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THE ORACULAR OAK AT DODONA


by Tracy Boyd

© 2004

 

© Tracy Boyd Three Crones 1974.

RE-WEAVING THE SACRED THREADS: WRITINGS BY TRACY BOYD © 2004-2018

 

“When I hear a little rustling rush in the grass and heath, or in the dead leaves under the trees, I can tell whether it is snake or lizard, mouse or bird.  Many birds I am aware of only by the sound of their flight.  I can nearly always tell what trees I am near by the sound of the wind in their leaves, though in the same tree it differs much from spring to autumn, as the leaves become of a harder and drier texture.  The birches have a small, quick, high-pitched sound; so near that of falling rain that I am often deceived into thinking it really is rain, when it is only their own leaves hitting each other with a small rain-like patter.  The voice of the Oak leaves is also rather high-pitched, though lower than that of Birch.  Chestnut leaves in a mild breeze sound much more deliberate; a sort of slow slither.  Nearly all trees in gentle wind have a pleasant sound . . . .” (2) 

These are the impressions of a virtually blind woman of great vision, the gardener Gertrude Jekyll of Munstead Wood (1843-1933), who created some of the most breathtaking gardens of all time.  Her sense of hearing, and her sense of smell, were very highly developed, making up for her extremely impaired vision.  Because “her natural focus was two inches,” (3) she was blessed with the ability to take in the myriad mysteries of nature at very close range.  Her vivid descriptions of the rustling of leaves and the wing-beats of birds could just as easily be the words of an ancient augur, such as the blind seer Teiresias; of a wise Druid fore-telling the future to a king; or of the dove-priestesses who inhabited the ancient oracular oak of Dodona.


The raging winds and rain were the most prevalent feature of the barren landscape of Dodona, high in the rugged mountains of northwestern Greece.  There stood what was believed to be the most ancient oak in Greece.  It was already old in Homer’s day when the weary Odysseus beseeched “the spelling leaves of the old oak” (4) to reveal whether he should return to Ithaca openly or conceal himself in disguise. (5)  In his voluminous The Golden Bough, a study of Diana and the oak cult, James G. Frazer offers us a glimpse of the eerie and terrifying site where Zeus, the highest god of the Hellenes, “the divinity of the sky, the rain, and the thunder,” (6) spoke through the wind and the rain.


        Perhaps the oldest and certainly one of the most famous sanctuaries in

        Greece was that of Dodona, where Zeus was revered in the oracular oak.

        The thunder-storms which are said to rage at Dodona more frequently than

        anywhere else in Europe, would render the spot a fitting home for the god

        whose voice was heard alike in the rustling of the oak leaves and in the

        crash of thunder. Perhaps the bronze gongs which kept up a humming in

        the wind round the sanctuary were meant to mimic the thunder that might

        so often be heard rolling and rumbling in the coombs of the stern and barren

        mountains which shut in the gloomy valley. (7)


But had he always been there, as the aged oak had been, in archaic memory?  Some say that “the prophetic oak appears to have been the original feature,” (8) and that those who administered to its service were priestesses known as peleiades, or ‘wild doves’.  A surviving fragment of Hesiod tells us that just beyond the rich meadows of the sheep-herding tribes of the land of Ellopia:

   

        . . . upon its border is built a city, Dodona [in Epirus]; and Zeus loved it

        and (appointed) it to be his oracle, reverenced by men . . . And they (the

        doves) lived in the hollow of an oak. From them men of earth carry away

        all kinds of prophecy, – whosoever fares to that spot and questions the

        deathless god, and comes bringing gifts with good omens. (9)


The impropriety of a god of thunder and lightning dispensing oracles is evidenced in the fact that “the giving of oracles was a chthonian prerogative.” (10)  In the earliest strata of primitive belief, this is a realm lying entirely within the province of the goddess of the earth.  To substantiate the earth-bound nature of such oracular powers, we have the ancient view that

