Practitioners of the Divine: Greek Priests and Religious Officials from Homer to Heliodorus

  Dignas, Beate, and Kai Trampedach, eds. 2008. Practitioners of the Divine: Greek Priests and Religious Figures from Homer to Heliodorus. Hellenic Studies Series 30. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

9. The Iamidae: A Mantic Family and Its Public Image

Michael A. Flower

Every student of Greek history knows that the Peloponnesian War was brought to an end when Lysander, the brilliant and ruthless Spartan admiral, captured the entire Athenian fleet at Aegospotami in 405 BC. What is less well known, perhaps familiar only to a handful of scholars with an interest in Greek divination, is that Lysander was not given the full credit for this victory. For Pausanias the travel writer tells us something that other sources leave out:

They say that Agias while acting as seer to Lysander captured the Athenian fleet at Aegospotami except for ten ships.” (3.11.5)

Pausanias’ opinion that it was Lysander’s seer who captured the Athenian fleet is partly confirmed by a monument which was erected at Delphi and which has been partially recovered (Pausanias 10.9.7): on the so-called Navarchs monument, Lysander dedicated a statue both of himself and of his seer Agias. [1] There was also a bronze statue of Agias in the marketplace in Sparta itself (Pausanias 3.11.5). This Agias was obviously a famous person at Sparta and perhaps throughout the whole of Greece. And yet he was the grandson of an even more famous seer, that Tisamenus of Elis who, as Herodotus says, “won” the battle of Plataea and was “commander with the Spartan kings” (Herodotus 9.33–35). In this essay I will not be as interested in what particular seers actually did or said as in recovering what it meant to be a seer and how a seer might represent himself. How did seers fashion an image for themselves? What kind of image was important? What was the relationship between image making and actual success in one’s career? And given that the rituals of divination constituted a type of public performance, how did the seer go about scripting his own role? Our ancient sources do not address these types of questions directly, and thus the answers must be inferred through a close reading of texts. Recent work on the anthropology of divination can provide both a theoretical framework and clues for how to read our sources. [2] As a case study, we will consider the most famous mantic family of the fifth century BC and the one about which we have the most information, the Iamidae, the family to which both Agias and his grandfather Tisamenus belonged. [3] Although this is a study in microhistory, I will attempt to situate my conclusions within a larger macro framework.

At the outset it will prove useful to clarify exactly what it meant to be a seer. The Greek word is mantis. A mantis (variously translated as ‘soothsayer’, ‘diviner’, ‘prophet’, or, as here, ‘seer’) was an expert in the art of divination. [4] Because Greek religious terminology is inexact, the person called a mantis dealt with a broad range of religious activities, and the term embraces a variety of prophetic types, ranging from the interpreters of signs, to ecstatic mediums, to purifiers and healers. [5] Although the Pythia, who served as the mouthpiece of the god Apollo in his oracular seat at Delphi, like other priestesses may be called a mantis, [6] I am concerned here only with the mobile mantis who usually, although perhaps not always, was male. [7] He practiced what the Greeks called a craft or skill (mantikē tekhnē); [8] and the aim of this craft was to ascertain the will and intentions of the gods in relation to human actions. Seers tended to move from city to city, attaching themselves to prominent generals and statesmen as their personal advisers; the most successful seers were what Walter Burkert has called “migrant charismatic specialists.” [9] With this combination of skill and charisma, manteis were the most authoritative experts on religious matters: they were religious specialists, or “agents of control within their religion’s symbolic universe.” [10] Their competence was exceptionally broad, encompassing all of the various forms of divination that were practiced in Archaic and Classical Greece: these included the interpretation of bird signs, dreams, portents, and entrails. Nonetheless, sacrificial divination was the principal art of the seer who assisted generals on campaign and who won battles in partnership with them. The military seer was responsible for two types of sacrificial divination that necessarily preceded an engagement: the camp-ground sacrifice called hiera and the battle-line sacrifice called sphagia. The former (hiera) was usually performed by examining the victim’s liver (the victim was usually a sheep), and the latter (sphagia) was performed by slitting the victim’s throat (often a young she-goat) while observing the animal’s movements and the flow of blood. [11]

