Within the framework of this second volume on the phenomenon of

collections in Late Antiquity, the purpose of this contribution is to delve
into the ways pagan and Christian authors collected pagan sacred words.
We will not go into the constitution of ready-made collections of re-
vealed texts which appear in the first centuries AD, such as the Chal-
daean Oracles and the Sibylline Oracles.
Rather, this article will deal
with genuine oracular texts, which were issued by oracular sanctuaries as
the result of the consultation of the god’s advise. We will mostly concen-
trate on the oracles ascribed to the god Apollo, because this corpus
enables us to follow the fate of sacred texts from the religious institu-
tions, where they had originally been produced, to Christian books.
1. Pagan and Christian Collections of Oracles: the Evidence
From the archaic period onwards, ancients have always referred to the
authority of the sacred words uttered by their gods, mostly Apollo,
through the intermediary of their mediums. Several authors have used
oracular texts in narrative accounts which directly consider the context
of the consultation of the oracle. Numerous oracles from Delphi are
Gathering Sacred Words. Collections of Oracles
from Pagan Sanctuaries to Christian Books*
* I wish to thank Matthias Perkams and Rosa Maria Piccione for having proposed
me to contribute to the second volume of Selecta colligere. I also wish to express my
gratitude to Alexis D’Hautcourt, for his helpful and stimulating comments, to
Adrian Stannard, who kindly agreed to correct my English, and to the Fonds Na-
tional belge de la Recherche Scientifique, where I am currently working as a Post-
doctoral Researcher.
See M. P. Nilsson, Geschichte der griechischen Religion, II. Die hellenistische und
römische Zeit («Handbuch der Altertumswissenschaft» V 2, 2), München 1961,
478-485; J.-M. Roessli, Catalogues de sibylles, recueil(s) de Libri Sibyllini et corpus
des Oracula Sibyllina. Remarques sur la formation et la constitution de quelques col-
lections oraculaires dans les mondes gréco-romain, juif et chrétien, E. Norelli (éd.),
«Recueils normatifs et canons dans l’Antiquité. Perspectives nouvelles sur la forma-
tion des canons juif et chrétien dans leur contexte culturel» («Publications de
l’Institut romand des sciences bibliques» 3), Lausanne 2004, 47-68.
R. M. Piccione, M. Perkams (Hrsgg.),
Selecta colligere, II, Alessandria 2005, pp. 1-17
2 Aude Busine
found in the works of Herodotus, Diodorus Siculus, Strabo, Pausanias
and Dio Chrysostomus.
The most famous examples are certainly the
Delphic oracles given to Croesus and quoted by Herodotus. In that
respect, these authors behaved more as antiquarians than collectors,
since their reference to oracular material served merely to illustrate and
build the story of the character it was addressed to.
We will not concern ourselves here with these occasional quotations of
oracles, but will focus instead on the lengthy collections of sacred words,
gathered without reference to the original context in which these have
been created.
In classical Athens, we know the existence of professional collectors of
oracles, called ¿µpoµoìoyoi, such as Lampon, Hierocles of Oreus, and
Diopeithes, who were mocked by Aristophanes. However, not one of
them seems to have ever published a written collection of oracles; their
work was used for oral performance only.
The oldest collection of oracles known to us probably appears in the
fragmentary work entitled arµi ¿µpoµe v or arµi ¿µpotpµiev by Hera-
clides Ponticus, a pupil of Plato.
Judging from the fragments, it seems
to have dealt with all prominent oracular centres and prophets at the
In the third or second century BC, Mnaseas of Patara, who is classified
as a pupil of Eratosthenes, wrote a work called arµi ¿µpoµe v or ouvo-
yeyp te v Arìøixe v ¿µpoµe v also known only through a few fragments,
in which the author gathered mythical Delphic oracles.
We also know that a certain Gorgos of Colophon might have collected
oracles from the local sanctuary of Claros during the first century BC.
Indeed, his epitaph praises him as „elderly and very bookish“ and
alludes to him „culling the page of the singers“. Following I. Cazzaniga,
For an overview, see R. Crahay, La littérature oraculaire chez Hérodote, Paris 1956,
6-22; H. W. Parke / D. E. W. Wormell, The Delphic Oracle, II. The Oracular
Responses, Oxford 1956, VII-XII.
See Parke / Wormell, Delphic Oracle, cf. n. 2, XV.
See H. Wehrli, Die Schule des Aristoteles, VII. Herakleides Pontikos, Basel /
Stuttgart 1969
, fr. 130-141; J.-P. Schneider, Héraclide le Pontique H 60, R. Goulet
(éd.), «Dictionnaire des Philosophes antiques» III, Paris 2000, 563-568.
See P. Cappelletto, I frammenti di Mnasea, Introduzione, testo e commento,
Milano 2003, 13-16. 31-33. 329-352.
W. Peek, Griechische Vers-Inschriften, I. Grab-Epigramme, Berlin 1955, nr. 764 =
R. Merkelbach / J. Stauber, Steinepigramme aus dem griechischen Osten, I, Stutt-
gart / Leipzig, 1998, 363 (nr. 03/05/02).
3 Gathering Sacred Words
the epigram could refer to the gathering of the poetic production of pre-
vious oracular Clarian officials.
Unfortunately, the remains of these early collections of oracles are too
fragmentary to allow us to know to what extent their authors gathered
oracular material.
The nearest equivalent to a collection of Delphic ora-
cles that we know of, is the fourteenth book of the Anthologia Graeca.
There are gathered forty-five oracular responses attributed to the Del-
phic Apollo; twenty-six of them were from Herodotus.
