Skip to main content
Kent Academic Repository

Apolline Divination at the Sanctuaries of Delphi, Claros and Didyma: A Cognitive Analysis

Frigerio, Giulia (2022) Apolline Divination at the Sanctuaries of Delphi, Claros and Didyma: A Cognitive Analysis. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94037) (Access to this publication is currently restricted. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided) (KAR id:94037)

Language: English

Restricted to Repository staff only until April 2025.

Contact us about this Publication
[thumbnail of 169Frigerio2022PhDFinal.pdf]
Official URL:


In the past years, many interpretations of Apolline divination in ancient Greece attributed the behaviour of the oracle to hallucinogenic substances and to an altered state of mind. Scholars looked for chemical substances in the laurel branches the Pythia was probably chewing during the ritual, in the water of the sacred springs and in the sacred vapour emanating from the earth in Delphi. All these ideas have already been controverted following chemical analyses that did not find hallucinogenic substances in a quantity which is enough to alter the state of mind of the prophet and of the consultants in any of the places where Apolline divination was practised. Today, the questions remain open: what was actually going on during the process of divination? Why did the Greeks believe in the words of the prophet? Was the promantis sincere? I approach this issue from a cognitive perspective, that of the prophet/prophetess and that of the ancient oracle seekers by considering the cognitive stimuli that contributed to this experience. These cognitive stimulants led them to honestly believe that communication with the god did occur, during which Apollo truly revealed his wishes to mankind. These cognitive processes depend on the habitus and the neural activity.

Specifically, three case-studies are analysed in this thesis. The sanctuary of Delphi is the main focus as the archetype of Apolline divination. Reaching its major popularity in the Classical period, its divinatory practices will be proved to be perfectly in line with the habitus of that time and with the biology of the human brain. As such, the oracular shrine did not need to implement the experience with artificial additions or chemical substances. Subsequently, the sanctuaries of Claros and Didyma are analysed under two different aspects. Reaching the top of their splendour in the Hellenistic and Imperial Ages, they are the heirs of Delphi in a different place and time. On one side, the aspect of the imitation of the most important centre for Apolline divination is observed, analysing the reasons behind the choice of borrowing several details from Delphi with a cognitive perspective. On the other side, the need for adapting the ritual to a new historical period with a different ontology is highlighted together with its consequences, such as the introduction of artificial inducement of cognitive processes to make everything more scenic and to actively engage human cognition and perception to a greater extent than previously.

The research sheds new light on the interpretation and function of ancient divination which is nowadays still open. The chosen case studies can serve as the groundwork for a major contribution to the field: the introduction of a new methodology where the cognitive approach, which is already an innovative choice, is combined with a study of the habitus, which I believe is necessary for a correct interpretation of the archaeological evidence.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Boutsikas, Efrosyni
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94037
Uncontrolled keywords: Cognitive Archaeology Greek Religion Divination Greek sanctuary
Subjects: D History General and Old World
H Social Sciences
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of Culture and Languages
SWORD Depositor: System Moodle
Depositing User: System Moodle
Date Deposited: 14 Apr 2022 08:10 UTC
Last Modified: 02 Mar 2023 11:58 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Frigerio, Giulia.

Creator's ORCID:
CReDIT Contributor Roles:
  • Depositors only (login required):

Total unique views for this document in KAR since July 2020. For more details click on the image.