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The oak tree oracle

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“Wintry Dodona” was mentioned by Homer, and religious activities here appear to have begun with the first Hellenic tribes who arrived in Epirus around 1900 BC. Herodotus records that the oracle was founded after the mythic arrival of a peleiae (either “dove” or “old woman” in ancient Greek) from Egypt, said to have alighted on an oak tree. In any case, the oak tree was certainly central to the cult with the oracle speaking through the rustling of its leaves, amplified by copper vessels suspended from its branches. These sounds would then be interpreted by frenzied priestesses and/or priests, who allegedly slept on the ground and never washed their feet.

Many oracular inscriptions were found when the site was first systematically dug in 1952, demonstrating not only the oracle’s lingering influence even after its eclipse by Delphi, but also the fears and inadequacies motivating pilgrims of the era in such questions as: “Am I her children’s father?” and “Has Peistos stolen the wool from the mattress?”

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