   

        . . . the tree derived a further title to its oracular prestige from its

        connection by means of its roots with the under-world, the mysterious

        abode of departed spirits, in whom wisdom and knowledge of the future

        were supposed to be vested. Thus the special prophetic power attributed

        to the variety of oak (probably the Quercus esculus) [or ‘edible oak’]

        which grew at Dodona was ascribed by later writers to the fact that its

        roots pierced the earth more deeply than those of other trees, reaching

        down even to Tartarus . . . . (11)


It is an archaic and animistic view of the world that allows one to see a tree as alive with the force of “a supernatural essence” (12) dwelling within its branches, and producing its “mysterious rustlings and movements” (13) – messages that can be understood only by those who speak the language of the spirit of the tree.  The winged creatures of the wind who lived in the hollows of the ancient oak were its indigenous spirits.  These all-knowing doves were birds of the chthonic realm, universally regarded as “prophetic birds, omens of death, and spirits of the dead.” (14) And it was they, themselves, who interpreted the eerie sounds of the incessantly murmuring leaves stirred by the unceasing winds in this desolate and deathly place at the furthest reaches of the known Greek world. 


There can be no doubt that Zeus appropriated the highly revered ancient place for himself. The nature of primitive religion is such that, as a matter of course, “the mantic weather-bird precedes the prophetic god.” (15)  The translator of the Hesiodic fragment informs us of the antiquity of the oracle by noting that it “was first consulted by Deucalion and Pyrrha after the Flood” (16) in prehistoric times, long before the arrival of the god of storms.  That the dove-priestesses and the oak tree preceded the oracular worship of Zeus is evidenced also from a statement in Pausanias to the effect that “the people in that part of the world . . . thought the most truthful oracles came from the wild doves and the oak trees . . . .” (17) 


It was only “later writers [who] say that the god responded in the rustling of leaves in the oaks for which the place was famous.” (18)  And Carl Kerenyi, the great scholar of the gods and goddesses of the Greeks, provides us with another fragment from Hesiod, which most emphatically asserts the originally low position of Zeus, the usurper of the Dodonaean oak.

   

        Not in the canopy of the oak tree, the whispering of whose leaves passed

        for the voice of Zeus, did the god dwell but on its floor’ [en pythmeni

        phegou] as Hesiod expressly says. So none other than the Dodonaean

        Zeus was originally not a sky god at all!  If he had any characteristic trait

        it was this alone, that he was the god of the Hellenes, who there connected

        him with an older oracle. (19)


We can glean this truth also from the avian language of Richmond Lattimore’s translation of Homer’s Iliad in the prayer of Achilleus to “Zeus who delights in the thunder”: (20)


        High Zeus, lord of Dodona, Pelasgian, living far off,

        brooding over wintry Dodona, your prophets about you

        living, the Selloi who sleep on the ground with feet unwashed. Hear me. (21)


This intuitive translation provides a chilling sense of the combined elemental brooding of storm and bird in this far-off place of wintry desolation.  It is the weather that the god who sleeps on the ground controls, enshrouding in his mists the majestic oak, and those with unwashed feet who sleep beneath her on the hallowed earth.  In spite of the claims, both ancient and modern, that the sleeping men were the earliest oracular prophets at Dodona, (22) there is ample evidence to suggest that their earth-bound pronation was but a mimetic imitation of their winged predecessors, the most ancient inhabitants and guardians of the place. 


Anyone who has even casually observed ground-feeding doves settling down for the night has witnessed their hunkering down on the earth under their nesting trees at the last light of day.  Their camouflage is such that it is as though they become one with the earth as they lie in their “earthen beds.” (23)  But at the very moment when darkness falls, there is a sudden rush of mournful air and a rustling of tree branches as they find their secret resting places in the shroud of darkness.


