2017-2019: Theories of divination in Late Antiquity and Early Byzantium (2nd-7th centuries)

Abstract

The present project concerns the debates over the nature of divination (μαντεία) in Late Antiquity and Early Byzantium (2nd-7th centuries). It proposes a new approach of late antique religious thought, based mostly on understudied Neoplatonic texts, highlighting their mutual interaction with Early Christian texts dealing with similar topics. The project develops a line of research already illustrated in our previous researches on the history of Platonic demonology and on the Neoplatonic theories of prayer. It is likely to contribute significantly to the knowledge of the understanding of traditional religious beliefs and practices in late antique philosophical milieus.

A first objective of the project is to define the role of oracular divination and oneiromancy in Late Neoplatonism (Iamblichus, Proclus, Damascius, Synesius). Another objective is to examine some central debates between Neoplatonist philosophers and Christian intellectuals on the nature of oracles and other types of divination, studying the cultural and religious contexts of such debates. A special investigation will be devoted to some aspects of the continuity between the theological understanding of divination in Late Neoplatonism (e.g., Proclus) and some Early Byzantine theories of prophetic inspiration (e.g., a less known homily of Pseudo-John Chrysostom). The third objective of the project is to define the place of Artemidorus’ Oneirocriticon (2nd c.) in the context of philosophical and pseudo-scientific attempts to explain and to rationalise various divinatory practices. Specific comparisons will be established with Plutarch’s Delphic dialogues, with Plotinus’ physical and cosmological explanation of divination (in relation with astrology and magic) in Ennead III, 3 [48], 6, as well as with medical empiricism (e.g., Galenus).