When we left Valens, Theodorus, and their little trained minions, no one was having a good day [previous Dang Me post.] One just imagines a chorus, not saying That Phrase, but rather “set up!”. Remember, that was fourth century AD, and they should have known better. Oracles had been directing such droll japes against clueless mortals for a very long time. So we’re going to look at a few earlier victims of oracular banter.
[Aside. Introducing a new post format here. Texts first with a very brief introduction, then at their end, some comments. So those who just want to read the texts can do so. Those who want more can easily find the More. Your comments, pro or con, are especially welcome; we aim to please]
Sparta, early seventh century BC
The Spartans chose Tegea for their first expansion into the Peloponnese. They sent to the oracle….
“They were not content to live in peace, but, confident that they were stronger than the Arcadians, asked the oracle at Delphi about gaining all the Arcadian land.  She replied in hexameter:
‘You ask me for Arcadia? You ask way too much; in your dreams.
There are many men in Arcadia, eaters of acorns,
Who will hinder you. But I grudge you not.
I will give you Tegea to dance the Spartan Two-Step,
And its fair plain to measure with a rope (great selection at Home Depot).’
 When the Lacedaemonians heard the oracle reported they yelled “hot, damn!”, forgot the other Arcadians and marched on Tegea carrying chains, relying on the deceptive oracle. They were confident they would enslave the Tegeans, but they were defeated in battle.  Those taken alive were bound in the very chains they had brought with them, and they measured the Tegean plain with a rope by working the fields. The chains in which they were bound were still preserved in my day, hanging up at the temple of Athena Alea.”
καὶ δή σφι οὐκέτι ἀπέχρα ἡσυχίην ἄγειν, ἀλλὰ καταφρονήσαντες Ἀρκάδων κρέσσονες εἶναι ἐχρηστηριάζοντο ἐν Δελφοῖσι ἐπὶ πάσῃ τῇ Ἀρκάδων χωρῇ.  ἡ δὲ Πυθίη σφι χρᾷ τάδε. ‘Ἀρκαδίην μ᾽ αἰτεῖς: μέγα μ᾽ αἰτεῖς: οὐ τοι δώσω.
πολλοὶ ἐν Ἀρκαδίῃ βαλανηφάγοι ἄνδρες ἔασιν,
οἵ σ᾽ ἀποκωλύσουσιν. ἐγὼ δὲ τοι οὔτι μεγαίρω:
δώσω τοί Τεγέην ποσσίκροτον ὀρχήσασθαι
καὶ καλὸν πεδίον σχοίνῳ διαμετρήσασθαι.’
 ταῦτα ὡς ἀπενειχθέντα ἤκουσαν οἱ Λακεδαιμόνιοι,Ἀρκάδων μὲν τῶν ἄλλων ἀπείχοντο, οἳ δὲ πέδας φερόμενοι ἐπὶ Τεγεήτας ἐστρατεύοντο, χρησμῷ κιβδήλῳ πίσυνοι, ὡς δὴ ἐξανδραποδιούμενοι τοὺς Τεγεήτας.  ἑσσωθέντες δὲ τῇ συμβολῇ, ὅσοι αὐτῶν ἐζωγρήθησαν, πέδας τε ἔχοντες τὰς ἐφέροντο αὐτοὶ καὶ σχοίνῳ διαμετρησάμενοι τὸ πεδίον τὸ Τεγεητέων ἐργάζοντο. αἱ δὲ πέδαι αὗται ἐν τῇσι ἐδεδέατο ἔτι καὶ ἐς ἐμὲ ἦσαν σόαι ἐν Τεγέῃ περὶ τὸν νηὸν τῆς Ἀλέης Ἀθηναίης κρεμάμεναι.
Lydia, middle sixth century BC
This is a famous one. Croesus, king of Lydia, was alarmed at the growing power of his neighbor Persia, recently under new management by Cyrus. Nothing does it like a preemptive strike, and Croesus got the same answer from two oracles….
“ When the Lydians came to the places where they were sent, they presented the offerings, and asked: “Croesus, big-ass king of Lydia and other nations, believing that here are the only true places of divination among men, endows you with such gifts as your wisdom deserves. And now he asks you whether he should send an army against the Persians, and whether he is to add an army of allies.”  Such was their inquiry; and the judgment given to Croesus by each of the two oracles was the same: namely, that if he should send an army against the Persians he would destroy a great empire.”
