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On Divination Protocols Socratic Style

By Galina Krasskova

[Snip] Within House Sankofa, I teach a private session more or less monthly on divination so I’m always on the look out for interesting materials to share with my students. This morning while I was translating the first chapter of book three of Xenophon’s ‘Anabasis,’ i came across just such a passage and I am still gleeful about it. It really shows not only the proper way to approach divination but the querent’s responsibility to ask the right questions in the right way and the obligation that falls upon the querent once a response has been given. It’s a beautiful didactic passage. For those not familiar with the text, let me give you a very colloquial synopses.

Xenophon is with a Greek mercenary force in Persia. Cyrus, the contender for the persian throne in whose pay they were working has just died leaving them seriously stranded (as in utterly fucked) behind enemy lines. Xenophon, writing this well after the battle itself makes a textual digression, introducing himself and how he came to be with the Greek expeditionary force. He notes that he’s neither a general nor a captain nor even a soldier really but had been invited by a personal friend to accompany the force. His friend sent a letter to him when he (Xenophon) was still at home in Greece. Upon receiving this invitation, he consulted his friend Socrates (yes, THAT Socrates) who, fearing that allying with the Persian force even as a mercenary would come back to bite him (as in lead to Athens accusing him of treason since the Cyrus had helped the Spartans in their war with Athens some time earlier), suggested he go to Delphi to consult with Apollo on what to do. Xenophon heeds his friend’s advice and does so.

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