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Croesus and the Oracles

  • Peter Thonemann (a1)

Abstract:

Herodotus’ narrative of the testing of various Greek oracles by King Croesus of Lydia (1.46–54) has long been viewed with justifiable scepticism. A newly published verse dedication from the sanctuary of Apollo Ismenios at Thebes (Papazarkadas 2014: 233–48) sheds welcome light on Herodotus’ sources for this part of his Croesus-narrative. Herodotus’ account of Croesus’ testing of the oracle of Amphiaraus at Thebes appears to have been an imaginative extrapolation from the text of this inscription. But there is good reason to believe that Herodotus significantly misinterpreted the historical context and significance of the epigraphic text he had before him; in particular, the real author of the dedication is unlikely to have been King Croesus of Lydia, and may instead have been an Athenian aristocrat of the Alcmaeonid family. The new inscription from Thebes sheds light both on Herodotus’ use of documentary evidence and on the creative misreading of early epigraphic texts by Theban sanctuary personnel in the mid fifth century BC.

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* . I am grateful to Paul Cartledge, Peter Green, David Harvey and two anonymous JHS referees for their acute criticisms. I also benefited from the comments of seminar audiences in Oxford and St Andrews. My greatest debt is to Nikolaos Papazarkadas, for long and fruitful discussion of the inscription republished here. A shorter version of this paper was published as ‘Evidence of Gold’ in the Times Literary Supplement, 15 August 2014, 14–15.

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Croesus and the Oracles

  • Peter Thonemann (a1)

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