Although by the end of the fifth century BC it was possible to acquire books on divination, we know of only one seer who apparently was completely self-taught and had a successful career. [16] Thrasyllus, a Siphnian, was bequeathed books on divination, as well as some property, by his guest-friend the seer Polemaenetus. With those books in hand, he became an itinerant seer and acquired a large fortune. All of this is reported thirdhand some fifty years later by the speaker of Isocrates’ forensic speech Aegineticus (5–7, 45). It is important to note that the speaker’s testimony cannot be taken at face value, since his version of their relationship provides a precedent for the very type of transfer of property that he is seeking to defend. He initially says (6) that Thrasyllus was self-taught (“taking those books as his starting point, he practiced the craft”), but he later states (45) that he “learned his art from Polemaenetus.” Perhaps we can speculate that Polemaenetus actually had adopted Thrasyllus and trained him as his apprentice, in which case Thrasyllus could have represented himself to his clients as the latter’s son. Yet even if a Greek seer was able to obtain various technical handbooks through which he could acquire some basic knowledge, it is impossible that these books could have contained the elaborate and comprehensive lists of omens such as were recorded on the many hundreds of cuneiform tablets that have been discovered in Mesopotamia. [17] All seers in the Greek world by necessity had to rely on their own skill in interpretation, a skill that was validated by personal charisma rather than by book learning. [18]

The most respected and sought-after seers belonged to families that had practiced seercraft for many generations, reaching back to an eponymous ancestor who had acquired prophetic power either as the gift of a god (usually Apollo) or by some other supernatural means. The prophetic gift that endows the family did not necessarily have to belong to the mythical or legendary past. Herodotus (9.92–94) tells the story of how Zeus and Apollo, in the generation before the Persian invasions, gave to Euenius of Apollonia as a gift “the innate faculty of divination.” In the eyes of his clients, a seer’s authority and credibility depended on his belonging to an established family of seers. This, we may presume, had a double purpose. First, it was proof that the craft of divination had been acquired in apprenticeship to a master who was a member of one’s own family. Second, the seer must have represented himself as possessing an innate capacity for divination, a prophetic gift that he had inherited.

Herodotus says that the seer Deïphonus, who was serving with the Greek fleet in 479, passed himself off as the son of the famous seer Euenius of Apollonia:

I have before now heard that trading on the name of Euenius he was contracting work throughout Greece, although he was not the son of Euenius.” (9.95)

This single sentence tells us two important things: that a blood connection to a successful seer was helpful for gaining upscale employment, and that such claims were not accepted uncritically. Society was not a tacit accomplice in a sham, nor were seers merely the members of guilds, such as the Homeridae or Asclepiadae, among whom the adoption of an apprentice by his master was clothed in the language of kinship. It was fundamentally important that the seer was believed to be what he claimed to be, literally the blood descendant of another seer.

The foundation myth of the Iamidae is told by Pindar in his sixth Olympian. [22] This poem was written for Hagesias of Syracuse, an Iamid who served as seer to the tyrant Hieron and who was victorious in the mule-cart race at Olympia in 472 or 468 BC. As Pindar tells the tale (Olympian 6.57–74), Apollo bestowed upon his son Iamus “a twofold treasury of divination,” and “from that time the clan of the Iamidae has been much renowned among Hellenes.” That twofold treasury was “to hear the voice that is unknowing of lies” (most probably the voice of Apollo [23] ) and “to establish an oracle on the summit of Zeus’ altar” at Olympia. Whether an Iamid actually established the oracle is beyond historical recovery, but during the imperial period, and probably as far back as the fifth century BC, the Iamidae shared the stewardship of Zeus’ oracle with the Clytiadae, a post which they jointly held through the third century AD. [24] At least one Iamid in each generation had fixed employment at Olympia, where later sources tell us that they practiced divination atop Zeus’ altar by examining the cracks in the burnt skins of sacrificial animals. [25] In the case of these particular seers, the general distinction between seer and priest becomes blurred; for in addition to practicing divination, they were responsible for the care of the great altar of Zeus and for certain monthly sacrifices, and those were duties of a kind that usually belonged to priests, not to seers. [26] Since only one seer was chosen from each of the two families to work the oracle, other members might seek employment as itinerant diviners throughout the Greek world.

Pindar, for instance, describes Hagesias thus:

If someone were an Olympic victor, steward of the mantic altar of Zeus in Pisa, and joint-founder of famous Syracuse, what hymn of praise could such a man escape, if he should find his fellow townsmen ungrudging in the midst of delightful songs? (lines 4–6)

The Syracusan branch of the Iamidae, whatever its antiquity, seems to have come to an end with this Hagesias, who apparently was murdered after the fall of Hieron. [29] The Iamidae fared better, at least in the long term, at Croton. The Iamid Callias, whom Herodotus calls an Elean, assisted Croton in her war with Sybaris in 510 and was richly rewarded with select estates (5.44–45). Herodotus claims that his descendants still possessed that land in his own day. But this Callias must have needed to explain something that was especially awkward and embarrassing: that is, how did he end up serving the Crotoniates when he had been hired by the tyrant of Sybaris? I cannot think of a single seer who changed sides in the middle of a conflict, and one imagines that there was some unofficial code of conduct which dictated against such high-handed acts. His justification, I would suggest, is embedded in Herodotus’ narrative:

The people of Croton say that Callias ran away from Telys the tyrant of the Sybarites and came to them, since the sacrifices (hiera) were not turning out favorable for him when he was sacrificing against Croton.