This late collec-
tion is probably based on an earlier one, just as some other books of the
Anthology are a rehash of earlier collections.
From the second century AD, collections of oracles have increasingly
flourished. The first author to have gathered a collection of oracles in
order to support his arguments is the Cynic philosopher Oenomaus of
Gadara, who lived in the second century AD. He has written a work
entitled Ioptev øeµo (Exposure of the Charlatans), a witty and inventive
polemic work preserved by Eusebius, where he contested religious con-
vention and rejected vividly a providential vision of the universe.
this context, Oenomaus quoted a large amount of oracles as a proof of
gods’ injustice, soothsayers’ ignorance, and oracles’ inaccuracy. He ga-
thered a heterogeneous collection of thirty-six oracles: on one hand,
Oenomaus referred to famous old Delphic oracles known by the literary
tradition; on the other, he referred to three revelations Apollo gave to
him personally in his shrine in Claros, in Ionia.
In the second half of the third century AD, the neoplatonist philoso-
pher Porphyry gathered a wide collection of pagan oracles in the Hrµi
tp ¸ rx ìoyiev øiìoooøio¸ (Philosophy from oracles). In this work, Por-
See I. Cazzaniga, Gorgos di Claros e la sua attività letteraria, «La Parola del
Passato» 29, 1974, 145-152, followed by R. Lane Fox, Pagans and Christians in the
Mediterranean World from the Second Century AD to the Conversion of Constantine,
London / New York 1986, 180.
See Parke / Wormell, Delphic Oracle, cf. n. 2, XVI-XVII.
F. Buffière, Anthologie grecque, première partie: Anthologie Palatine, XII, Paris
1970, 41-43.
See H. J. Mette, Art. „Oinomaos“, «RE» XVII 2, 1937, 2249-2251; J. Hammer-
staedt, Der Kyniker Oenomaus von Gadara, «ANRW» II 36, 4, 1990, 2834-2865; M.-
O. Goulet-Cazé, Le cynisme à l’époque impériale, ibid., 2720-2833, here 2783f. 2802f.
A list of the oracles quoted by Oenomaus is given in Eusèbe de Césarée, La
Préparation Évangélique. Livre V (18-36) – VI, Introduction, texte grec, traduction
et annotation par É. des Places («Sources Chrétiennes» 266), Paris 1980, 12f.; J.
Hammerstaedt, Die Orakelkritik des Kynikers Oenomaus («Beiträge zur klassischen
Philologie» 188), Frankfurt am Main 1988, 322-324.
4 Aude Busine
phyry provided a philosophical commentary on various sacred texts. In
the prologue, Porphyry claimed that an accurate interpretation of tradi-
tional oracles could help a philosopher in search of salvation.
Yet, the
interpretation of this work remains problematic since Porphyry’s collec-
tion of oracles has only been preserved by Christian authors, mainly Eu-
sebius and Augustine, who refer to it in order to criticize both Porphyry
and pagan religion.
Such as it is now, Porphyry’s collection of oracles is made of twenty-
seven oracles ascribed to Apollo,
fourteen oracles ascribed to Hekate,
two to Pan (fr. 318, 320 Smith), one to Sarapis (fr. 318 Smith), one to
Asclepios (fr. 312 Smith), one to Hermes (fr. 313 Smith) and eight non
attributed oracles.
It is worthy of note that Eusebius stated twice that
Porphyry’s work consisted of a collection of oracles (ouvoyeyp […]
¿µpoµe v).
Unlike Oenomaos, Porphyry seems to have taken these revelations
from contemporary sources, rather than from the classical literary tradi-
tion. Indeed, some oracles quoted in the Philosophy from oracles are
explicitly attributed to the sanctuary of Didyma, in Asia Minor, whose
greatest activity is attested during the first three centuries AD.
oracle from the Philosophy from oracles could be attributed to Didyma
despite Pophyry’s silence about its origin.
Indeed, the text quoted by
Augustine is also used by Lactantius who attributed it to the Didymean
While some scholars have proposed to attribute other Por-
Eus. PE IV 7, 1 = Porph. fr. 303 Smith.
Porph. fr. 307, 309, 310, 311, 314, 315 (2 fragments), 322 (2 oracles), 323, 324 (2
oracles), 329 (3 oracles), 330, 333a, 336 (2 oracles), 338, 339, 341 and 341a, 343,
344, 348 (2 oracles), 349 Smith.
Porph. fr. 317, 319, 321, 328, 342 (2 oracles), 345 (2 oracles) 347 (6 oracles)
Porph. fr. 310, 311, 325 (2 oracles), 325a, 333b, 334, 335 Smith.
Eus. PE IV 6, 3; V 10, 13.
Porph. fr. 307 Smith = Eus. PE V 6, 1: o rv Bµoy¿iooi¸ ∆Aaoììev; fr. 309 Smith
= Eus. PE V 7, 5: o Aiouµoi o¸. One does not understand why J. Fontenrose consi-
dered these oracles as non genuine, see J. Fontenrose, Didyma. Apollo’s Oracle, Cult
and Companions, Berkeley / Los Angeles / London 1988, nr. 45, 158, 217; nr.
46, 163, 218-219.
Aug. Civ. D. XIX 23 = Porph. fr. 344 Smith.
Lact. De Ira D. 23, 12: Apollo Milesius. According to P. Athanassiadi, Porphyry
would have gathered mostly Didymean oracles, see P. Athanassiadi, The Chaldean
Oracles. Theology and Theurgy, P. Athanassiadi / M. Frede (eds.), «Pagan Mono-
theism in Late Antiquity», Oxford 1999, 149-183, here 178.
