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Bulfinch's Mythology The Age of Fable

Page: 188

The oracle of Trophonius was at Lebadea in Boeotia. During a great drought the Boeotians, it is said, were directed by the god at Delphi to seek aid of Trophonius at Lebadea. They came thither, but could find no oracle. One of them, however, happening to see a swarm of bees, followed them to a chasm in the earth, which proved to be the place sought.

Peculiar ceremonies were to be performed by the person who came to consult the oracle. After these preliminaries, he descended into the cave by a narrow passage. This place could be entered only in the night. The person returned from the cave by the same narrow passage, but walking backwards. He appeared melancholy and dejected; and hence the proverb which was applied to a person low-spirited and gloomy, "He has been consulting the oracle of Trophonius."

ORACLE OF AESCULAPIUS

There were numerous oracles of Aesculapius, but the most celebrated one was at Epidaurus. Here the sick sought responses and the recovry of their health by sleeping in the temple. It has been inferred from the accounts that have come down to us, that the treatment of the sick resembled what is now called Animal Magnetism or Mesmerism.

Serpents were sacred to Aesculapius, probably because of a superstition that those animals have a faculty of renewing their youth by a change of skin. The worship of Aesculapius was introduced into Rome in a time of great sickness, and an embassy sent to the temple of Epidaurus to entreat the aid of the god. Aesculapius was propitious, and on the return of the ship accompanied it in the form of a serpent. Arriving in the river Tiber, the serpent glided from the vessel and took possession of an island in the river, and a temple was there erected to his honor.

ORACLE OF APIS

At Memphis the sacred bull Apis gave answer to those who consulted him, by the manner in which he received or rejected what was presented to him. If the bull refused food from the hand of the inquirer it was considered an unfavorable sign, and the contrary when he received it.

It has been a question whether oracular responses ought to be ascribed to mere human contrivance or to the agency of evil spirits. The latter opinion has been most general in past ages. A third theory has been advanced since the phenomena of Mesmerism have attracted attention, that something like the mesmeric trance was induced in the Pythoness, and the faculty of clairvoyance really called into action.

Another question is as to the time when the Pagan oracles ceased to give responses. Ancient Christian writers assert that they became silent at the birth of Christ, and were heard no more after that date. Milton adopts this view in his Hymn of the Nativity, and in lines of solemn and elevated beauty pictures the consternation of the heathen idols at the advent of the Saviour.

  "The oracles are dumb;
  No voice or hideous hum
  Rings through the arched roof in words deceiving.
  Apollo from his shrine
  Can no more divine,
  With hollow shriek the steep of Delphos leaving.
  No nightly trance or breathed spell
  Inspires the pale-eyed priest from the prophetic cell."


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