One might be tempted to rationalize this explanation by conjecturing that the Crotoniates had offered Callias more money or that he calculated that Sybaris would lose the war. But Herodotus himself takes this explanation at face value, and he apparently expects his readers to do the same. Within the Greek divinatory system of knowledge and belief, in which system Callias was a specialist, unfavorable omens from sacrificial divination were a necessary and sufficient explanation for human action. We see this time and again in the works of Xenophon, particularly in the Anabasis. [
30] The imperfect tense in the phrase “were not turning out favorable” indicates that Callias tried repeatedly to obtain good omens, but that the gods were unwilling to grant them. He thus represented himself as having fully discharged his duties to his original employer; the will of the gods was clear, and there was no need to perish in a doomed cause.

In the Hellenistic period, we find an Elean Iamid named Thrasybulus serving with the Mantineans against the Lacedaemonians under King Agis IV (244–241 BC). He “both foretold victory to the Mantineans and himself took part in the fighting” (Pausanias 8.10.5). He must have been a person of great wealth and influence, since he dedicated a statue of King Pyrrhus of Eprius at Olympia (Pausanias 6.14.9). If Pyrrhus was another of his employers, as seems likely enough, then the dedication of this statue was a means of advertising the success of that employment. But Thrasybulus had an even more conspicuous means for showing off his talents. Pausanias (6.2.4–5) saw a remarkable and iconographically unique statue of Thrasybulus himself at Olympia: a gecko was crawling toward his right shoulder and a dog was lying beside him, cut in two with its liver exposed. The divinatory significance of both animals is uncertain. Pausanias thought that Thrasybulus established his own personal method of divination in which he uniquely examined the entrails of dogs; Pausanias does not discuss the lizard, but it is a reasonable inference that Thrasybulus claimed to understand the language of animals, or at least of lizards. [31] It has been suggested, however, that the description “cut in two” refers to the rite, as practiced in Macedonia and Boeotia, of purification of an army, whereby the troops passed between the parts of a severed dog. [32] Since some seers still performed rites of healing and purification in classical times, [33] it is not impossible that Pausanias has misinterpreted the iconography of the statue. Or it may be that Thrasybulus used the dog both for purposes of divination (and thus the depiction of the exposed liver) and for purification. What is clear is that even within an extended mantic family, individual members might represent themselves quite differently. Indeed we should expect that a seer would want to emphasize that although he belonged to a particular clan, all of whose members shared inherited and proven abilities, he nevertheless was exceptional in some way. The dog and the lizard mark Thrasybulus as different from other seers and even from other Iamidae; they are emblematic of his claim to be someone with a special access to the supernatural world.

Another statue at Olympia bears comparison with this one, even if it is of a Clytiad rather than of an Iamid. In the late fourth or early third century BC an Elean mantis by the name of Eperastus, who won at Olympia in the race in armor, emphasized his claim to belong to two mantic families. Pausanias records the inscription on his statue as follows:

I boast to be a seer of the race of the prophetic-tongued Clytidae, blood from the god-like Melampodidae.” (6.17.5–6)

This may not be elegant poetry (and Clytiadae seems to be spelled Clytidae in order to fit the meter), but Eperastus has managed in a single couplet to attribute to himself the qualities of being “prophetic-tongued” and “god-like,” as well as belonging to two illustrious families of seers (since Clytius, the progenitor of the Clytiadae, was in turn a descendant of Melampus). If Eperastus was intending to attract clients (as I presume that he was), then this statue with its inscription would have served as a very effective and conspicuous advertisement of both his martial abilities and his prophetic credentials.

The Iamid mantis about whom we have the most detailed tradition concerning his life and career is Tisamenus of Elis. In fact, there is no historical Greek mantis who figures more prominently in our sources. The story of how Tisamenus became a Spartan citizen and was launched on what was arguably the most successful mantic career of all time is imbedded in Herodotus’ account of the battle of Plataea in 479 BC. [36] In mid-July of that year the largest Greek hoplite army ever to take the field met the army of Mardonius, cousin and brother-in-law of King Xerxes, in Boeotia. Herodotus moves in his narrative from the dispositions of the troops to the activities of the seers on each side, and this includes an account of how Tisamenus came to be with the Spartan army:

