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Although I cannot prove it, it seems to me that Melisandre is closely based upon another famous female prophetess named Martha, a Syrian woman whom the Roman commander Marius brought with him on campaign in an opulent litter (Plut. The Greek historian Plutarch wrote that as a result of his belief in her powers, “[Marius] would make sacrifices at her bidding” (). Martin is actually alluding to the Greek myth that held that Agamemnon attempted to kill his daughter Iphigenia in order that his ships might sail safely to Troy (some versions of the myth have her dying).

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Everyone from the poor living in the Subura at Rome to the emperor living in his palace on the Palatine wanted to know their futures.

What differed was the means by which one attained a prophecy.

These papyri illustrate the fact that the will to divine the future for one’s self is part of the human condition and not limited to a purely pagan practice.

As written remains indicate, divination was not a practice confined to the elites.

Into the Middle Ages, Virgil was still seen as something approaching a divine text.

Although early Christians were no longer supposed to consult “pagan” oracles after the fourth century, the oracular ritual of submitting written questions did not die out.

Apparently, visitors wrote their query on a leaden strip and then folded it over numerous times.

The inquiry was placed in a jar and then the the priestess drew from that jar various questions.

The inscriptions date to the 2nd century CE and indicate that boards were sometimes setup so that certain rolls of the ἀστράγαλοι could divine the future. Epigrapher Fritz Graf has a great article on these inscriptions, which often have a formula: Roll of the Dice Outcome God to be sacrificed to (“If ____ is rolled, then____ will happen, and so appease the god (or goddess)______”). A few years ago, Mary Beard ran an excellent column on the so-called As she explores: from the early empire forwards, people randomly opened passages of Virgil if they had a question that needed to be answered.

Augustine seems to allude to this practice, noting that he randomly opened to a relevant passage written by the Apostle Paul in his Epistles: “I seized, opened, and in silence read that section on which my eyes first fell: ‘Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, in concupiscence.’ No further would I read; nor needed I: for instantly at the end of this sentence, by a light as it were of serenity infused into my heart, all the darkness of doubt vanished away” (Conf. There is an online version of the Sortes Virgilianae here, so go ahead and ask for your fate through the words of the poet.

They cover many of the same issues we would ask about today: children, marriages, health, and money. You can explore the letters of Paul held at the University of Michigan library in a new i Tunes App here.

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