Oracles, Curses, and Risk Among the Ancient Greeks

Oracles, Curses, and Risk Among the Ancient Greeks

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How did ancient Greek men and women deal with the uncertainty and risk of everyday life? What did they fear most, and how did they manage their anxieties? Esther Eidinow sets side-by-side two collections of material usually studied in isolation: binding curse tablets from across the ancient world, and the collection of published private questions from the oracle at Dodona in north-west Greece. Eidinow uses these texts to explore perceptions of risk and uncertainty in
ancient society, challenging previous explanations.

In these records we hear voices that are rarely, if ever, heard in literary texts and history books. The questions and curses in these tablets comprise fervent, sometimes ferocious appeals to the gods. The stories they tell offer tantalizing glimpses of everyday life, carrying the reader through the teeming ancient city - both its physical setting and its social dynamics. Among these tablets we find prostitutes and publicans, doctors and soldiers, netmakers and silver-workers, actors and
seamstresses. Anxious litigants ask the gods to silence their opponents. Men inquire about the paternity of their children. Women beg the gods to help them keep their men. Business rivals try to corner the market. Slaves plead to escape their masters.

This material takes us beyond the headlines of ancient history, offering new insights into institutions, activities, and relationships. Above all, individually and together, these texts help us to understand some of the ways in which ancient Greek men and women understood the world. In turn, the beliefs and activities of an ancient culture may shed light on modern attitudes to risk.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 538 pages
  • 156 x 233 x 30mm | 800g
  • Oxford, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 6 in-text illustrations and 2 maps
  • 0199660662
  • 9780199660667
  • 1,248,778

Table of contents

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Review quote

Recommended to any anthropologist who seeks an example of a sophisticated application by an ancient historian of insights and methods gleaned from their discipline. * Michael Flower, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, vol. 14 , no. 4 * opened a new perspective for classical scholarship at a time when Classical Antiquity does not seem to appeal to the broader educated public in the way it once did * Emanuel Voutiras, Classical Review 59:1 * [A] work of originality and remarkable erudition... convincingly challenged current interpretations * Hugh Bowden, Journal of Hellenic Studies, 128 * This book will undoubtedly serve as a comprehensive and readable introduction to the range of contexts under which oracle consultation and cursing would have taken place in ancient Greece, and as a trove of new insights and skeptical reservations for both laypeople and seasoned scholars * Bryn Mawr Classical Review * Review from previous edition a scholarly work of high standard * Emmanuel Voutiras, The Classical Review *
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About Esther Eidinow

Esther Eidinow is a Lecturer in Ancient Greek History, at the University of Nottingham
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