This introductory chapter sets out the book's purpose, which is to explore the intellectual and cultural impact of the oracles of pagan antiquity on modern European thought. It identifies a conflict between the conservative and the radical, the orthodox and the heterodox, with the latter usually glorified, explicitly or not, as the harbinger of Enlightenment. It devotes significant attention to the actual process and texture of argument, and to those who lost the debate. It argues that heterodoxy is not as transparent as it may seem, and has often been taken for granted without justification, or sought in the wrong places. The book also engages with texts outside the canons of libertine and antilibertine thought. The extent of historical interest in the oracles may come as a surprise: alongside the poets and preachers who reworked conventional tropes from antiquity, hundreds of scholars, theologians, and critics commented on the subject, drawing on all manner of intellectual contexts to frame their beliefs.
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