Tisamenus, the son of Antiochus, was the one sacrificing for the Greeks. For he was following this army as its seer. Although he was an Elean and a Clytiad of the family of the Iamidae, the Lacedaemonians had made him their fellow citizen. For when Tisamenus was consulting the oracle in Delphi about having offspring, the Pythia answered that he would win the five greatest contests. Failing to understand the oracle, he turned his attention to gymnastic exercises, thinking that he was going to win gymnastic contests. Practicing the pentathlon and entering into competition with Hieronymus the Andrian, he came within one fall [in the wrestling] of winning an Olympic victory. The Lacedaemonians, however, learned that the oracle given to Tisamenus was not referring to gymnastic contests but to contests of Ares, and by persuading him with pay they were attempting to make Tisamenus the leader in their wars, together with those of the Heracleidae who were their kings. But when he saw how concerned the Spartans were to acquire him as their friend, he began to raise his price, indicating that if they should make him one of their own citizens, with a share in all privileges, he would do what they wanted, but not for any other payment. When the Spartans first heard this they thought it monstrous and they completely let go of their need for him; but in the end, with the great fear of this Persian army hanging over them, they agreed and went after him. When Tisamenus recognized that they had changed their minds, he said that he was still not satisfied with these things alone, but that it was necessary in addition for his brother Hagias to become a Spartan citizen on the same conditions as himself. In saying these things he was imitating Melampus, to make a guess, in demanding both kingship and citizenship. [Then comes a digression on Melampus.] Thus indeed the Spartans, since they were terribly in need of Tisamenus, yielded to him completely. And after the Spartans had yielded, Tisamenus the Elean, who had become a Spartan citizen, served as their seer and helped them to win the five greatest contests. And alone of all men these became citizens with the Spartans.” (9.33–35)

As the text of Herodotus now stands, Tisamenus is called “a Clytiad of the family of the Iamidae.” Most scholars have claimed this to be impossible and have accordingly labeled “Clytiad” as a scholiast’s gloss, [
37] but I see no reason to rule out the possibility of intermarriage between the leading mantic families: that is to say, one of his parents was an Iamid and the other a Clytiad. There was an unimpeachable mythic paradigm for prophetic power passing from mother to son, since Teiresias had a daughter named Manto, who was the mother of the seer Mopsus. And it is easy enough to imagine why someone would have wanted to represent himself as belonging to both of these families. The Clytiadae, as mentioned above, claimed to be descendants of Melampus, the most famous of all legendary seers, and a blood connection with Melampus was an obvious vehicle for mantic self-advertisement and self-promotion.

Herodotus does not explain here how an Iamid could be so stupid or Lacedaemonians so uncharacteristically intelligent. Moreover, the internal logic of the story presupposes that Tisamenus had not acted as a professional mantis before his consultation of Delphi; otherwise, he surely would have understood what kinds of “contests” the Pythia had in mind. We are thus expected to imagine something that might seem unlikely on the face of it—that the Spartans hired someone who had no previous experience in his craft and was completely untested. Nonetheless, the story of this consultation of Apollo is in keeping with how the Greeks imagined that Apollo sometimes acted. In Greek tragedy it is certainly the case that Apollo, by giving certain oracles at certain times, is able to stage-manage events so as to achieve the desired consequences. The plots of certain plays, such as Oedipus Tyrannus and Ion, hinge on Apollo’s capacity for so arranging and manipulating events. In the case of Tisamenus, if Apollo had not delivered the oracle that he did, Tisamenus might never have become a seer. Thus, when Apollo predicted that Tisamenus would win the five greatest victories, he in a sense also caused him to win those victories. Implicit in Herodotus’ story is the subtext that not just any seer trained in the craft of divination could have won those victories, but only a divinely selected Iamid in whom the prophetic gift given to Iamus by Apollo himself was particularly potent.

Setting aside the issue of historicity, let us now consider how the clan of the Iamidae represented the career of their most illustrious member in their collective memory. Herodotus does not say this, but there may have been a rather specific reason why the Spartans were so eager to hire Tisamenus on the eve of Plataea, quite apart from their generalized fear of the Persian war machine. The seer Megistias, an Acarnanian who was said to be a descendant of Melampus, as mentioned above, had perished with the Spartans at Thermopylae (Herodotus 7.219, 221, 228). His death may have created the vacancy filled by Tisamenus, in which case it was not the fear of Xerxes’ imminent invasion which impelled the Spartans, but rather their lack of an expert seer for the specific confrontation with Mardonius. Could it be that the career of Tisamenus marked a turning point in the fortunes of the Iamidae? [40] Did they now eclipse the Melampodidae and other mantic families? The work of the seers attending the oracle at Olympia must have been fairly mundane, most of it dealing with questions put by hopeful athletes, and it would appear that Olympia was seldom consulted about important matters of state or ritual. [41] Thus it was military employment outside of Elis that brought fame to the family. The destruction of Sybaris, aided and abetted by Callias, was a dramatic event to be sure; but the defeat of Mardonius at Plataea by the regent Pausanias was “the fairest victory of all those we know,” as Herodotus calls it (9.64.2). It was only now, I suggest, that the Iamidae became the most celebrated of all mantic families. Pindar’s statement that since the time of Iamus “the race of the Iamidae has been much renowned among Hellenes” (line 71) should rather be referred to Tisamenus.

