Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists 48 (2011) 293-295
Franziska Naether, Die Sortes Astrampsychi. Problemlosungsstrate gien durch Orakel im romischen Agypten. Orientalische Religionen in
der Antike 3. Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010. xviii + 491 pages. ISBN
Although the title suggests a rather limited subject, thirteen fragmentary
papyri from the third and fourth centuries AD, these papyri are used as a starting point for a much wider discussion. The papyri themselves are discussed in
the central part of the work (pp. 62-278), around which a very wide web has
been spun: not only did the Sortes Astrampsychi survive in adapted form during
the Middle Ages and until the twentieth century, but other kinds of ancient and
medieval oracles (not only oracles by lot) are also extensively discussed. As a
result the book is somewhat ill-balanced. The reader finds a lot of unexpected
information in unexpected places, and a casual user will probably miss most
of it, the more so since the Sachregister (pp. 489-491) is too short for such a
long and wide-ranging book with an opaque structure. The short conclusion
of this long and multifaceted study does not really give a clue to the purpose
of the author (pp. 428-431).
The first chapter, dealing with theoretical and methodological problems of
defining magic, divination, and religion, offers a rather sketchy survey, quoting
numerous scholars and theories, but does not contain a clear personal point
of view. Parallels are given of oracles both in pharaonic Egypt and in classical
Greece, including procession oracles in the New Kingdom, temple oracles in
Delphi1 and Dodona, Alexander's visit to Siwa, Lucian on Alexander of Abonoteichos, "speaking statues" (their existence is doubted on pp. 52-54), and even
Egyptian letters and self-dedications to gods.
On pp. 18-21 a list of divination methods is given, where objects used
(animal movements, smoke, dreams, texts) and methods applied (looking and
interpreting natural phenomena, interpretation by an inspired person, oracle
books, casting lots, letters to a god) are listed in a kind of random order. The
left column, titled "divination method" largely overlaps with the "divination
objects" of the right column, listing the same items under a more "scientific"
name. It would have been far more useful to group the types of oracles according to divination methods rather than by objects. Different methods can also
be combined, as in the Sortes Astrampsychi themselves, where casting of lots
and consulting a book occur side by side.
1 That, for Delphi, "private questions are not reflected in the literature" (p. 45) is
contradicted by Plutarch, Moralia 408C, quoted on p. 138.