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Plutarch’s Moralia

(410)εἰς Δελφούς, Δημήτριος μὲν ὁ γραμματικὸς ἐκ Βρεττανίας εἰς Ταρσὸν ἀνακομιζόμενος οἴκαδε, Κλεόμβροτος δ᾿ ὁ Λακεδαιμόνιος, πολλὰ μὲν ἐν Αἰγύπτῳ καὶ περὶ τὴν Τρωγλοδυτικὴν γῆν πεπλανημένος, πόρρω δὲ τῆς Ἐρυθρᾶς θαλάττης ἀναπεπλευκὼς οὐ κατ᾿ ἐμπορίαν, ἀλλ᾿ ἀνὴρ φιλοθεάμων ὢν1 καὶ φιλομαθὴς2 οὐσίαν δ᾿ ἔχων ἱκανὴν καὶ τὸ πλείονα τῶν ἱκανῶν ἔχειν οὐκ ἄξιον πολλοῦ Bποιούμενος ἐχρῆτο τῇ σχολῇ πρὸς τὰ τοιαῦτα, καὶ συνῆγεν ἱστορίαν οἷον ὕλην φιλοσοφίας θεολογίαν ὥσπερ αὐτὸς ἐκάλει τέλος ἐχούσης. νεωστὶ δὲ γεγονὼς παρ᾿ Ἄμμωνα, τὰ μὲν ἄλλα τῶν ἐκεῖ δῆλος ἦν μὴ πάνυ τεθαυμακώς, περὶ δὲ τοῦ λύχνου τοῦ ἀσβέστου διηγεῖτο λόγον ἄξιον σπουδῆς λεγόμενον ὑπὸ τῶν ἱερέων. ἀεὶ γὰρ ἔλαττον ἀναλίσκειν ἔλαιον ἔτους ἑκάστου, καὶ τοῦτο ποιεῖσθαι τεκμήριον ἐκείνους τῆς τῶν ἐνιαυτῶν ἀνωμαλίας, τὸν ἕτερον3 τοῦ προάγοντος ἀεὶ τῷ χρόνῳ βραχύτερον ποιούσης· εἰκὸς γὰρ ἐν ἐλάττονι χρόνῳ τὸ δαπανώμενον ἔλαττον εἶναι.

C3. Θαυμασάντων δὲ τῶν παρόντων, τοῦ δὲ Δημητρίου καὶ γελοῖον φήσαντος εἶναι ἀπὸ μικρῶν πραγμάτων οὕτω μεγάλα θηρᾶν, οὐ κατ᾿ Ἀλκαῖον “ἐξ ὄνυχος τὸν λέοντα” γράφοντας, ἀλλὰ θρυαλλίδι καὶ λύχνῳ τὸν οὐρανὸν ὁμοῦ καὶ τὰ4 σύμπαντα μεθιστάντας καὶ τὴν μαθηματικὴν ἄρδην ἀναιροῦντας.

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Obsolescence of Oracles

Demetriusa the grammarian journeying homeward from Britain to Tarsus, and Cleombrotus of Sparta, who had made many excursions in Egypt and about the land of the Cave-dwellers, and had sailed beyond the Persian Gulf; his journeyings were not for business, but he was fond of seeing things and of acquiring knowledge; he had wealth enough, and felt that it was not of any great moment to have more than enough, and so he employed his leisure for such purposes; he was getting together a history to serve as a basis for a philosophy that had as its end and aim theology, as he himself named it. He had recently been at the shrine of Ammon, and it was plain that he was not particularly impressed by most of the things there, but in regard to the everburning lamp he related a story told by the priests which deserves special consideration; it is that the lamp consumes less and less oil each year, and they hold that this is a proof of a disparity in the years, which all the time is making one year shorter in duration than its predecessor; for it is reasonable that in less duration of time the amount consumed should be less.

3. The company was surprised at this, and Demetrius went so far as to say that it was ridiculous to try in this way to draw great conclusions from small data, not, as Alcaeusb puts it, “painting the lion from a single claw,” but with a wick and lamp postulating a mutation in the heavens and the universe, and doing away completely with mathematical science.

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DOI: 10.4159/DLCL.plutarch-moralia_obsolescence_oracles.1936