There is an obvious danger of circularity in using Herodotus to explain Pindar in order to explain Herodotus, but I want to suggest that the ultimate source for the story which Herodotus reports about Tisamenus, even allowing for his own remodeling of it, was Iamid family tradition. [47] Herodotus claims to have visited the Spartan village of Pitana (3.55.2), and he might have encountered there one or more members of Tisamenus’ family. If such were the case, then the right conditions would have been present for the reliability of the oral tradition about Tisamenus. The memories of a closed group, such as a particular family or a religious community, tend to be more fixed than those of larger entities. This does not mean, however, that the oral tradition would then be true, since accuracy of transmission is not related to the truth or falsity of a tradition. [48] A tradition is remembered because it serves a useful purpose for the receiving generation, and in the case of the Iamidae that purpose is obvious. The function of Apollo in Herodotus’ tale is analogous to his role in Pindar’s story of Iamus. In Pindar, Apollo endows the first Iamid as a seer, and here he does the same for Iamus’ descendant Tisamenus. Herodotus’ story not only explains why Tisamenus was so successful, but it also validates and confirms the status of his descendants, both as seers and as Spartan citizens. In the end, it is the self-representation of the Iamidae, rather than the truth or falsity of the story itself, that is most accessible to us.

Whatever the circumstances under which it came about, Tisamenus did serve as the seer for the Spartans at Plataea, and it is possible that his name can be restored in an inscription which records the dedication of a statue to Demeter and which was found near the likely location of the battle. [51] But just how important was his role? According to Herodotus, the Spartans wished “to make Tisamenus the leader (hēgemōna) in their wars, together with those of the Heracleidae who were kings.” Since it was the prerogative of the kings at Sparta to command the army, the Spartan offer comes as something of a surprise. Indeed, the language here suggests a position tantamount to “joint commander with their kings,” and this notion is reinforced by the verbs “would win” and “helped them to win” which Herodotus uses of Tisamenus’ activities. Yet Herodotus does not depict Tisamenus as having any active role in the actual battle, either in marshalling the troops or in the fighting. Herodotus must therefore mean that Tisamenus was the leader in the same way as was Calchas, the seer of the Greeks at Troy. Homer speaks of him as the one who “led (hēgēsato) the ships of the Achaeans into the land of Ilium through that seercraft (mantosunēn) which Phoebus Apollo had given him” (Iliad I 71–72). Like Calchas, then, Tisamenus leads the army and practices the art of divination as Apollo’s gift. So too in Euripides’ Phoenissae, the seer Teiresias claims the credit for securing Athens’ victory over Eleusis:

I made the sons of Cecrops victorious, and, as you can see, I possess this golden crown, which I received as the first fruits of the enemy spoils.” (Phoenissae 854–857)

We cannot recover the actual psychological processes by which a seer inspected and interpreted the omens, and it is certainly the case that almost all methods of divination are open to manipulation, whether conscious or unconscious, on the part of the diviner. [55] The degree of such manipulation will of course vary from one individual to another and will be conditioned by the nature of the divinatory procedures that are employed. But we can say that the Greek seer represented himself as divining by virtue of his art and by aid of his innate prophetic gifts. When the seer sacrificed the victim and then interpreted the entrails, he was engaged in a public performance before an audience of mortals and of gods; both his immediate success and his prospects for future employment depended on how well and how convincingly he played his role as expounder of the divine will. His value to society as the practitioner of a socially useful craft in turn depended on his human audience’s faith in his ability properly to interpret the signs sent by the gods. [56] Thus the worst accusation that one could level against a seer was that he was influenced by greed to give knowingly false interpretations. Such accusations, which are fairly common in Greek literature, reveal both the high value that society placed on divination and an attendant anxiety about its proper performance. [57] That the Spartans indeed had faith in Tisamenus is demonstrated by their further employment of him and by their unique grant of citizenship.

