Esther Eidinow: Rezension von: Kim Beerden: Worlds Full of Signs. Ancient Greek Divination in Context, Leiden / Boston: Brill 2013, in: sehepunkte 14 (2014), Nr. 5 [15.05.2014], URL: http://www.sehepunkte.de/2014/05/24265.html

Von Kim Beerden

From Esther Eidinow's review of my book the reader will hardly understand that the reviewer and I disagree on the fundamental issue of 'risk' (explicitly in my book pp. 15; 15 n.23; 196; 202 n.31 and implicitly 196-203). Our disagreement is about the question whether the concept 'risk' is an acceptable or useful concept to approach the ancient world with. Eidinow argues that it is. I argue it is not. Risk is a way of dealing with uncertainty that is characteristic of modern society. Risk is quantified uncertainty, based on probabilistic thinking. Although one could try to find a parallel for this in ancient society, there is in fact nothing like risk in a strict sense that can be discerned in the terminology or practice of ancient Greece. Thus the concept is not helpful for an analysis of the Greek world, unless as a contrast. On the contrary, to use the concept 'risk' to describe or explain phenomena in the ancient world is likely to be a hindrance. Risk is so very ingrained in our modern ways of thinking about the uncertain future that it will be only too easy to project such thinking on the ancient world. My rejection of risk, then, I consider to be an important one: instead, in the Greek world we see a focus on qualitative divinatory advice from the supernatural (after which the individual could make his own choice). This is one of the arguments leading up to my conclusion that divination in the ancient world is a relatively flexible phenomenon, dealing with a relatively flexible Greek future. As Esther Eidinow's book on, inter alia, divination is titled Oracles, curses, and risk among the ancient Greeks (Oxford 2007) it is obvious that 'risk' is fundamental to her work. The reader may refer to pp. 10-25 of her book and my eighth chapter (pp. 195-222). Either the reviewer is aiming to fight my position on risk in a roundabout way by concentrating on other points, or she considers the argument in my book to be convincing - in which case she might have mentioned as much.

After having noted this crucial omission in her review of my work, I would like to discuss some issues that Eidinow does address. First, the reviewer states that more secondary literature should have been referred to or engaged with. As for the concept of 'embeddedness', extensive annotation seems superfluous, as the concept is now in common use and I did not aim to discuss it. If I had wanted to problematize the concept, my footnotes would have included many others apart from Parker, such as Polanyi, Bremmer and Naerebout (some of whom have rather different interpretations of the concept from Parker). Next, the way I deal with the position of the Pythia in the divinatory process: this is an unresolved discussion, as is well known: I of course refer to Maurizio's article, with others, in a footnote where I make clear that there are many opinions on how the Pythia functioned. In my main text I clearly state that I see her as a medium like any other agent transmitting signs, and not as a homo divinans - and that she thus falls outside the scope of my argument. I have taken position and do not consider these issues relevant for my book. Then for the topic of orality-literacy. That Manetti and I have (independently) reached similar conclusions on the fact that written texts were important in the Neo-Assyrian world and that the Greek world was essentially an oral one, seems not in need of any annotation considering the wealth of literature on the topic of orality and literacy in the ancient world. Surely the summary by Bell 2009 (1997): 205: 'oral-literate contrast has helped to illuminate important dimensions of the data for the study of ritual', again may be considered common knowledge. References to more specific issues of orality and literacy abound in my footnotes.

Secondly, the reviewer also mentions sources that have remained unacknowledged - again suggesting that this implies unknown. That much source material - much more than the reviewer notices - goes unmentioned, is quite correct. I did not need those references in order to make my point and brevity is, then, no sin. I should like to emphasize what my book is actually about: it is a comparative study and listing primary sources exhaustively is definitely not my aim; if a reader wishes to familiarize him- or herself with more primary source material he/she can turn to the volumes on divination by Bouché-Leclercq, and the numerous relevant Assyriological publications.

