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Dodona

In Epirus, there was an oracle devoted to the Greek god, Zeus, called Dodona. The shrine of Dodona is extremely ancient, and dates to pre-Hellenic times. Originally, the oracle was both Zeus' and the earth mother's. The Earth Mother eventually earned the name Dione and was relegated to a minor or nonexistent part in the Greek pantheon.

In the second millennium BCE, the cult of the holy beech or oak tree sprung up at Dodona. By the thirteenth and fourteenth century BCE, priests had begun to interpret the rustling of the oak or beech leaves to determine the future. When Homer wrote the Iliad (circa 750 BCE), no buildings were present and the priests slept on the ground. By the time Herodotus wrote about Dodona, priestesses called peleiades had replaced the male priests. A much later story, Jason and the Argonauts mentioned that Jason's ship, the Argos, had the gift of prophecy because it was made out of oak wood from Dodona.

In the fourth century BCE, a small, simple shrine was built to worship Zeus and in the third century, King Pyrrhus added many buildings and a festival every four years featuring athletic games and musical contests. A wall was built around the oracle itself and the holy tree, as well as temples to Heracles and Dione. In addition, a theater was added that included the first stone floor and wooden proscenium in the Greek theater.

Dodona was a regional powerhouse by that time, the Oracle at Dodona never eclipsed the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi. In 219 BCE, the Aetolians invaded and burned the temple to the ground. King Philip V of Macedon rebuilt all the buildings bigger and better than before, and added a stadium.

In 167 BCE, Dodona was once again destroyed and rebuilt 31 BCE by Emperor Augustus. Pilgrims used the oracle until CE 391, when Christians cut the holy tree down.



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