In the ancient world, the making of one’s bed on sacred ground is a prelude to the common ritual practice known as incubation, a word inspired by the sitting on of eggs, which perfectly reflects the process by which knowledge is received in a dream state.  We know that “the Selloi or Helloi lay on the ground on earthen beds and had dreams which they interpreted prophetically.” (24)  So as not to perpetuate the misreadings of Homer’s intent regarding the “prophets . . . who sleep on the ground,” (25) it should be noted that the deferential posture of the Selloi is more in keeping with the attitude of suppliants than of priests.  The sacred literature of the world is strewn with examples of such seekers of favor who settle down for the night on the body of “Sacred Mother Earth, who sends the dreams.” (26)  The practice was so common among the Greeks that its practitioners were given a name, the Chamai-eunai, or “Couchers-on-the-ground”, (27) who “sleep . . .  perchance to dream”, (28) “in order that in their dreams they might draw oracular wisdom from the Earth.” (29)  

          

The doves, who were perched high above the sleepers in the whispering leaves of the revered prophetic oak, were its only occupants.  It was they who interpreted the rustling about them of its leaves in the wind as they sheltered in the hollows of its trunk, “brooding over wintry Dodona”; they who interpreted the meaning of the dreams of those who slept on the earth below under their ever-watchful eye.  As one pre-eminent scholar of Greek divination and bird-magic has definitively stated with regard to the oracular procedure at Dodona, “the balance of the evidence must lie on the side of the doves.” (30) 


Whether in their earliest form as birds, or in their later form as wise old women, the ancient priestesses of Dodona were skilled in the arts of augury.  They were what the Greeks called oionomanteis or, ‘those who divined from birds’, a prac-tice so widespread throughout the ancient Greek world that the earliest works of Hesiod and Homer, as well as those of Sophocles, Aristophanes, and other later poets of the stage, abound with examples of this archaic and honored tradition, still very much alive in the common era.  “For the ancient Greeks all birds were ominous and the word ‘bird’ itself was synonymous with omen as Aristophanes says.” (31)


How this came to be, is examined in Jane Ellen Harrison’s lucid discussion of Hesiod’s Works and Days, a practical treatise on “the weather and the crops and the season,” (32) which details what one should watch for to keep the wolves from the door.  Of his advice, she comments that:

  

        . . . first and foremost you should watch the birds who are so near the

        heavenly signs, the teirea, and who must know more than man. This

        watching of the birds we are accustomed to call the ‘science of augury’;

        . . . in its origin it is pure magic, ‘pure doing; the magical birds make the

        weather before they portend it’. (33)


The Greek phrase used to describe this diligent observation of “the heavenly signs” by the ordinary person is ornithas krinon, which Harrison quite purpose-

fully translates as “knowing in birds,” as distinct from “reading or discriminating omens,” a skill reserved for mantic augurs. (34) The avian prognosticators of the magical Dodonaean realm evidently possessed both of these abilities, which is why the native population looked to the wild doves and the oak trees for advice before the formal establishment of an oracle at Dodona. (35)  The ancient wisdom of the dove-priestesses so predominates in the writings about the oracle in the classical period that “the tree is almost neglected.” (36)  The classical “tradition undoubtedly represents the Peleiai as actually giving the responses.” (37) 


The age and number of these venerable dove-priestesses, the peleiades, or ‘wild rock-doves’, known to us as the common pigeon, Columba livia, has been pre-served by Strabo, who records the appellation treis graiai, or ‘three old women’, to describe them. (38)  The word ‘gray’, a blend of black and white, which means ‘to shine’, or ‘to gleam’, is perfectly exemplified in the mythology of another otherworldly avian triad named the Graiai, ‘the old ones’.  They are the aged swan-maidens, white-haired crones who share but one eye and one tooth, which they pass between them as they stand guard over their winged sisters, the Gorgons.  In their younger days, before Aeschylus got hold of them, they were beautiful, “fair-cheeked,” (39) and impeccably well-dressed.  Like their sisters, the Gorgons, they were born old, that is, they were white-haired, or “grey from their birth.” (40)


Ancient etymologies connect the names of the two Graiai, who first appear in Hesiod as Pemphredo and Enuo, with “ashen-coloured” clouds. (41)  Although we know the third sister as Deino, she is not named by Hesiod out of fear and respect for her extreme sanctity.  Her name means, “the terrible, fearful, or awful one, whom one cannot or will not name.” (42)  These ancient swan-women are weather deities.