 ὡς δὲ ἀπικόμενοι ἐς τὰ ἀπεπέμφθησαν, οἱ Λυδοὶ ἀνέθεσαν τὰ ἀναθήματα, ἐχρέωντο τοῖσι χρηστηρίοισι λέγοντες ‘Κροῖσος ὁ Λυδῶν τε καὶ ἄλλων ἐθνέων βασιλεύς, νομίσας τάδε μαντήια εἶναι μοῦνα ἐν ἀνθρώποισι, ὑμῖν τε ἄξια δῶρα ἔδωκε τῶν ἐξευρημάτων, καὶ νῦν ὑμέας ἐπειρωτᾷ εἰ στρατεύηται ἐπὶ Πέρσας καὶ εἴ τινα στρατὸν ἀνδρῶν προσθέοιτο σύμμαχον.’ 3] οἳ μὲν ταῦτα ἐπειρώτων, τῶν δὲ μαντηίων ἀμφοτέρων ἐς τὠυτὸ αἱ γνῶμαι συνέδραμον, προλέγουσαι Κροίσῳ, ἢν στρατεύηται ἐπὶ Πέρσας, μεγάλην ἀρχὴν μιν καταλύσειν: τοὺς δὲ Ἑλλήνων δυνατωτάτους συνεβούλευόν οἱ ἐξευρόντα φίλους προσθέσθαι.
Silly Croesus. You lost, you dumb cluck. But Cyrus spared your sorry ass and allowed you to bitch and moan to Delphi….
“ When Croesus heard this, he sent Lydians to Delphi, telling them to lay his chains on the doorstep of the temple, and to ask the god if he were not ashamed to have persuaded Croesus to attack the Persians, telling him that he would destroy Cyrus’ power; of which power (they were to say, showing the chains) these were the first-fruits. They should ask this; and further, if it were the way of the Greek gods to be ungrateful. And added that as far as Croesus was concerned, the oracle sucked, big time.”
4] ὡς δὲ ταῦτα ἤκουσε ὁ Κροῖσος, πέμπων τῶν Λυδῶν ἐς Δελφοὺς ἐνετέλλετο τιθέντας τὰς πέδας ἐπὶ τοῦ νηοῦ τὸν οὐδὸν εἰρωτᾶν εἰ οὔ τι ἐπαισχύνεται τοῖσι μαντηίοισι ἐπαείρας Κροῖσον στρατεύεσθαι ἐπὶ Πέρσας ὡς καταπαύσοντα τὴν Κύρου δύναμιν, ἀπ᾽ ἧς οἱ ἀκροθίνια τοιαῦτα γενέσθαι, δεικνύντας τὰς πέδας: ταῦτά τε ἐπειρωτᾶν, καὶ εἰ ἀχαρίστοισι νόμος εἶναι τοῖσι Ἑλληνικοῖσι θεοῖσι.
You really don’t get it, do you, Big-C? The sun boy upstairs has all the cards. You’ve got nothing. It’s a good thing you didn’t really piss Apollo off…thing about that wonderful plague he sent to Agamemnon. Obamacare wouldn’t have saved him and the army.
“ But as to the oracle that was given to him, Croesus need getting straight; he is wrong to complain concerning it. For Loxias declared to him that if he led an army against the Persians, he would destroy a great empire. Therefore he should, if he had wanted to not be a total jerk, to have sent and asked whether the god spoke of Croesus’ or of Cyrus’ empire. But he did not understood what was spoken, or make further inquiry: for which now let him blame himself. What an asshole.