Tisamenus went on to win four more great victories for Sparta, the last being at Tanagra in 457. As mentioned at the beginning of this essay, his grandson, Agias (II), was seer to Lysander in 405 at the battle of Aegospotami. But for reasons unknown to us, his great-grandson (or perhaps great-nephew), also named Tisamenus (II), was involved in the conspiracy of Cinadon at Sparta in 397. [58] He was executed along with Cinadon and the other conspirators after being paraded through the streets of Sparta in a dog collar, while being whipped and goaded (Xenophon Hellenica 3.3.11). It is an ironic testament to the family’s fame that “Tisamenus the mantis” is the only one of Cinadon’s fellow conspirators who is named by Xenophon. The Spartan branch of the Iamidae then disappears from the historical record. [59] Although it reemerges in inscriptions of the first century BC and second century AD, it is highly unlikely that the individuals who are named Iamus and Tisamenus in these inscriptions were actually related to the victor of Plataea. The problem is that late Hellenistic and Roman imperial times saw a renewed interest in Sparta’s past. Individuals traced their ancestry to Heracles, Perseus, the Dioscuri, both royal houses, Lycurgus, Brasidas, and many other famous personages from Sparta’s mythical and historical past. Such lineages were undoubtedly invented links with a past that was, strictly speaking, unrecoverable. [60] Given the social and political upheavals that afflicted late Classical and Hellenistic Sparta, by the time of this inscriptional evidence there can have been very few individuals who could trace their ancestry back to Spartans of the Classical period, much less to the elite of Spartan society. At Olympia, on the other hand, the family disappears after AD 265.

The mantic Iamidae nevertheless had a long and successful run: if we take our sources at face value, they were one of the most preeminent families of seers from the foundation of the Olympic games in the eighth century BC right through to the end of the third century AD. A thousand years of successful employment is a long time for a single clan, even by modern standards. This success was due not merely to the victories garnered by its members on the field of battle; it was maintained and perpetuated by the calculated self-promotion that is reflected in our various ancient sources. As we have seen, the Iamidae managed that self-promotion in terms of traditional aristocratic claims to excellence, as athletic victors, the dedicants of statues, as warriors and commanders of armies, the founders of cities, and as the direct descendants of gods and heroes.

Family Tree of the Iamidae at Sparta (showing probable descent from father to son)

Antiochus — Tisamenus I (victor of Plataea) — Agelochus — Agias II (Lysander’s seer at Aegospotami) — Tisamenus II (implicated in conspiracy of Cinadon in 397).


[ back ] 1. The manuscripts at Pausanias 10.9.7 mistakenly read “Abas.”

[ back ] 2. Especially useful are Peek 1991, LaGamma 2000, and Pemberton 2000, which explore both the social function of divination and the performative aspects of divinatory rituals.

[ back ] 3. The main treatments of the Iamidae are Bouché-Leclercq: 1879–1882, 2:59–69; Weniger 1915:66–76; Hepding RE IX 685–689 s.v. Iamos; Löffler 1963:27–28; Kett 1966:84–93; Parke 1967:174–178; Roth 1982:222–231.

[ back ] 4. On the role of the mantis in Greek society, see esp. Kett 1966; Lonis 1979:95–115; Pritchett 1979:47–90; Roth 1982; Jameson 1991; Bremmer 1993; Bremmer 1996a. I explore this topic more fully in The Seer in Ancient Greece (University of California Press, 2008).

[ back ] 5. For brief discussions, see Roth 1982:7–9; Bowden 2003:257–264.

[ back ] 6. The term mantis is applied to the Pythia (Aeschylus Eumenides 29), the Sibyl (Suda, s.v. Sibyla Chaldaia), and to Cassandra (Aeschylus Agamemnon 1275). Herodotus calls the priestesses of the oracle of Zeus at Dodona promanties (2.55).

[ back ] 7. Both artistic remains (a remarkable fifth-century BC grave stele from Mantinea depicts a woman holding a liver in her left hand: see Möbius 1967) and epigraphic evidence (SEG 35.626: the epitaph of the third-century BC mantis Satyra from Larissa) suggest that there were at least some female seers who fulfilled a social function similar to that of the male seers discussed in this essay. Although Plato does not call her such, his Diotima, who delayed the onset of the plague at Athens by ten years (Symposium 201d), would seem to be a mantis.

[ back ] 8. For the term, see Aeschylus Prometheus Bound 484; Sophocles Oedipus Tyrannus 709; Herodotus 2.49, 83.

[ back ] 9. Burkert 1992:42.

[ back ] 10. See the insightful analysis of religious specialists by Rüpke 1996.

[ back ] 11. For these sacrifices, see esp. Szymanski 1908; Pritchett 1971:109–115; Pritchett 1979:73–90; Jameson 1991; Parker 2000.

[ back ] 12. Mikalson 2004:11.

[ back ] 13. Harris 1995:27.

[ back ] 14. The classic treatment of charismatic authority is Weber 1978, 1:241–254 (first published in 1922). The seer is endowed with personal charisma, which is due to his personal qualifications, as opposed to the charisma of office (a type of institutionalized charisma) that may be possessed by a priest. Note also Lindholm 1990.

[ back ] 15. SEG 23.161. See Mastrokostas 1966:282; Garland 1982:168–169.

[ back ] 16. See Pritchett 1979:73; and Dickie 2001:68, 70.

[ back ] 17. On the complex subject of Mesopotamian divination, a good place to start is Oppenheim 1977:206–227.

