The Oracle of Ammon

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 51 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Alexander Visits Temple of Ammon

  • Philip’s Murderers Have Been Punished
  • Your Divinity Will Be Manifested in Your Deeds

The Story
The priests of Ammon lead Alexander into the temple. There, the king spent a little time before a statue of the god. Presently, one of the priests, who was also a prophet, joined him and said

“Rejoice, son; take this form of address as from the god also.”

To which Alexander replied,

“I accept, father; for the future I shall be called thy son.”

Having now been confirmed as the son of Ammon, Alexander had two questions for the god – would Ammon give him rule over the world? And had he punished all those involved in the murder of his father, Philip II?

The priest entered the ‘sacred enclosure’ to receive Ammon’s answer. There, statue-bearers raised a statue of the god on its bier and started to move ‘according to certain prescribed sounds of the voice’. As the Footnotes state, Diodorus doesn’t make it clear whose voice this was. The priest, however, was in no doubts as to what the movements meant: Ammon would give Alexander world domination.

The king’s second question elicited a different response.

“Silence!” the priest cried, “There is no mortal who can plot against the one who begot him. All the murderers of Philip, however, have been punished.”

This good news was immediately followed by another welcome utterance.

“The proof of his [i.e. Alexander’s] divine birth will reside in the greatness of his deeds; as formerly he has been undefeated, so now he will be unconquerable for all time.”

Unsurprisingly, ‘Alexander was delighted with these responses’ and he ‘honoured [Ammon] with rich gifts’ before returning to Egypt.

Diodorus’ account of what happened at Siwah seems to make it clear that Ammon regarded Alexander as his son and that the king was, therefore, a god; or, at the very least, a demigod. However,

… over the last century there has been certain tendency among historians and biographers of Alexander to accept, without questioning, that he was deified during his lifetime. Often, these scholars took for granted such divinity, thus narratives were constructed based on this –apparently– settled proposition. However, a rapid survey of the sources seems to indicate that this generally accepted thesis is not as solid, as it is believed. This constitutes the aim of this dissertation, namely, to analyse these modern accounts in the light of the ancient sources, in order to examine whether the deification of Alexander has enough grounds to be stated confidently…
(Matias Leiva The Divinity of Alexander the Great)

To read Leiva’s essay at Academia, click here. I certainly look forward to doing so.

I wish I knew more about the lay-out of the temple as I am wondering how Diodorus knew what happened in the sacred enclosure. I suppose his ultimate source is one of the men who accompanied Alexander to Siwah. But, I would have expected the enclosure to be off-limits to outsiders. Could I be wrong? Or maybe a Siwan told a Macedonian what happened?

Another question on my mind is what Alexander’s companions made of the Siwah expedition. If I remember rightly, the ancient Greeks weren’t in the business of deifying the living. There’s no hint that Alexander kept his reason for visiting Siwah secret, but whether or not he did, once the cat was out the bag, what did his men think of him? Sensible? Lunatic? Risky? If Diodorus covers the proskynesis controversy, we’ll perhaps get a glimpse into their later reaction.

We hope you enjoyed your visit to the temple of Ammon. To help us provide a better service in the future, please complete this questionnaire before your departure.

Name………. Race……….
Being Mortal Divine Semi-Divine Other……….
(circle as appropriate)

Did you find the atmosphere in the temple
Hardly more scary than the Persian army

Did you find the oracle to be
So mystifying as to be Delphic

Was the statue
Like seeing Ammon in person
As divine as a cow pat
Spoiled by unsteady statue-bearers; sort them out

Did the voice
Remind you of Ammon
Sound like a drunk
Both of the above
If ‘both’ please outline your ideal god-like voice…………………………

Would you recommend Siwah to others
Don’t know – what does the oracle say YES

Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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