terms related to ancient Greek mythology: Glossary of Hellenic Mythology.

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Pronunciation of Ancient Greek

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