        Swans . . . symbolize clouds; and the epithets of Hesiod suggest that the

        Graiai may represent the bright clouds of fine weather and especially the

        sunset, while their sisters the Gorgons personify the dark clouds of storm

        and rain. . . . [Some scholars] see in the transferable eye and tooth of the

        Graiai, and still more in the baleful glance of the Gorgons, the flash of the

        lightning and its apparent passage from cloud to cloud. (43)


The “malignant glances of lightning” (44) are given concrete form in the Aegis, the Gorgoneion shield emblazoned with the snaky-haired head of the mortal Gorgon, Medusa.  As a breastplate, it was always worn by Athene, but when it was carried as a shield by Zeus, it was “shaken [as] a source of terror to his enemies, [and was] sometimes interpreted as a thunder cloud.” (45)


The peleiades, or wild rock-doves, still remained three in number when Herodotus of Halicarnassus interviewed them in the mid-fifth century B.C.E.  The historian well knew that avian soothsayers had been at this desolate site of Dodona, and had established “the most ancient and, at that period, the only oracle in Greece,” (46) before the beginning of recorded time.  In other words, long before the arrival of Zeus’s reign there, and prior to the establishment of Thebes as the absolute center of Egypt by the Middle Kingdom Dynasty.  Herodotus chooses, however, to go to great lengths to repeat legends of the 12th Dynasty Egyptian origin for the oiono-mantic doves, which claims as their point of beginning the home of the ram-god Amun at the Karnak/Luxor temple complex known to the Greeks as “Thebes.” (47)  The ancient Egyptian name was Ipet-isut, meaning, “The Most Select of Places”; (48) a very convenient starting point.


Herodotus relates two very different, but symbolically related, versions of the Egyptian origin and transmission of the oracles.  In their telling he explains how they traveled simultaneously from the Theban temple of Amun (Zeus) in Egypt, to the temples of Ammon-Zeus in the Oasis of Siwa in Libya, and to that of Zeus at Dodona.  The first story is told to Herodotus directly by the priests at the Temple of Zeus-Ammon in Greek Thebes, the infamous city of Oedipus in Boeotia, where some six-hundred years later, we are informed by Pausanias, there stood, directly behind the sanctuary, the bird-watching observatory of Teiresias. (49)  The second version of the story is related to him on the authority of the three priestesses of Dodona, whom Herodotus names, and who, in his time, interpreted the oracles of the thunder-god’s voice. 


These are Herodotus’s words:

   

        About the oracles – that of Dodona in Greece and of Ammon in Libya –

        the Egyptians have the following legend: according to the priests of the    

        Theban Zeus, two women connected with the service of the temple were    

        carried off by the Phoenicians and sold, one in Libya and the other in

        Greece, and it was these women who founded the oracles in the two

        countries. I asked the priests at Thebes what grounds they had for being

        so sure about this, and they told me that careful search had been made for

        the women at the time, and that though it was unsuccessful, they had after-

        wards learned that the facts were just as they had reported them.     

