Plutarch and the Delphic Oracle.

Frank, Rebecca, Classics - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Petrovic, Ivana, AS-Classics, University of Virginia

This dissertation assesses how Plutarch of Chaeronea uses the Delphic oracle as a literary motif and how it features as a part of his philosophical agenda in his writings. I argue that Plutarch represents the oracle as intrinsically connected to his philosophical program and that he uses Delphi as a springboard for investigation of philosophical and theological questions. Previously, scholars attempting to establish Plutarch’s views on Delphi and Delphic divination have ignored or dismissed the Lives as evidence, using primarily the so-called ‘Delphic dialogues’ (De E apud Delphos, De Pythiae oraculis, and De defectu oraculorum) to establish Plutarch’s philosophical views. I demonstrate that this approach misrepresents the purpose of the dialogues and the nature of the conversations among the interlocutors in each. Furthermore, I establish that the Parallel Lives cannot be ignored when considering Plutarch’s views on divination, as I show how Plutarch has woven his philosophical understanding of the oracle into the Lives. My study of the oracle stories in the Lives reveals a very clear and consistent narrative about the Delphic oracle and Delphic divination that stands in contrast to many of the views expressed by the various interlocutors in the dialogues. This narrative includes in particular the purpose of the oracle, the god’s connection to the oracular sanctuary, and how the god communicates with humans through the oracle. Additionally, I illustrate how Plutarch creates a narrative across both the Lives and the dialogues about the Delphic sanctuary from the archaic past into his own day. In Plutarch’s model, Delphi used to be the primary source of divine guidance for Greek states and leaders. By Plutarch’s day, however, the prophetic power of oracles had become increasingly challenged, and the Delphic oracle had long since lost the political clout it once wielded over the Mediterranean world. In response, Plutarch crafts a new identity for Delphi to increase its relevance under Roman rule. Rather than advising states, Plutarch presents the oracle operating as a center for serious theological and philosophical thought, where prominent Greeks and Romans could come together and grow in wisdom though the aid of the god. In this way, Plutarch presents the oracle a medium through which Apollo fulfills both his philosophical and prophetic agendas.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Plutarch, Delphic Oracle, oracular divination, Greek religion, Imperial Greek Literature
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