Thirdly, the reviewer states that I have omitted or forgotten some issues. I will give some examples of where this is clearly not the case. As for 'no mention of oracles and law codes', I cite, from my p. 34: 'Oracles were used during sessions in the law courts because of their normative force and in this way played a role in public trials, although in themselves they were neither a rule nor a law.' However, the reviewer appears to refer to the revelation of law codes (e.g. Minos claiming that Apollo had revealed laws) or laws sanctioned by the divine (e.g. Spartan laws at Delphi). According to my definition of divination (p. 20), revelation of laws cannot be considered divination, and falls outside the scope of my book. As for the approval of laws, this would qualify as a divinatory sign/message. However, law is here the mere subject of divinatory action, and plays no conceptual role - which was the subject of my discussion. As for the claim that I do not mention institutionalized experts (exegetes in Athens, Spartan state interpreters) in chapter 4: I clearly state on p. 64 that I discuss manteis only. This is, then, a fundamental choice. Nevertheless, on p. 87 I explicitly do mention that there were those who did not work on a freelance basis. Additionally, throughout the book, including in the conclusion (p. 224, 'most Greek experts' - certainly not all), I implicitly take experts not working on a freelance basis into account. When we turn to the matter of 'poverty' of Mesopotamian experts employed by the court, I did not omit to mention that this group did encompass different levels - we have an 'inner circle' (p. 94 n.174) and I explicitly discuss hierarchy among experts (pp. 93-94). Also, the claim that Mesopotamian experts were not poor is taken out of its context here. I cite: experts were 'certainly not the poorest in Mesopotamia' (p. 82) because 'structural employment changed matters quite drastically: the Mesopotamian expert would not be poor, nor would he have grown exceedingly rich like a Greek expert could become if he was very successful.' (p. 102). See also p. 104 were I reiterate that there were Mesopotamian experts working in private divination, about whose circumstances we do not know much but who 'probably enjoyed a lower socio-economic status (comparable to that of the poorer Greek experts)'. Structural employment and payment make the difference.

Fourthly, going on to more methodological issues, the reviewer seems to misrepresent my methodological choices as mistakes or omissions. I would, however, want to concede that the recontextualisation, following the necessary decontextualisation (see my pp. 2, 52), is not sufficient, but how 'crucial contextualisation' can be missing at the same time, is a logical conundrum that I for one cannot solve. It is a pity there are no examples given. Neither do we get examples of the inconsistency with which the etic (why the inverted commas?) method is supposed to be employed: emic-etic issues are a tradition in Leiden religious studies and I think I am fairly well-versed in that tradition - but they are certainly notoriously difficult to grasp. As for issues of representativeness of the evidence, the reviewer claims, where the Dodona tablets are concerned, that I would not have included 'the important proviso that what we have is a fraction even of what has been found'. I cannot understand why she argues this. I cite: 'Around two hundred of these texts have been published so far. Many more (ca 1,100) await publication.' (pp. 161-162). And when I come to the quantitative analysis of this material I add one more caveat: 'Now for a more quantitative analysis, in so far as this is possible' (p. 213), and in a footnote: 'I am aware that there is a small corpus of questions only and that this is problematic when taking a quantitative approach. The percentages as given below are therefore only an indication of a trend which can be seen in the sources.' Rightly cited by the reviewer is my statement that 'the corpus from Dodona might not be representative of all of Greek divination' (p. 161). Having taken this into account, we must work with the materials we have - otherwise, nothing at all could be said about Greek divination. That deductions from this material are shaky is obvious, as they are in any analysis (including Eidinow's book where the Dodona tablets play an important part).

Fifthly, my conclusions. These are summarized by the reviewer as 'In the end, the conclusions drawn throughout the book - among them, e.g, that the Greeks were looking for hope, whereas the Mesopotamians were looking for knowledge (p. 221) - offer only insufficiently supported generalisations'. However, this is quite clearly not the main conclusion of my book. I will summarize my conclusions at some length: 'Greek divination appears as a relatively flexible tool by which to discover a relatively flexible future.' (p. 222, but see also pp. 227; 229). Flexibility is visible on a number of levels, especially when compared to Mesopotamian and Roman practices: individuals chose to consult the supernatural or recognize a supernatural sign as such; during interpretation an individual could choose to consult an expert (and which one) or not; the expert had relatively much room for a flexible interpretation due to a lack of texts; the supernatural gave a non-binding advice after which the individual had to make his own choice. Greek futures were flexible and open (but not empty). A Greek individual had many choices throughout the divinatory process. This flexibility can be related to the relative low degree of divinatory institutionalization. Perhaps ideas about isonomia could help to explain this feature: divination had to be accessible to as many people as possible.

In a nutshell: in the context of her own previous work, the reviewer must have found it important and expedient to comment on my book in the way she did. She put in a lot of hard work, discussing a lot of detail, sometimes to the point, sometimes not, but avoiding all the main issues. And now I gladly leave all further judgment on the merits of my book and of the review to the reader.

Anmerkung der Redaktion: Esther Eidinow hat auf eine Replik verzichtet.