5 Gathering Sacred Words
phyrian oracles to Delphi,
one can also draw some close parallels
between the wording of some sacred texts quoted in the Philosophy from
oracles and oracles issued by the sanctuary of Claros during the second
century AD.
It appears then that Porphyry’s collection probably gathered oracles
issued by the three main sanctuaries in activity during his time: Didyma,
Delphi and Claros. However, we do not know whether the philosopher
made his collection himself, e. g. by explicitly visiting the sanctuaries, or
if he used an older compilation. Neither can we check whether some
oracles are linked to the personal experience of Porphyry, as suggested
by J. Bidez.
The last pagan collection of oracles we know so far is the treatise called
De oraculo Apollinis Clari, written by Cornelius Labeo, a latin neopla-
tonist philosopher who probably lived in the late third century.
one fragment has been conserved thanks to Macrobius’ Saturnales;
gives the impression that the author used oracular texts to support the
constitution of a syncretical solar theology. It is worth noting that the
title of the work shows that Labeo’s collection gathered oracles issued by
a single oracular sanctuary: Claros.
As regards the Christians, they started to collect pagan oracles within
the context of the vivid polemics which opposed them to pagan authors.
Porph. fr. 338 Smith = Eus. PE VI 2, 2 – 3, 1 = Parke / Wormell nr. 470; Porph.
fr. 322 Smith = Eus. PE V 15, 6 – 16, 1 = Parke / Wormell nr. 475. See H. W. Parke
/ D. E. W. Wormell, The Delphic Oracle, I. The History, Oxford 1956, 287f. 374f.; J.
Fontenrose, The Delphic Oracle. Its Responses and Operations with a Catalogue of
Responses, Berkeley 1978, nr. 48; S. Levin, The Old Greek Oracles in Decline,
«ANRW» II 18, 2, 1989, 1599-1649, here 1615-1620.
Compare Porph. fr. 314 Smith with CIG II 2012 = Kaibel, Epigrammata Graeca
1034 = I. Sestos 11 and with G. Pugliese Carratelli, Xµpoµoi di Apollo Kareios e
Apollo Klarios a Hierapolis in Frigia, «Annuario della Scuola archeologica di Atene
e delle missioni italiane in Oriente» 41-42, 1963-1964, 351-370, nr. II b (360).
J. Bidez, Vie de Porphyre, le philosophe néo-platonicien. Avec les fragments des
traités HEPI AIAAMATON et De regressu animae («Recueil de travaux publiés par
la Faculté de Philosophie et Lettres de l’Université de Gand» 43), Gand / Leipzig
1913, 19 n. 1.
See P. Mastandrea, Un neoplatonico latino. Cornelio Labeone. Testimonianze e
frammenti («Études Préliminaires à l’étude des Religions Orientales» 77), Leiden
1979, 193-198; D. Briquel, Chrétiens et Haruspices. La religion étrusque, dernier
rempart du paganisme romain, Paris 1997, 119-124; T. D. Barnes, Monotheists All?,
«Phoenix» 55, 2001, 142-162, here 155.
Cornelius Labeo fr. 18 Mastandrea = Macr. Sat. I 18.
6 Aude Busine
Although it is not a proper form of collection, there is a need here to
mention the first Christian references to a genuine pagan oracle, that is
to say two passages of the Cohortatio ad Graecos. In this work, probably
written around the mid-third century and erroneously attributed to
Justin Martyr,
the author cites twice, with some variations, a two-verse
oracle in which Apollo praised the wisdom of the Hebrews and Chal-
This part of the work is aimed at demonstrating that pagan gods
had also professed monotheistic views. The Apollinian oracle on
Hebrews and Chaldeans was also used by Porphyry in his Philosophy
from oracles, but it is not sure whether or not Porphyry’s collection was
the source of this quotation.
As regards Christian collections of pagan oracles, they appear from the
beginning of the fourth century onwards.
Some apologists used, for new polemical and apologetic purposes, col-
lections of oracles made formerly by pagan authors, e. g. Oenomaus and
Porphyry. Eusebius of Caesarea made extensive quotations of Oeno-
maus’ and Porphyry’s collections, mostly in his Praeparatio evangelica. In
that context, Eusebius used the oracular material in order to emphasise
the nonsense and barbarism of pagan religious practices as well as
Oenomaus’ exactness and Porphyry’s impiety and stupidity. In the
Demonstratio evangelica, Eusebius also cited three Porphyrian oracles in
order to show that Apollo himself had praised the Jews for their wis-
dom, and, by consequence, the Christians too.
While refuting Porphyry’s developments in his De Civitate Dei, Au-
gustine also quoted in a Latin translation several oracles of Apollo and
Hekate from Porphyry’s Philosophy from oracles.
In the fifth century, Theodoret largely drew his Graecarum affectionum
curatio from Eusebius’ work. By consequence, the bishop of Cyrrhus
On the authorship and date of the Cohortatio, see Pseudo-Iustinus, Cohortatio ad
Graecos. De monarchia. Oratio ad Graecos, ed. M. Marcovich («Patristische Texte
und Studien» 32), Berlin / New York 1990, 3f.; Ps.-Justin (Markell von Ankyra?),
Ad Graecos de vera religione (bisher «Cohortatio ad Graecos»), Einleitung und Kom-
mentar von C. Riedweg, I, Einleitung («Schweizerische Beiträge zur Altertums-
wissenschaft» 25, 1), Basel 1994, 28-53.
