Ancient Dodoni Δωδώνη
Day Trip from Sivota to Dodoni. Its about 1h 13 min Drive Map
Dodona (Doric Greek: Δωδώνα, Ionic and Attic Greek: Δωδώνη) in Epirus in northwestern Greece was the oldest Hellenic oracle, possibly dating to the second millennium BCE according to Herodotus. The earliest accounts in Homer describe Dodona as an oracle of Zeus. Situated in a remote region away from the main Greek poleis, it was considered second only to the oracle of Delphi in prestige.
During classical antiquity, according to various accounts, priestesses and priests in the sacred grove interpreted the rustling of the oak (or beech) leaves to determine the correct actions to be taken. According to a new interpretation, the oracular sound originated from bronze objects hanging from oak branches and sounded with the wind blowing, similar to a wind chime.
According to Nicholas Hammond, Dodona was an oracle devoted to a Mother Goddess (identified at other sites with Rhea or Gaia, but here called Dione) who was joined and partly supplanted in historical times by the Greek deity Zeus.
Sacrificial hammer from Dodona. Bronze, 7th century BC. Louvre Museum
Although the earliest inscriptions at the site date to c. 550–500 BCE, archaeological excavations conducted for more than a century have recovered artifacts as early as the Mycenaean era, many now at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, and some in the archaeological museum at nearby Ioannina.
Cult activity at Dodona was already established in some form during the Late Bronze Age (or Mycenaean period). During the post-Mycenaean period (or “Greek Dark Ages”), evidence of activity at Dodona is scant, but there is a resumption of contact between Dodona and southern Greece during the Archaic period (8th century BCE) with the presence of bronze votive offerings (i.e. tripods) from southern Greek cities. Archaeologists also have found Illyrian dedications and objects that were received by the oracle during the 7th century BCE. Until 650 BCE, Dodona was a religious and oracular centre mainly for northern tribes: only after 650 BCE did it become important for the southern tribes.
Zeus was worshipped at Dodona as “Zeus Naios” or “Naos” (god of the spring below the oak in the temenos or sanctuary, cf. Naiads) and as “Zeus Bouleus” (Counsellor). According to Plutarch, the worship of Jupiter (Zeus) at Dodona was set up by Deucalion and Pyrrha.
The earliest mention of Dodona is in Homer, and only Zeus is mentioned in this account. In the Iliad (circa 750 BCE), Achilles prays to “High Zeus, Lord of Dodona, Pelasgian, living afar off, brooding over wintry Dodona” (thus demonstrating that Zeus also could be invoked from a distance). No buildings are mentioned, and the priests (called Selloi) slept on the ground with unwashed feet. No priestesses are mentioned in Homer.
The oracle also features in another passage involving Odysseus, giving a story of his visit to Dodona. Odysseus’s words “bespeak a familiarity with Dodona, a realization of its importance, and an understanding that it was normal to consult Zeus there on a problem of personal conduct.
The details of this story are as follows. Odysseus says to the swineherd Eumaeus (possibly giving him a fictive account) that he (Odysseus) was seen among the Thesprotians, having gone to inquire of the oracle at Dodona whether he should return to Ithaca openly or in secret (as the disguised Odysseus is doing). Odysseus later repeats the same tale to Penelope, who may not yet have seen through his disguise.
According to some scholars, Dodona was originally an oracle of the Mother Goddess attended by priestesses. She was identified at other sites as Rhea or Gaia. The oracle also was shared by Dione (whose name simply means “deity”). By classical times, Dione was relegated to a minor role elsewhere in classical Greece, being made into an aspect of Zeus’s more usual consort, Hera — but never at Dodona.
Many dedicatory inscriptions recovered from the site mention both “Dione” and “Zeus Naios”.
According to some archaeologists, not until the 4th century BCE, was a small stone temple to Dione added to the site. By the time Euripides mentioned Dodona (fragmentary play Melanippe) and Herodotus wrote about the oracle, the priestesses appeared at the site.
Though it never eclipsed the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi, Dodona gained a reputation far beyond Greece. In the Argonautica of Apollonius of Rhodes, a retelling of an older story of Jason and the Argonauts, Jason’s ship, the “Argo”, had the gift of prophecy, because it contained an oak timber spirited from Dodona.
In c. 290 BCE, King Pyrrhus made Dodona the religious capital of his domain and beautified it by implementing a series of construction projects (i.e. grandly rebuilt the Temple of Zeus, developed many other buildings, added a festival featuring athletic games, musical contests, and drama enacted in a theatre). A wall was built around the oracle itself and the holy tree, as well as temples to Dione and Heracles.
In 219 BCE, the Aetolians, under the leadership of General Dorimachus, invaded and burned the temple to the ground. During the late 3rd century BCE, King Philip V of Macedon (along with the Epirotes) reconstructed all the buildings at Dodona. In 167 BCE, Dodona was destroyed by the Romans (led by Aemilius Paulus), but was later rebuilt by Emperor Augustus in 31 BCE. By the time the traveller Pausanias visited Dodona in the 2nd century CE, the sacred grove had been reduced to a single oak. In 241 CE, a priest named Poplius Memmius Leon organized the Naia festival of Dodona. In 362 CE, Emperor Julian consulted the oracle prior to his military campaigns against the Persians.
Pilgrims still consulted the oracle until 391-392 CE when Emperor Theodosius closed all pagan temples, banned all pagan religious activities, and cut down the ancient oak tree at the sanctuary of Zeus. Although the surviving town was insignificant, the long-hallowed pagan site must have retained significance for Christians given that a Bishop Theodorus of Dodona attended the First Council of Ephesus in 431 CE.
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