Dan's dissertation, defended on November 11, looks at Greek oracles in ancient myth and history through the theoretical lens of narratology. He argues that instances of oracles in texts follow a basic plot structure which he calls the "oracular tale" which enabled the oracle's audience (readers/listeners of a text as well as actual oracle recipients) to decode and interpret the intent and prophetic power of what the oracle is saying. Dan's dissertation is advised by Professor Radcliffe Edmonds III.
Abstract (from the author):
In this dissertation, I investigate the belief in prophecy in ancient Greece. More specifically, I study how the ancient Greeks used oracles, like those of the famous Oracle at Delphi, to make their past, present, and future knowable. I analyze the stories about oracles from Herodotus’ Histories as well as Thucydides and the corpus of Greek inscriptions using a theory of storytelling called narratology. With this theory, I show that all stories about oracles are expressions of the same basic plot whether a narrator employs all of its typical episodes or leaves some of them implied. Further, I argue that the basic plot, which I call the ‘oracular tale,’ informs not just how narrators tell their stories and how an audience renders abbreviated stories understandable, but also how the Greeks interpreted oracles, understood their fulfillment, and ultimately believed in their prophetic power in the past. In this way, I argue that the plot of the ‘oracular tale’ is a general cultural concept at the center both of Greek thought and of their practice relating to oracles.
My conclusions create a more consistent picture that explains the apparent disparities between literary and inscribed texts, which modern scholarship has typically understood to indicate a clear schism between how the Greeks told stories about oracles and how they actually practiced oracular divination. In this way, Herodotus’ Histories may be used as a reliable source for the societal expectation that oracles were regularly in verse and required conjectural interpretation in order to be understood properly. The pattern of the ‘oracular tale’ also accounts for how the Greeks made use of oracles. Modern scholarship has been troubled by the real utility of oracular ambiguity as seen in the Histories, but Herodotus’ stories actually explain the utility the Greeks found in enigmatic oracular pronouncements. Consultants carefully connected oracular language with particular circumstances in narratives that made both oracles and event meaningful. Thus, this ‘divinatory thinking’ is storytelling, and this way of thinking allowed consultants to use oracles as flexible frames of reference by which to understand their past and to develop a plan toward a beneficial future.