[Just.] Coh. Gr. XI 2, 1, 14-15 Marcovich. In the fifth century, Cyril of Alexandria
used again the same two-verses oracle with the same variations in his Contra Iulia-
num, see Cyr. Juln. V 181 (PG 76 776a).
See N. Zeegers-Vander Vorst, Les citations des poètes grecs chez les apologistes
chrétiens du II
siècle («Recueil des travaux d’Histoire et de Philologie» 4, 47),
Louvain 1972, 221; Ps.-Justin (Markell von Ankyra?), Ad Graecos, see n. 25, 38-42.
7 Gathering Sacred Words
Thdt. Affect. X 41.
Lact. Inst. I 7, 1.
Lact. Inst. IV 13, 11; VII 13; De Ira D. 23, 12
Lact. Inst. I 7, 9-10. See H. W. Parke, The Oracles of Apollo in Asia Minor, Lon-
don 1985, 176-179; T. Curnow, The Oracles of the Ancient World, London 2004,
Lact. De Ira D. 23, 12 (=) Aug. Civ. D. XIX 23 = Porph. fr. 344 Smith. See G.
Wolff, Porphyrii De philosophia ex oraculis haurienda librorum reliquiae, Berlin 1856
(reprint Hildesheim 1983), 142-143, 178, 231; P. de Labriolle, La réaction païenne.
Étude sur la polémique antichrétienne du I
au VI
siècle, Paris 1934, 236 n. 1; R.
L. Wilken, The Christians as the Romans Saw them, New Haven / London 1984,
155; R. Goulet, L’oracle d’Apollon dans la Vie de Plotin, L. Brisson et al., «Porphyre.
La Vie de Plotin, I. Travaux préliminaires et index grec complet» («Histoire des
doctrines de l’Antiquité classique» 6), Paris 1982, 371-412, here 378; S. Pricoco, Un
oracolo di Apollo su Dio, «Rivista di storia e letteratura religiosa» 23, 1987, 3-36,
here 4f. 7; M. Perrin, Lactance et la culture grecque. Esquisse d’une problématique, B.
Pouderon / J. Doré (éd.), «Les apologistes chrétiens et la culture grecque», Paris
1998 («Théologie historique» 105), 297-313.
R. M. Ogilvie, The Library of Lactantius, Oxford 1978, 24. 55.
also referred to many pagan oracles taken from Oenomaus’ and Por-
phyry’s collections.
Other Christians used collections of pagan oracles without resorting
explicitly to a pagan source. Indeed, Lactantius collected six oracular
texts in his Divinae Institutiones and one in his De Ira Dei, quoting their
Greek origin. The quotation of Apollinian oracles allowed Lactantius to
show that pagan revelations basically agree with the teaching of the Holy
Scriptures, as, for example, the fact that God has not been fathered or
that Christ was mortal in his flesh and immortal in his spirit.
It should be stressed that Lactantius ascribed all the oracles he quoted
to an oracular Apollo: one oracle to the god of Colophon (Apollo […]
Colophone respondens), that is to say in Claros,
three oracles to the
Apollo of Miletus (Milesius Apollo), that is to say in Didyma,
and three
fragments to Apollo Smintheus, which may be the god of the sanctuary
of Chryse, in Mysia.
Traditionally, scholars have assumed that Lactantius’ source should be
Porphyry, because Augustine provided a Latin translation of the same
oracle as the one Lactantius quoted in the De Ira Dei, and made it clear
that he had taken it from Porphyry’s Philosophy from Oracles.
On the
other hand, R. M. Ogilvie supposed the existence of an intermediary
Christian collection between Porphyry’s and Lactantius’ works.
ever, we should recall that there is no obvious clue to settle the question
with certainty.
8 Aude Busine
Modern scholarship has so far overlooked an important collection of
pagan oracles gathered in the third book of the De Trinitate, which was
likely compiled by Didymus the Blind at the end of the fourth century.
This treatise aims at corroborating the Christian doctrine with argu-
ments taken from the wisdom of sacred pagan characters.
While exa-
mining some problematic passages of the Scriptures, the author quoted
seventeen pagan prophecies, which are briefly commented on and com-
pared with biblical quotations.
None of the oracles are attributed to a precise deity but the author
considered that the prophecies were the product of Greek pagan wis-
dom. Indeed, oracular texts are attributed to the elite of the Greeks
(789b: Eììpvev ìoyoor¸), to the Greek theologians (796c: oi Eììpvev
0roìo yoi), to „the pagans who sang proper hymns and praised the
demiurge and king of all“ (945c: oi rçe aµooøoµo arµi tou opµiouµyou
xoi aoµµooiìre¸ uµvpxooiv).
Although we know nothing about the sources consulted for this collec-
tion, it is worth noticing that the author appealed to various oracular
texts which are very similar to those used by the Theosophy (see below).
One of them has even been reproduced in both works: in the Theosophy,
the oracle is ascribed to Apollo, whereas Didymus, as for other oracles,
did not mention its origin.
Finally, the most important Christian collection of pagan oracles is
found in the so-called Tübingen Theosophy, a supplement originally
entitled Oroooøio to a late fifth century Christian work called Hrµi tp ¸
oµ0p¸ aiotre¸ in eleven books. Remains of the Theosophy are today
available only thanks to an epitome from the eighth century.
