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The Devil's TabernacleThe Pagan Oracles in Early Modern Thought$
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Anthony Ossa-Richardson

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780691157115

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691157115.001.0001

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(p.87) Chapter Three Nature
The Devil's Tabernacle

Anthony Ossa-Richardson

Princeton University Press

This chapter considers reactions against the conventional view of the oracles as they appear in theories of natural causation. Natural cause is defined as one that does not depend on created spirits. Two such causes in particular cover the great majority of positions on the pagan oracles: inflamed melancholy and terrestrial exhalations. Very few early modern writers claimed unequivocally that natural causes alone could account for the oracles. The claim, when it was made, turned on a notion of natura that extended across the entire field of apparent marvels and came into close contact with the divinity, since it was unmediated by the activity of demons. This posed a serious problem to the intellectual edifice sketched in the previous chapter: since natura is always the same, a naturalist account of divination was intrinsically unable to distinguish between the pagan oracles and Christian prophecy—a distinction on which the Christian narrative depended. This is why the oracles of the natural philosophers were rather abstract and lifeless entities, and why those who argued against the picture increasingly invoked particular facts about the oracles, as they were known from Christian or pagan history.

Keywords:   pagan oracles, natural causation, natural cause, Christian, pagan history, melancholy, terrestrial exhalations

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