 κατὰ δὲ τὸ μαντήιον τὸ γενόμενον οὐκ ὀρθῶς Κροῖσος μέμφεται. προηγόρευε γὰρ οἱ Λοξίης, ἢν στρατεύηται ἐπὶ Πέρσας, μεγάλην ἀρχὴν αὐτὸν καταλύσειν. τὸν δὲ πρὸς ταῦτα χρῆν εὖ μέλλοντα βουλεύεσθαι ἐπειρέσθαι πέμψαντα κότερα τὴν ἑωυτοῦ ἢ τὴν Κύρου λέγοι ἀρχήν. οὐ συλλαβὼν δὲ τὸ ῥηθὲν οὐδ᾽ ἐπανειρόμενος ἑωυτὸν αἴτιον ἀποφαινέτω
Second Century AD: “I Got the Drop on the Oracle”
Alexander of Abonuteichos set up an nifty oracle in Asia Minor which involved a prophecy-giving snake. It was wildly popular, and not just with the locals. TwoRoman proconsuls bought into it, and the emperor Marcus Aurelius as well. The snake (Glycon) turns up on coins of the period. Lucian will have none of it. After recounting what he considers to be Alexander’s fraud, he puts it to a nasty test….
“Many were the traps which I and others contrived for him. For example, I contrived but one question and wrote upon the outside of the scroll, following the usual form: “Eight questions from Jack Meoff,” using a fictitious name and sending the eight drachmas and whatever it came to besides. Relying upon the fee that had been sent and upon the inscription on the roll, to the single question: “When will Alexander be caught cheating?” he sent me eight responses which, as the saying goes, had no connection with earth or with heaven, but were inane and senseless, each and every one came right off the stable floor. When he found out about all this afterward, and also that it was I who was attempting to dissuade Rutilianus from the marriage and from his great dependence upon the hopes inspired by the shrine, then Alexander began to hate me, with good reason, and thought of me as his bitter enemy.”
Lucian, Alexander, 54
πολλὰ γὰρ τοιαῦτα καὶ αὐτὸς ἐπεμηχανησάμην αὐτῷ, οἷον καὶ ἐκεῖνο: μίαν ἐρώτησιν ἐρωτήσας ἐπέγραψα τῷ βιβλίῳ κατὰ τὸ ἔθος: ‘ τοῦ δεῖνος χρησμοὶ ὀκτώ,’ ψευσάμενός τι ὄνομα, καὶ τὰς ὀκτὼ δραχμὰς καὶ τὸ γιγνόμενον ἔτι πρὸς ταύταις πέμψας: ὁ δὲ πιστεύσας τῇ ἀποπομπῇ τοῦ μισθοῦ καὶ τῇ ἐπιγραφῇ τοῦ βιβλίου, πρὸς μίαν ἐρώτησιν — ἦν δὲ αὕτη: ‘ πότε ἁλώσεται μαγγανεύων Ἀλέξανδρος ;’ — ὀκτώ μοι χρησμοὺς ἔπεμψεν, οὔτε γῆς φασιν οὔτε οὐρανοῦ ἁπτομένους, ἀνοήτους δὲ καὶ δυσνοήτους ἅπαντας. ἅπερ ὕστερον αἰσθόμενος, καὶ ὅτι Ῥουτιλιανὸν ἐγὼ ἀπέτρεπον τοῦ γάμου καὶ τοῦ πάνυ προσκεῖσθαι ταῖς τοῦ χρηστηρίου ἐλπίσιν, ἐμίσει, ὡς τὸ εἰκός, καὶ ἔχθιστον ἡγεῖτο.
Sparta. They ultimately defeated Tegea, with the help of the oracle, this time interpreting it correctly: 565-60 BC. This marked the start of the mighty Peloponnesian League, and this was what went to war with Athens in the fifth century.
Croesus. There were two previous oracular responses on related matters of he conquest, and Croesus, and Croesus managed to dick them up as well. One is especially interesting. An ancestor of Croesus seized power in Lydia by murder and started a miasma, which emptied its load for very bad karma straight onto Croesus’ head.
Alexander. He’s usually taken in the scholarship to be a fraud. I, and a few others, have argued for a revisionist view. Lucian starts with the fraud a priori. We don’t really hear the other side of it. And after all, noted supra, Marcus Aurelius bought into it, and Marcus Aurelius was no jerk (= the opposite of Croesus).
By the way. Although these texts imply otherwise, not just the One Percent consulted Delphi. Most of the queries, in fact, were pretty humdrum and personal.
So everyone is saying “Dang Me.” It’s the common lot mortals who seek to know more than they should. We’ve had that song in the previous post in this series. So let’s celebrate Lucian and his winning shootout with Alexander.