This sup-
plement consisted in four books where were quoted oracles of pagan
gods (Book I), maxims of Greek philosophers and poets (Book II),
See R. M. Grant, Greek Literature in the Treatise De Trinitate and Cyril’s Contra
Iulianum, «Journal of Theological Studies» 15, 1964, 265-279 (265); Didymus der
Blinde, De Trinitate. Buch I, hrsg. und übersetzt von J. Hönscheid («Beiträge zur
klassischen Philologie» 44), Meisenheim am Glan 1975, 5-7; M. Simonetti,
Didymiana, «Vetera Christianorum» 21, 1984, 129-155; id., Ancora sulla paternità
didimiana del De Trinitate, «Augustinianum» 36, 1996, 377-387.
PG 39 788a, c, 789b and c, 792a, 796c, 833b, 836b, 845c, 888a, 901d-904b, 913b,
916c, 945cd, 957b, 965b.
Didym. Trin. III 21 (PG 39 913b) = Theos. I 32 Beatrice = § 35 Erbse. See P. F.
Beatrice, Anonymi Monophysitae Theosophia. An Attempt at Reconstruction («Vigi-
liae Christianae» Suppl. 56), Leiden 2001, XXII-XXIII.
See now the reconstruction of the original text by Beatrice, Anonymi Monophysi-
tae Theosophia, cf. n. 36.
9 Gathering Sacred Words
Sibylline prophecies (Book III), and quotations of the book of Hystaspes
(Book IV), followed by a universal and millenarian chronicon, running
from Adam until the reign of the emperor Zeno. As claimed in the prooi-
mion, the Theosophy aimed at demonstrating that pagan prophecies had
predicted the main doctrines of Christianity, as the existence of one God
and the Holy Trinity.
In the first book dedicated to «the oracles of the Greek gods»
(¿µpoµoi te v Eììpvixe v 0re v), the author gathered a large collection
of pagan prophecies. Most of them are oracles of Apollo (twenty-two
but there are also four oracles ascribed to Sarapis, Hermes
and Artemis;
five oracles from Egypt (I 41-45 Beatrice = § 45-49
Erbse) and three unascribed prophecies (I 4, 24 Beatrice = § 15, 27
Erbse and I 24 Beatrice = § 27 Erbse; Porphyry fr. 325a Smith = Theoso-
phy I 27 Beatrice = § 30 Erbse).
It is generally admitted that Porphyry’s Philosophy from oracles was the
main source for the collection of pagan oracles in the Theosophy,
because its author knew the treatise and quoted it several times.
However, there is no reliable basis to state that all pagan oracles of the
Theosophy are taken directly from the work of Porphyry, except for two
oracles explicitly ascribed to the Porphyrian collection.
In a seminal article published in 1968, L. Robert has demonstrated
that a character called Poplas in the Theosophy should be identified with
a homonymic second century AD prophet in Didyma, who is known
from epigraphical and numismatic evidence. He also proposed to identi-
fy the character Stratonicos of the Theosophy with a Didymean official
Theos. Epit. 1 Beatrice = § 1 Erbse.
Theos. I 1, 2, 5, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21, 23, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 53,
54-55 Beatrice = §§ 12, 13, 16, 19, 21, 22, 23, 24, 26, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 41,
42, 43, 44, 52, 53-54 Erbse.
Theos. I 22, 28, 29, 52 Beatrice = §§ 25, 31, 32, 51 Erbse.
See A. D. Nock, Oracles théologiques, «Revue des Études Anciennes» 30, 1928,
280-290, here 281; H. Lewy, Chaldaean Oracles and Theurgy. Mysticism, Magic and
Platonism in the Later Roman Empire, Paris 1978
, 3-38; P. Hadot, Citations de
Porphyre chez Augustin (à propos d’un ouvrage récent), «Revue des Études Augusti-
niennes» 6, 1960, 205-244, here 209; Goulet, L’oracle d’Apollon, cf. n. 32; Beatrice,
Anonymi Monophysitae Theosophia, cf. n. 36, XXVI-XVII.
Theos. I 24; I 27 Beatrice = §§ 27, 30, Thesauri minores e
Erbse = Porph. fr. 325,
325a, 221 Smith; Theos. II 13; II 14; II 25; II 38 Beatrice = §§ 65, 66, 85 Erbse;
Theos. Chron. 4, 4 Beatrice = Porph. fr. 200 Smith.
Porph. fr. 325 Smith = Theos. I 24 Beatrice = § 27 Erbse and fr. 325a Smith =
Theos. I 27 Beatrice = § 30 Erbse.
10 Aude Busine
with the same name.
Three years later, L. Robert also proposed to link
an inscription on the city wall of Oinoanda, in North Lycia, with three
oracular verses found both in the Theosophy (I 2 Beatrice = § 13 Erbse)
and in Lactantius’ Divinae Institutiones (I 7, 1), where the author ascri-
bed them to the oracle of Claros. Consequently, the French epigraphist
has shown that several pagan revelations quoted by the anonymous
author of the Theosophy ought to be considered as genuine oracles
issued by the sanctuaries of Didyma and Claros, around the second and
third centuries AD.
It should also be noted that, alongside genuine oracular texts, the
author of the Theosophy used at least five fake pagan oracles, which were
composed by a Christian hand.
In these ex eventu prophecies, Apollo
himself predicted the defeat of paganism and the superiority of Chris-
Later on, there circulated other Christian collections of alleged pagan
sayings which aimed at showing the superiority of Christ and Chris-
tianity, like the Xµpoµeoioi Eììpvixoi quoted by the author of a work
called ∆Eçpypoi¸ tev aµo¿0rvtev rv Hrµoioi.
In the sixth century,
John Malalas, maybe through the intermediary of a certain Timotheos,
also referred to fake pagan oracles written by a Christian, announcing
the end of paganism.
