Roblee (2021 Congress)

Mark Roblee
(Department of History, University of Massachusetts Amherst)

“The Chaldean Oracles
and the Ritual Divination Practices of the Neoplatonists in Late Antiquity”

Abstract of Paper
To be presented at the 56th International Congress on Medieval Studies
(Kalamazoo, 2021)

Session II of II on
“Revealing the Unknown”
Part II:  “Sortilège, Bibliomancy, and Divination”

Co-Sponsored by the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence and the Societas Magica
Organized by Phillip A. Bernhardt–House

2021 Congress Program Planning



This paper will examine the ritual divination practices of Neoplatonists in Late Antiquity with particular attention to the Chaldean Oracles, a collection of hexameter verses attributed to Julian the Chaldean and/or his son, Julian the Theurgist.  Drawing from our primary sources and the work of scholars such as Sarah Iles Johnson, Crystal Addey, Ilinca Tanaseanu–Döbler, and Ruth Majercik, I will attend to the attitudes of Neoplatonists such as Plotinus, Porphyry, Iamblichus, and Proclus toward the various divination practices current in the late Roman world including the use of dreams, oracles, statues, lots, as well as the curious ritual implement known as the “Wheel of Hecate” (strophalos).

Understanding Neoplatonic divination in its cosmological and anthropological context, this paper will consider the relationship between philosophy, theurgy and magic, including Christian reception, in order to form a picture of the ritual divination practices of the philosophers on the ground.  I will argue that Neoplatonic divination served as a technique of self-divination as much as a method of gaining access to hidden knowledge about present or future circumstances.