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In Greek and Roman mythology, most of the famous oracles I've heard of were female.

  • The Oracle of Delphi (Pythia)
  • The Cumaean Sibyl (who sold books of prophecies to the king of Rome Tarquinius)
  • Cassandra, princess of Troy

Of particular interest is the blind oracle Teiresias, who was born male, but the gods have transformed him to female.

Is this observation representative? Did the ancient Greeks and Romans believe that women are more suitable to serve as oracles than men? If so, what is the reason for this? If not, do we know of famous male oracles? I would prefer living mortals who served as oracles, as opposed to dead people who had to be consulted in the underworld.

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    Cassandra's twin brother Helenus was also a prophet. – yannis Jan 31 '17 at 20:30
  • Amended my answer to provide insight on the strong female associations with divination – DukeZhou Feb 3 '17 at 19:33
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Certainly not the Romans, in general. For sure, the Roman haruspex and augurs were male. However, it is entirely possible that certain kinds of divination were linked to either sex, so that the kind of direct inspiration that seem to be the basis of the Cumaean Sybil or the oracle at Delphi were thought to be more of a female thing.

As for famous oracles, the most well-known haruspex is likely Spurinna, who warned Caesar to beware the Ides of March, according to Suetonius.

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Calchas was a very famous seer widely featured in material about the Trojan War.

That said, there does seem to be special emphasis on women as seers, in that the Moirai, Parcae and the Norns, for example, are female. (This may have to do with weaving, which in many Ancient cultures, was strongly associated with women.)

The Pythonesses of Delphi certainly reinforce the association.

C.M. Weimar provided an excellent note about Tiresias, whom I had overlooked. What is especially salient is that Tiresias is an hermaphrodite. He was transformed into a woman when he hit a pair of copulating snakes with his stick. (A Freudian interpretation of what is going on there would not be out of bounds;) Tiresias was subsequently returned to manhood by leaving another pair of mating snakes unmolested, or alternately, trampling them to death.


Also interesting to note that Πυθώ (Pūthṓ) is phonetically similar to πίθος (píthos), which is associated with Pandora, the mother of the race of women," and that the words share some similar meanings. The root of putho can also refer to "depths, hollow" which is a characteristic of jars (pithoi), and further, can be said to represent a female sexual characteristic, similar to the "sheathe" origin of "vagina". Another meaning of putho definition as "rot or decay", which could be related to the noxious gasses that rise from the vents at Delphi, and also relate to the pithos of Pandora, which was associated with a decline of civilization per the evils borne in that jar.

  • @C.M.Weimer Great point! I wasn't even thinking Thebes. I've amended the answer, with a not about the female aspect of Tiresias. – DukeZhou Feb 14 '17 at 19:22
  • @C. M. Weimer: I did specifically mention Teiresias in my original question. He was born as a male, but the gods have transformed him to female. There are various legends of why exactly he could do divination, but living the life of both genders may have given him some sort of insight, or may have put him into the spotlight of the gods and eventually into some situation where the gods have blessed or cursed him with foresight. This is so confusing and unusual that I couldn't decide how it would affect the answer, which is why I asked about diviners other than Teiresias. – b_jonas Feb 28 '17 at 18:25

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