   

        At Dodona, however, the priestesses who deliver the oracles have a differ-

        ent version of the story: two black doves, they say flew away from Thebes

        in Egypt, and one of them alighted at Dodona, the other in Libya. The

        former, perched on an oak, and speaking with a human voice, told them

        that there, on that very spot, there should be an oracle of Zeus. Those who

        heard her understood the words to be a command from heaven, and at once

        obeyed. Similarly the dove which flew to Libya told the Libyans to found

        the oracle of Ammon – which is also an oracle of Zeus. The people who

        gave me this information were the three priestess at Dodona – Promeneia

        the eldest, Timarete the next, and Nicandra the youngest – and their account

        is confirmed by the other Dodonaeans connected with the temple. (50)

   

With a bit of a wink and a nod, the rational Herodotus offers perfectly logical explanations for all of this to what he perceives as a somewhat disbelieving audience.  But he has considerable difficulty in justifying the report of the Dodonaean priestesses with regard to the use of human language by the birds, because he, himself, does not believe it.  His doubts are laid upon the Dodonaean people in general, rather than on the sanctified priestesses for whom he has the highest regard.

   

        The story which the people of Dodona tell about the doves came, I should

        say, from the fact that the women were foreigners, whose language sounded

        to them like the twittering of birds; later on the dove spoke with a human

        voice, because by that time the woman had stopped twittering and learned

        to talk intelligibly. That, at least, is how I should explain the obvious

        impossibility of a dove using the language of men. (51)


Alas, one can only comment, in the tradition of Jane Ellen Harrison's memorable response to such foolishness, that “Women from Hesiod’s days downwards have always chattered.” (52)


Perhaps it was the sounds of the place itself that gave rise to the notion of incessant chattering.  With the constant rumble of thunder and the howling winds, there was little silence at Dodona.  But it is the ceaseless reverberation of bronze that still echoes in the Greek memory centuries later.  For a thousand years, the proverbial phrase ‘Dodonaion chalkeion’, meaning “the gong at Dodona,” was used to describe the tedium of babbling chatter. (53)  In earliest times, there appears to have been one enormously resonant gong, such as those used in the rites of the most revered, and feared, chthonian deities, “which they say sounds all day

if a passer-by lays a finger on it.” (54)  Later this was replaced by a vast series of brazen cauldrons that encircled the perimeter of the the sacred ground.  The endlessly echoing vibrations stirred by untiring winds, acted as a sound barrier that formed a magical circle of protection.   


While Herodotus dismisses the language of the birds as gibberish, he does accept the word of his holy informants with respect to the rather unusual color of the priestesses in their dove-form; but it is he, not they, who interprets their blackness as signifying their Egyptian race. (55)  He completely ignores the more widely current association of the color black with the figure of the wise old crone whose wisdom illuminates.  One has to wonder why.  One solution has been proffered by Livio Catullo Stecchini, a scholar specializing in the history of measurement in the ancient world.  In spite of the fact that Stecchini mistakenly attributes the story of the black doves to the simultaneous establishment of the oracle centers at Dodona and Delphi, rather than those at Dodona and Libya, his brilliant theory of meridians and parallels remains valid. (56)


He maintains that the iconographically consistent presence of pairs of pigeons, perched on, or on either side of, the omphaloi, or ‘navels’, of the ancient world, are an indication of their function as the measurers of the geodetic absolute center. (57)  He adds, that, “from prehistoric times” (58) “carrier pigeons [were] used for establishing geographic distances.” (59)

   

        According to Greek legends, a central geodetic point was obtained by

        loosing two birds of equal strength and using the mean of the time em-

        ployed in flight. This would allow for differences in wind current and

        other variables. By repeated flights even more accurate measurements

        could be obtained. (60) In ancient literature and iconography the flight

        of two doves is the standard symbol for the stretching of meridians and

        parallels. (61)


With Stecchini’s information in hand, it becomes possible to see that the dove-stories originating out of Egypt are a direct reference to the mathematical calculations used by the Egyptian priests to establish that their place in the world was at the absolute center.  The sending out of birds in the religious mythologies of the world occurs only in times of catastrophic change and upheaval as a means of recovering one’s orientation.  Stecchini reminds us that the 12th Dynasty kings of Egypt were ascending to the throne at about the same time that the Age of Aries began. (62)  We can precisely date the beginning of their reign to the year 1991 B.C.E. (63) 


