A Dream on Trial

The Contest of Oracular Interpretations and Authorities in Hyperides’ In Defence of Euxenippus

In: Mnemosyne


This paper re-examines Hyperides’ speech In Defence of Euxenippus as evidence for the role of divination in fourth-century BCE Athens. The oration recounts an occasion of oracular divination through incubation at Amphiaraos’ sanctuary in Oropos, whereby the Athenian Assembly ordered individuals to undergo incubation to resolve an issue concerning land ownership. This paper argues that Hyperides’ speech not only furnishes crucial evidence which broadens our understanding of divination beyond the famous oracle at Delphi, it also provides us with a valuable case study for the process of oracular consultation. The paper analyses the different stages of this process, including the selection of incubants, the nature of the dream received and the aftermath of incubation, demonstrating how the dream could be contested. It thereby sheds new light on the complexities of oracular transmission and interpretation, both of which are open to contestation as a result of the multiplicity of religious authority.

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