This brief overview has shown that both pagans and Christians have
used collections of genuine oracles, which had originally been issued by
the oracular sanctuaries of Delphi, Claros and Didyma. From the late
fifth century, some pseudepigraphical oracles have been added to these
collections of pagan oracles.
L. Robert, Trois oracles de la Théosophie et un prophète d’Apollon, «Comptes ren-
dus de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres» 1968, 568-599, followed by all
subsequent scholars except Fontenrose, Didyma, cf. n. 17, 244.
Theos. I 5, 6, 15, 54, 55 Beatrice = §§ 16, 17, 18, 53, 54 Erbse.
See Das sogenannte Religionsgespräch am Hof der Sasaniden, hrsg. von E. Bratke
(«Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur» 4, 3),
Leipzig 1899, 139-217.
Malalas Chron. II 3; II 5; II 23; III 13; IV 12; VII 15; X 5. On this Timotheos, see
W. Weber, Studien zur Chronik des Malalas, «Festgabe für A. Deissmann»,
Tübingen 1927, 20-66 (31-36); E. Jeffreys, Malalas’ Sources, E. Jeffreys / B. Croke /
R. Scott (eds.), «Studies in John Malalas» («Byzantina Australiensia» 6), Sydney
1990, 194-195.
11 Gathering Sacred Words
2. Collecting Oracles: the Methods
It is now time to turn to the collecting activity itself and examine the
methods of those who had gathered pagan oracles in their literary works.
In this part of the article, we will then present what happened between
the production of oracles in the sanctuaries and the time when they were
inserted into Christian collections.
Let us first note that the collecting of oracles could begin in the sanctu-
ary itself. In Didyma, two building account inscriptions from the third
century BC mentioned a so-called Chresmographeion, which was in all
likelihood the record office of oracular responses.
If one could consult
the office in order to collect oracles, one could also reproduce Didymean
oracles which were inscribed in Didyma and in the territory of Miletos.
On the contrary, no such oracles have been found in the sites of Delphi
and Claros. Apparently, the procedure of consultation did not involve
the recording of the responses on a hard imperishable material, like the
lead tablets found in Dodona or the stone inscriptions, like in Didyma.
We know that Delphic and Clarian oracular responses were rather con-
served and inscribed in the consulting people’s place of origin.
Yet, it is
possible that oracles were filed in these sanctuaries on a perishable sup-
port, which has not been passed down to us. The first century BC
Clarian prophet we already mentioned, Gorgos of Colophon, might have
collected oracles of his god from a record office similar to the one in
Didyma, as suggested by R. Lane Fox.
Even if evidence is extremely poor in this regard, we might assume
that religious institutions organised the filing of the sacred texts they
produced. In that connection, it is highly probable that the collectors
had the convenience of only visiting the sanctuaries to gather their mate-
rial, rather than the necessity of having to visit all the cities where the
pilgrims came from. However, we have yet to contemplate the methods
by which this filing was organised and put into practice. Here, it is
worth considering whether some collections were made on the oracular
authorities’ initiative in order to promote their own sanctuary. In that
connection, we may assume, following A. Rehm’s suggestion, that the
A. Rehm / R. Harder, Didyma, II. Die Inschriften, Berlin, 1958, nr. 31, 32: tou
¿µpoµoyµoøiou. See K. Tuchelt, Vorarbeiten zu einer Topographie von Didyma. Eine
Untersuchung der inschriftlichen und archäologischen Zeugnisse, Tübingen 1973, 49-
50. 76-77; Parke, The Oracles of Apollo in Asia Minor, cf. n. 31, 65. 70. 214.
See Robert, Trois oracles, cf. n. 44, 590.
Lane Fox, Pagans and Christians, cf. n. 7, 180.
12 Aude Busine
secretaries, which are attested in numerous inscriptions found in Claros
and Didyma, were in charge of the constitution of some oracles collec-
The authorities of the sanctuary would then have diffused these
and made them accessible to authors like Porphyry, Cornelius Labeo, or
Be that as it may, the gathering of oracular texts in literary works will
confer on sacred words new purposes and meanings. We will now have a
closer look at the different ways authors recycled the texts issued by the
oracular sanctuaries, without referring to the original context of the
oracular consultation.
2.1 Selection and Reorganization
Once the collector had the sacred texts in his possession, the first step
for the constitution of his collection was the selection and the reorgani-
zation of the oracular material.
The selection of oracles would be determined by several criteria. In
Cornelius Labeo’s De oraculo Apollinis Clari, the place of origin of ora-
cles was obviously the first criterion. In most cases, collectors selected
oracles according to the themes expressed by the oracular verses.
Whereas Porphyry’s aim was to justify the contents of the sacred text by
a symbolical exegesis, Eusebius chose oracles within the same collection
according to themes that allowed him to criticize gods of the traditional
pantheon, and pagan religion in general. For example, Eusebius quoted
an oracle of Apollo in which the god described himself as the son of
Leto, born in Delos.
The author made use of it in order to allege that
pagan gods were born from mortal beings, and in a geographical place,
whereas philosophers claimed that Apollo should be associated with the
Both Lactantius and the author of the Theosophy selected pagan ora-
cles according to specific criteria, as they wanted to show that pagan re-
velations foretold some principles of Christianity. In that context,
Lactantius and the author of the Theosophy reused an oracle addressed
to a certain Polites in Didyma which confirmed Christian views about
the immortality of the soul.
Rehm / Harder, Didyma, cf. n. 48, 324.
Porph. fr. 311 Smith = Eus. PE III 14, 5.