[ back ] 18. The difference between Mesopotamian and Greek divination is succinctly expressed by Trampedach 2003a:266–280. See further Trampedach in this volume.

[ back ] 19. There was also a famous clan of hereditary seers at Telmessus in Caria, among whom was that Aristander who so successfully served both Philip II and Alexander the Great: see Herodotus 1.78, 84; Aristophanes fr. 554 Kassel–Austin; Cicero On Divination 1.91, 94; Arrian 2.3.3; with Harvey 1991. Another famous non-Greek mantic clan was the Galeotae of Sicily: see Cicero On Divination 1.39; Pausanias 5.23.6; with Parke 1967:178–179, 191–192.

[ back ] 20. On Melampus, see especially Suarez de la Torre 1992.

[ back ] 21. See Thomas 1989:155–195 on the nature of Greek genealogies.

[ back ] 22. For the substantial bibliography on this poem, see Hutchinson 2001:371n16. Carne-Ross 1979, and Goldhill 1991:146–166, are particularly noteworthy as literary analyses.

[ back ] 23. Scholion 113a says of this line: “to hear the voice of the gods or of birds.” Löffler 1963:28 rightly interprets the phrase as the unerring voice of Apollo: so also Hutchinson 2001:404–405.

[ back ] 24. Inscriptions from Olympia (for which see Weniger 1915) only list the officiating seers from 36 BC to AD 265, but Pindar calls Hagesias “steward of the mantic altar of Zeus in Pisa.” Schachter 2000 argues that the Clytiadae came into prominence only at a relatively late date, but this seems unlikely given the epigram of Eperastus discussed below.

[ back ] 25. See Parke 1967:184–185.

[ back ] 26. See Pausanias 5.13.11; 5.15.10; with Weniger 1915:104ff; Roth 1982:181–183.

[ back ] 27. The evidence for a Messenian branch of the Iamidae is highly suspect, since it is found in Pausanias’ account of the Second Messenian war (4.16–23).

[ back ] 28. I am not persuaded by Malkin 1987:96–97 that the term sunoikistēr is applied to Hagesias himself on the grounds that the tyranny of Gelon was regarded as a refoundation of Syracuse; cf. Hutchinson 2001:378–379. Luraghi 1997a argues that Hagesias’ father and mother both came from Stymphalus (his father had been granted citizenship there and his mother was a native Arcadian). Hornblower 2004:182–186 suggests that the scholiasts are right, and that “the compliment consists, not of granting Hagesias a fictious title of oikist, but of transferring the ancestral role of the Iamids as co-founders of Syracuse to Hagesias the Iamid of Pindar’s own time” (185).

[ back ] 29. See scholion 165 with Kett 1966:18–20.

[ back ] 30. Anabasis 6.1.31; 6.6.35–36; 7.6.43–44. See further, Pritchett 1979:78–81, who, however, tends to take his examples out of context.

[ back ] 31. See Pritchett 1979:54, 196–202; Parke 1967:168.

[ back ] 32. So Pritchett 1979:54; following Nilsson 1955–1967, 2:230n1. The main texts are Plutarch Moralia 290d, for Boeotia; and for Macedonia, Livy 40.6; Curtius 10.9.11.

[ back ] 33. Xenophon Anabasis 5.7.35; Plato Republic 364b–e; Hippocrates Diseases of Women 1.

[ back ] 34. Pliny Natural History 34.51, assigns Silanion, the artist who made the statue, to the 113th Olympiad (328–325 BC).

[ back ] 35. But as Kett 1966:67 observes, it is likely enough that he was one.

[ back ] 36. On Herodotus’ treatment of him, see Flower and Marincola 2002:164–175; the present essay goes far beyond the notes in that commentary, and represents further thoughts. For a different type of analysis, see Munson 2001:59–72.

[ back ] 37. On this problem, see Schachter 2000; Flower and Marincola 2002:166–167, 321–322. But I here offer a different solution.

[ back ] 38. See IG II2 17, lines 26–29; with Osborne 1970.

[ back ] 39. For Spartan religious attitudes, see Parker 1988; Richer 1999.

[ back ] 40. Apart from Plataea in 479, his other victories were at Tegea in ca. 473–470, at Dipaea (or Dipaeis) in ca. 470–465, either at Mt. Ithome or the Isthmus of Corinth (the text of Herodotus is corrupt) in the 460s, and at Tanagra in 457. See Herodotus 9.35.2; with Flower and Marincola 2002 ad loc.

[ back ] 41. See Pindar Olympian 8, lines 1–8; Parke 1967:186–190.

[ back ] 42. Pausanias at 6.2.5, for instance, cites Pindar for the story of Iamus as if he were the only source.

