bad news from the Oracles of Astrampsychus


Is my wife having a baby? Am I going to see a death? Will I become a councillor? Am I going to be sold? Am I about to be caught as an adulterer? These are just a few of the ninety-two questions listed in one of the most intriguing works of Classical literature to have survived: the Oracles of Astrampsychus, a book which offers cleverly randomized answers to many of ancient life’s most troubling problems and uncertainties. The method is relatively straightforward, but with just enough obfuscation to make for convincing fortune-telling (“easy to use but difficult to fathom” as one modern commentator nicely put it). Each question is numbered. When you have found the one that most closely matches your own dilemma, you think of a number between one and ten and add it to the number of your question. You then go to a “table of correspondences” which converts that total into yet another number, which directs you in turn to one of a series of 103 lists of possible answers, arranged in groups of ten, or “decades” (to make things more confusing there are actually more lists of answers than the system, with its ninety-two questions, requires or could ever use). Finally, go back to the number between one and ten that you first thought of, and that indicates which answer in the decade applies to you.

more from Mary Beard at the TLS here.