Eus. PE III 14, 3-12. Note that Porphyry’s commentary on this text has not been
Lact. Inst. VII 13, 6; Theos. I 34 Beatrice = § 37 Erbse. See S. Pricoco, Un oracolo
13 Gathering Sacred Words
Besides, some oracles seem to have been chosen because of their par-
ticular wording. Indeed, some oracles of Apollo describe pagan gods
with epithets that are not dissimilar with the Christian way of naming
God, and for this reason were used in the Theosophy. For instance, in
Clarian and Didymean oracles, Zeus is often presented as the supreme
god by terms such as uçiµroev yrvrtp¸ („begetter ruling on high“, in
Theosophy I 37 Beatrice = § 41 Erbse); aovorµxp¸ („seen by all“, in
Theosophy I 19 Beatrice = § 22 Erbse); µiooeteµ („furnishing a liveli-
hood“, in Theosophy I 20 Beatrice = § 23 Erbse); ¸eoootp¸ („giver of
life“, in Theosophy I 21 Beatrice = § 24 Erbse). In the view of the author,
these mentions were sufficient to prove that Apollo, who was not con-
sidered as a real god but as a daemon, advised to worship the supreme
deity, which was nothing but the Christian God.
After selection comes reorganization of the oracular material. Porphyry
provides a clue about the way in which he arranged the oracles in the
Philosophy from oracles: in the introduction to one oracle, Porphyry
mentions that he used the text in a part of the work intended to describe
worship (arµi tp ¸ 0rµoario¸), which followed a section about piety
(arµi ruorµrio¸).
According to Eusebius, Porphyry also used some or-
acles in a part of his work about „the good daemons’ power and actual-
ity“ (arµi tp ¸ te v oyo0e v […] ooiµovev ouvoµre¸ tr xoi rvrµyrio¸).
These comments lead to the conclusion that Porphyry classified orac-
les in function of different thematic chapters.
The making of collections implied that the author picked up oracles ac-
cording to new criteria. The collector could also give new perspectives to
the texts he gathered by reorganising them on the basis of new categories.
2.2 Alteration and Omission
In some cases, the constitution of collections brought about the altera-
tion of the contents of the oracles in order to fit them better with the
aim of the work.
An oracle inscribed on the city wall of Oinoanda in Northern Lycia
furnishes a well-known example.
Indeed, the first three verses of the
inscription were identified by L. Robert with three lines which Lactan-
di Apollo sull’anima (Lact. Inst. VII 13, 6), «Hestíasis. Studi di tarda antichità offerti
a Salvatore Calderone» («Studi tardoantichi» 5), Messina 1988, 173-201.
Porph. fr. 314 Smith = Eus. PE IV 9, 1.
Eus. PE V 5, 5.
G. E. Bean, Journeys in Northern Lycia 1965-67 («Österreichische Akademie der
Wissenschaften. Phil.-hist. Klasse» 104), Wien 1971, 20-22, nr. 37.
14 Aude Busine
tius quoted from the Clarian oracle (Inst. I 7).
The same three verses
are also found at the end of a longer oracle in the Theosophy (I 2 Bea-
trice = § 13 Erbse). We will not concern ourselves with all the issues that
have arisen from these quotations.
Suffice it to say that the texts quo-
ted by Christian authors display an interesting difference in reading. In
the pagan context, God was described as „not giving place to a name,
but of many names“ (v. 3: ouvoµo µp ¿eµev aoìuevuµo¸). The same
line has been amended in Lactantius and the Theosophy into „his name
cannot be contained by the language“ (ouvoµo µpor ìoye ¿eµouµrvov),
so as to suit better Christian thought. Such wording made it possible to
avoid the idea that any of the names of the pagan gods could have been
appropriately applied to the supreme deity.
Similarly, the oracle about Hebrews quoted by the author of the
Cohortatio ad Graecos and Cyril of Alexandria contains a description
that differs from the pagan version given by Porphyry in the De Philoso-
phia ex oraculis.
In the Christian versions, the supreme deity is de-
scribed by the term outoyrvptov (self-generated), which is common in
Christian literature,
while Porphyry’s text uses the rare and infrequent-
ly used term outoyrvr0ìov,
present mostly in pagan and gnostic con-
It still remains hard to assess whether Christians deliberately
modified the paganizing term or if they phonetically misunderstood the
original adjective.
In order to accommodate better the contents of oracles, it seems that
authors also omitted to reproduce bits that did not fit with their argu-
mentative interests. In that respect, Didymus did not quote the last line
of an oracle which the author of the Theosophy quoted in its entirety. In
L. Robert, Un oracle gravé à Oinoanda, «Comptes rendus de l’Académie des
Inscriptions et Belles Lettres» 1972, 597-619.
For an overview, see for example Pricoco, Un oracolo di Apollo su Dio, cf. n. 32.
See J. Whittaker, A Hellenistic context for John 10, 29, «Vigiliae Christianae» 24,
1970, 241-260, here 246 n. 23; Zeegers-Vander Vorst, Les citations des poètes grecs,
cf. n. 27, 221-223; Ps.-Justin (Markell von Ankyra?), Ad Graecos, cf. n. 25, II,
Kommentar («Schweizerische Beiträge zur Altertumswissenschaft» 25, 2), Basel
1994, 299. 411.
[Just.] Coh. Gr. XI 2, 1, 14-15; XXIV 2, l, 28-29 Marcovich; Cyr. Juln. V 181 (PG
76 776a).
Porph. fr. 324 ab Smith = Eus. PE IX 10, 3-5; XIV 10, 5.