[ back ] 43. Art historians have speculated that the old man on the East Pediment of the temple of Zeus at Olympia, which depicts the preparation for the chariot race between Pelops and Oenomaus, is the seer Iamus: see LIMC 5.1:614–615. This figure well may be a seer, but the identification with Iamus is made solely by reference to Pindar’s sixth Olympian. In any case, the temple was constructed ca. 470–457, and thus the carving of this pediment was most probably later than Pindar’s ode.

[ back ] 44. Both Melampus and Iamus acquired the art of sacrificial divination as the result of an encounter with Apollo in the Alpheus River (compare Apollodorus 1.9.11 with Pindar, lines 57–63), and both had an encounter with snakes. Pindar records that two snakes tended the infant Iamus and fed him honey, whereas Hesiod has snakes lick Melampus’ ears when he was asleep so that when he awoke he could understand the language of birds. None of this is noticed by Hutchinson 2001.

[ back ] 45. The many peculiar features in Pindar’s story are succinctly treated by Parke 1967:176–177 (largely following Wilamowitz 1886:162–185).

[ back ] 46. As suggested by Wilamowitz 1886:162–185; followed by Parke 1967:176–177; see also Thomas 1989:107; Luraghi 1997a.

[ back ] 47. A less plausible explanation is that Herodotus is drawing on a Delphic story that was intended to ridicule the rival oracle of Zeus at Olympia (argued by Crahay 1956:102–104).

[ back ] 48. For this important point, see Murray 2001:316–317; in general, Vansina 1985.

[ back ] 49. According to scholion 26, Pindar borrowed this sentence from the epic Thebaid. It reappears in a grave epigram of the early fourth century for the seer Cleobulus (note 51 below). Note also the roughly similar description of Amphiaraus in Aeschylus Seven Against Thebes 568–569 (performed in 467 BC).

[ back ] 50. Pausanias 3.11.6–8 gives an account of Tisamenus’ career which is a loose paraphrase of Herodotus, except for one detail: that the Spartans allowed the Messenians who had rebelled to depart under truce, “being persuaded by Tisamenus and the Delphic oracle.” This perhaps reveals that various accounts of Tisamenus’ exploits were in circulation.

[ back ] 51. This inscription, IG VII 1670, has been republished by Flower and Marincola 2002:320–322.

[ back ] 52. On this passage, see Harris 1995:23–27. For the inscription, see SEG 16.193; Daux 1958; and Pritchett 1979:57.

[ back ] 53. This notion of leading an army may go back to the Near East; for an analogous expression was used of the Babylonian seer, who was said to “go in front of the army.” See West 1997:349.

[ back ] 54. Although Herodotus does not mention him again, he surely also performed the sphagia (battle-line sacrifice) in the moments before the Persian and Spartan armies joined battle some eleven days later: see Plutarch Aristides 18. I have elsewhere discussed the possibility that Simonides of Ceos gave a fuller and much more elaborate version of Tisamenus’ prophecy in F 14 (West, IEG2) of his recently restored elegiac poem on the battle of Plataea, but the fragments are so lacunose that it is impossible to tell whether it is some god or a mortal who is speaking, or indeed exactly what is being said (Flower 2000:67n9; Flower and Marincola 2002:318). So Simonides is best left out of the discussion.

[ back ] 55. See Collins 1978:237.

[ back ] 56. For the social function of divination, see Park 1963; and the important collection of articles in Peek 1991. For the performative aspects, see also LaGamma 2000 and Pemberton 2000.

[ back ] 57. So Oedipus says of Teiresias, “he has sight only when it comes to profit, but in his art is blind” (Sophocles Oedipus Tyrannus 388–389); cf. Homer Odyssey ii 184–186; Sophocles Antigone 1054–1055; Euripides Bacchae 255–257. See further Morrison 1981:106–107; Smith 1989.

[ back ] 58. Figueira 1986:193n70, suggests that he may have been an inferior (hupomeiōn), one of those Spartiates who had lost their citizen status due to an inability to pay their monthly mess dues.

[ back ] 59. A Lacedaemonian named Agias is named in a Delphic inscription as prostatēs of the naopoioi (president of the temple builders) under the Delphic archon Theucharis in the spring of 351 BC (Poralla 1913 no. 23; CID 2.31, line 65). This indicates that he must have been a man of considerable wealth and high social status. Whether he was related to Lysander’s seer of the same name (his grandson perhaps), it is not possible to tell.

[ back ] 60. I cannot agree with Spawforth (in Cartledge and Spawforth 1989:163–165), who argues that such families were actually descended from the old aristocracy of Classical Sparta and that there was an unbroken continuity of hereditary religious authority. He argues by analogy with the Athenian priestly families of the Eumolpidae and the Ceryces, but the social conditions in Attica were far different from those at Sparta.