Oracles in Siegen

Delfoin Pythia, punakuvioista keramiikkaa n. 330 eaa. (Lähde: wikicommons)

Next week I will take part in a colloquium on the transformation of divinatory practices in Late Antiquity, ”Dämonische Orakel oder göttlicher Hinweis? Transformation divinatorischer Praktiken im spätantiken Christentum des Westens”. The colloquium will be organised at the University of Siegen. The programme is found here.

My paper deals with the late antique emperors and their attempts to control divinatory practices, ”Monopoly of Truth? Christian Emperors, Divination, and Curiositas”


My paper is about the idea of curiositas in the legislation of Christian emperors on divination. How did the Christian emperors’ attitudes differ from their non-Christian predecessors’ concerns, and in which aspects were they similar? Which continuities were there? How were the public and private distinguished in legislation, in regard to curiositas? What was forbidden knowledge? Which were the forbidden ways and tools of attaining knowledge? I will also discuss the well-known trials on magic under reigns of Valentinian I and Valens.

Furthermore, I will survey the ideas of curiositas in the writings of ecclesiastical writers. The focus is on Augustine’s notions of curiositas. Augustine discusses the divination especially in De divinatione daemonum. I will analyse the ways in which the good/permitted and evil/forbidden divinations were distinguished. It was not that the pagan divination made false/untruthful announcements (about the future) but that these were based on the special capabilities of demons and their demonic deception. Augustine construes a distinction (in De civitate Dei) between the good and permitted prophecies of Christian holy men (that Emperor Theodosius I used) and the evil and forbidden divination coming from demons.

My analysis will reveal the emergence of the new order of ‘knowledge’ but also continuities in making distinctions between good and evil divination.

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