Papyri Graecae Magicae, ed. K. Preisendanz, Stuttagart 1973, I v. 342, 943, 1989;
Nonn. D. XLI 52; Orac. Chald. fr. 39, 1 des Places; Theos. I 38 Beatrice = § 42
Erbse. The only Christian use of outoyrvr0ìov I know is Gr. Naz. carm. I 1, 35, 4
(PG 37 517a 7).
15 Gathering Sacred Words
this verse, Apollo described the supreme deity as „the highest king of
the blessed people“ (µoxoµev µooiìpi µryiote). This wording would
have seemed too pagan to Didymus, who aimed, on the contrary, to
demonstrate that Apollo praised the Christian God.
As shown by these examples, the collecting of oracles could cause the
modification of their contents in order to fit the material with the gene-
ral purpose of the collection.
2.3 Introductions and Commentaries
Finally, authors of collections could influence the meaning of oracles
through the explanations they gave of oracular verses, in their introduc-
tions and / or commentaries.
The author of the Theosophy often explained in his introductions to
oracles the way the divine words should be understood. For example, in
I 31 (Beatrice), before quoting an oracle on the gods’ obedience to the
god-father, he explains that „those called gods inserted themselves into
the angels and agree to obey the advise of the invisible God“ (oi ìryo-
µrvoi 0roi […] toi¸ oyyrìoi¸ aoµrvriµovtr¸ routou¸ uapµrtrio0oi
oµoìoyou oi toi ¸ µouìoi ¸ tou ooµotou 0rou ). It aims at giving a Chris-
tianized key for the lecture of the oracle, in which the reader should
assimilate the so-called pagan gods with the angels, and the supreme
deity with the Christian God.
In a similar way, Porphyry introduced a long oracle, which enumerates
the different kinds of victims which should be offered to each deity, by
stating that the sacred words teach us about „the distinction between the
gods according to their rank“ (oioiµroiv tp¸ tev 0rev arµir¿ev to-
In the long commentary that followed the oracular extract, Por-
phyry tried to show the reasoning of the oracle in order to fit its content
with philosophical views on the organization of divine hierarchy.
was an attempt to prove that pagan oracles could provide philosophers
with symbolical explanations of the divine world.
In some cases, authors of collections might refer to a single wording of
an oracle in the development of their commentary. For example,
Lactantius quoted an Apollinian oracle from Didyma in order to show
that there is no contradiction in the fact that Christ is truly in the same
time both man and God. This use of oracular verses seems odd, in the
Didym. Trin. III 21 (PG 39 913b) = Theos. I 32 Beatrice = § 35 Erbse.
Porph. fr. 314 Smith = Eus. PE IV 9, 1.
Porph. fr. 315 Smith = Eus. PE IV 9, 3.
16 Aude Busine
sense that the oracle only insisted on the mortality of Christ by stating
that he was „mortal according to his flesh“ (0vpto¸ xoto […] ooµxo).
Yet, Lactantius referred to this wording in order to emphasize that
Apollo would not have used this expression if Christ had simply been
mortal. According to the author, the fact that the oracle added «accor-
ding to his flesh» is a sign that the pagan god also meant that Christ was
divine as well, as Christians argue.
To sum up, this article has first reviewed the evidence for oracular col-
lections in Antiquity. Some collections appeared in the classical and hel-
lenistic periods, but it has been showed that the phenomenon of collec-
ting oracles gains considerable importance, arising from the conflict
between pagans and Christians, from the third century onwards. In that
context, the reference to pagan sacred words allowed authors from both
sides to justify their own religion as well as to attack the religion of their
In the second part of the article, I have tried to systematise the me-
thods used for the composition of oracular collections. It is worth men-
tioning here that this attempt is still problematic since many of the
works considered have not been conserved in their entirety, but only
thanks to the quotations other authors made of them. I recount the main
stages of the collecting process as it has been reconstructed:
First, after the collector has consulted the filing within sanctuaries or
possessed former compilations of oracles, the constitution of his collec-
tion began with the selection and the reorganization of oracular material.
He had to pick the sacred texts out according to specific criteria, which
reflected the main ideas of his work. The collector would then rearrange
oracles by classifying them into new categories determined by his agen-
Second, another step within the collecting of oracles could also lie in
the alteration of the oracles’ text itself. Indeed, in some cases, it was ne-
cessary to modify the contents of the divine words so to make them fit
better with the general purpose of the collection. It imposed upon the
collected material either changing amongst the wording, or omission of
extracts from oracles.
Lact. Inst. IV 13, 11. The same text is found in a Latin translation in Aug. Civ. D.
XIX 23 = Porph. fr. 344 Smith.
Lact. Inst. IV 13, 13.
17 Gathering Sacred Words
Third, authors of collections could finally clarify the oracles through
exegesis. We have seen that collectors seized the opportunity to infer on
the meaning of oracles when they introduced and commented them on.
By explicating the sense of the sacred texts, authors provided their rea-
ders with keynotes which would lead them into the desired interpreta-
Ultimately, the making of oracular collections in Late Antiquity was
not a mere cut-and-paste activity, nor a simple accumulation of former
divine revelations. The different technical steps of the constitution of
collections we mentioned above aimed at conferring on oracles new
meanings. In fact, the gathering of a wide range of oracular sources truly
contributes to build new works, whose raison d’être determined the ways
oracles were integrated, altered and interpreted. Oracular texts were
then given a new role to play in the vivid debate which engaged pagans
and Christians at the time. In that respect, the senses of pagan oracles
never ceased to vary according to the different statuses conferred to
them. Whether the gods’ words served philosophical, polemical or
apologetic purposes, their authority remained intact throughout the
Aude Busine (Bruxelles)