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The Devil's Tabernacle

The Devil's Tabernacle: The Pagan Oracles in Early Modern Thought

Anthony Ossa-Richardson
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    The Devil's Tabernacle
    Book Description:

    The Devil's Tabernacleis the first book to examine in depth the intellectual and cultural impact of the oracles of pagan antiquity on modern European thought. Anthony Ossa-Richardson shows how the study of the oracles influenced, and was influenced by, some of the most significant developments in early modernity, such as the Christian humanist recovery of ancient religion, confessional polemics, Deist and libertine challenges to religion, antiquarianism and early archaeology, Romantic historiography, and spiritualism. Ossa-Richardson examines the different views of the oracles since the Renaissance--that they were the work of the devil, or natural causes, or the fraud of priests, or finally an organic element of ancient Greek society. The range of discussion on the subject, as he demonstrates, is considerably more complex than has been realized before: hundreds of scholars, theologians, and critics commented on the oracles, drawing on a huge variety of intellectual contexts to frame their beliefs.

    In a central chapter, Ossa-Richardson interrogates the landmark dispute on the oracles between Bernard de Fontenelle and Jean-François Baltus, challenging Whiggish assumptions about the mechanics of debate on the cusp of the Enlightenment. With erudition and an eye for detail, he argues that, on both sides of the controversy, to speak of the ancient oracles in early modernity was to speak of one's own historical identity as a Christian.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4659-7
    Subjects: History, Religion, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Plates
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    So leaps ancient Delphi into the mind of modern Europe—a grand and forgotten ruin. This diary passage dates from 1432, when the antiquary Ciriaco of Ancona, picking his way among the ruins of Greece, arrived under the shadow of Parnassus. For four centuries, nothing changed. In late January 1676, the antiquary Jacob Spon, picking his way among the ruins of Greece with his companion, George Wheler, arrived, under the shadow of Parnassus, at the village of Castri. ‘No sooner had we approached the village’, he later wrote, ‘than we recognised it as the remains of the famous town of...

  6. Part One

    • CHAPTER ONE Authorities
      (pp. 13-45)

      With the revival of pagan antiquity came a revival of interest in its religions. The humanist movement, in full swing at the outset of the sixteenth century, put itself to setting out and interpreting the classical and patristic sources on the many aspects of these religions, among which the oracles of ancient Greece held a prominent place. By this process the oracles became an object of historical knowledge: in context, individual sources could contribute to the rounded picture of an institution with its own cultural contours.

      With the reading of the Church Fathers, however, the pagan oracles could also be...

    • CHAPTER TWO Demons
      (pp. 46-82)

      The Pythia of Alessandro and Rhodiginus was not yet a living being, but still an inert confection of classical sources with a vague Christian moral: mere history. By 1600 this was no longer the case. Historians and philosophers now argued about her—a sign that she stood for something. During the sixteenth century, the pagan oracles would be anchored firmly in Christian demonology, whose foundation had changed little since Aquinas.² That demonology had two aspects of relevance: the physical problem of possession, and the moral and epistemological problem of divination. As the oracles became rooted in theory, theirsymbolicvalue,...

  7. Part Two

    • [Part Two Introduction]
      (pp. 83-86)

      That the Pythia had been inspired by a demon, and that her oracles ceased with the coming of Christ, was an early modern commonplace—but it was not dogma. Rhodiginus, as we have noted, saw no contradiction in also decrying the oracles as the work of cunning priests, requiring nothing of the supernatural to compose their verses. In this he was not alone: scholars of all stripes continued to reject the Pythia as a fraud, a tradition that culminated with Antonie van Dale, and his adapter Fontenelle, in the 1680s. Others held that oracular prophecy could be explained partly or...

    • CHAPTER THREE Nature
      (pp. 87-135)

      What constitutes a ‘natural’ cause? The wordnature, and before itnaturaandphysis, have never been easy to define, as will be attested by any dictionary entry on the subject.² Trepidation on this subject even—so the story goes—prompted the editors of theThesaurus Linguae Latinae, working otherwise alphabetically, to skip straight from M to O. More pertinently, the definition was debated by many early modern philosophers.³

      One prominent difficulty was whether or not nature—however defined—included the demonic realm. For as Stuart Clark has demonstrated, demons, by virtue of being created spirits, were widely understood by...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Imposture
      (pp. 136-202)

      In 1616, three years before he was executed for heresy—strangled, with his tongue symbolically cut out—the itinerant ex-friar Giulio Cesare Vanini published his second and last treatise, a series of philosophical dialogues,De admirandis naturae arcanis deae reginaeque mortalium.² In book IV, widely regarded as the boldest in the work, Vanini interprets a variety of marvels and religious phenomena, many from Pomponazzi, ‘magister meus’, in each case rejecting a supernatural explanation.³ One chapter concerns the pagan oracles; here Vanini rehearses Pomponazzi’s scholastic arguments against the existence and activity of demons, and for the horoscope of religions. But after...

  8. Part Three

    • CHAPTER FIVE Enlightenment?
      (pp. 205-246)

      A young writer brought the aging Bernard de Fontenelle,censeur royal, a manuscript to examine. Fontenelle refused to give his approval. ‘How, Sir,’ said the other, ‘can you, who have written theHistoire des oracles, refuse to pass my work?’ Thephilosophereplied, with a greatsang-froid: ‘If I had been the censor of theOracles, I should not have approved it.’¹

      This apocryphal story dates from the eighteenth century, when Fontenelle’sHistoire des oracles(1686), a popular French adaptation of Van Dale’s treatise, had become notorious as bait for the Church.² Twenty years after its publication, Jesuit influence waxed...

    • CHAPTER SIX Solutions
      (pp. 247-284)

      In the winter of 1703–4, Denton Nicholas, a physician, wrote to his friend, the playwright Catherine Trotter, referring to the ‘ridiculous Opinion’ that the pagan oracles had ‘ceased upon our Saviours birth’, and remarking further that ‘it is my Opinion (and it is our freinds also whom I talked with upon this subject) that the Oracles were cheats of the preists’.² Nicholas may well have read Fontenelle’sHistoire des oracles, in French, or in Aphra Behn’s translation of 1688. But equally, he need not have done—by the turn of the century, his was already common belief among the...

    • Conclusion Les Lauriers sont coupés
      (pp. 285-290)

      Despite offers and opportunities, I have not been to Delphi. Nor have I much desire to go, and in any event it is not my subject. A friend shakes her head and tells me, ‘You’re not even studying athing, but only people talking about a thing.’ And, in some cases, people talking about people talking about a thing, or still further recursions. This should unsteady complacency about the value of specialist scholarship. But it need not discomfit the endeavour; for it is the humanist’s condition that he deals with copies of copies of reality, and those copies, not reality,...

  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 291-326)
  10. Index
    (pp. 327-342)