Although we cannot with the same certainty pinpoint the exact year of the changing of the Astrological Age, it is estimated that “the Vernal Equinoctial Point of the northern hemisphere entered the constellation . . . Aries about 1953 B.C.[E.], when incidentally the cult of the ram-god Amun was becoming so important in Egypt.” (64)  Aries the Ram had not been so positioned in the sky for 25,920 years.  The northern hemisphere was no longer in the earth-centered Taurean field of reference.  The constellation of the Bull, which had ruled the skies for some 2,160 years, had given way to the influence of the Ram, which would now be felt in the religious outpourings of the entire known world. 


In Egypt, a major revision to their whole system of viewing the cosmos was precipitated by this astronomical occurrence. (65)  The decoded message of the myth, then, reveals that when the new ram-worshipping dynasty “moved the capital and the geodetic center of Egypt to a more central position,” (66) the astronomer-priests needed to ascertain accurate measurements with respect to

their own new center.  Their universe was now to be centered at Karnak, called in Greek “Thebes”; and Dodona, an ancient and established center of the world, was the very place from which to take those measures.


        In performing astronomical observations it is necessary to express differ-

        ences of longitude in terms of units of time. . . . The ancients calculated by

        sidereal time, which they could measure by observing the apparent move-

        ment of the vault of heaven. . . . (67)  In order to obtain the right length of

        the second and minute of sidereal time, one must take as reference a degree

        of latitude further north than Egypt.  The degrees at the latitudes of Dodona

        and Delphi provided the correct values. (68)


These facts, together with the evidence so innocently revealed in Herodotus’s report, document that the prehistoric site at Dodona, believed to have been in existence since about 2000 B.C.E., (69) is much older than we had thought.  The absolute beginning of the holy site of the earth goddess can only be guessed at, but we do know that in 1991 B.C.E., or thereabouts, when the priests of Amon zeroed in on it for their coordinates, they not only knew it well, but acknowledged it as a center of esteemed reverence at the furthest reaches of the sacred universe. 


Neither can we, with certainty, assign a date to the usurpation of the whispering oak of Dodona by Zeus.  Most scholars have assumed a date of about 800 B.C.E. (70)  That cannot be.  For although Zeus was still groveling on the ground in Hesiod’s day about one hundred years later, Homer, who is thought to have lived in about 800 B.C.E., (71) regards the god as a long-established presence, the Lord of the place, whose suppliants sleep on the ground.  Obviously, a much earlier date must be assigned for Zeus’s transformation into the oak-god of Dodona – possibly a date that aligns with a coincident rising of a new constellation at zero degrees Aries.  We just don’t know. 


Despite the Hellenic addition of a thunder-wielding, lightning-flashing god of rain to the most ancient worship of the venerable earth-mother – whose body he fertilizes that she may produce her crops – the goddess appears to have held her own for many centuries following.  This primacy is given voice by a woman named Phaennis, a priestess of the oak whose very name reflects the radiant flash of light that reveals the illuminating wisdom of the dark old women of Dodona.  She is introduced to us by Pausanias, who, traveling throughout Greece during the second century of the Common Era, heard much about the ancient splendor of the Sibyls and other soothsayers. 


Phaennis is the daughter of the King of the Chaonians, born in about 280 B.C.E., and was apparently “a member of a guild of sacred prophetesses called the Rock-pigeons.” (72)  The bright language of the doves is echoed in her sacred name, which means ‘shining’, ‘radiant’, ‘giving light’; and when used to describe the voice, has the meaning of ‘clear’, ‘distinct’, and ‘far-sounding’. (73) Pausanias tells us that   

   

        Phaennis, . . . and the Rock-pigeons at Dodona gave oracles from the god,

        but people never called them Sibyls. . . . They say the Rock-pigeons are

        even earlier than Phemonoe [the first named prophetess at Delphi]; that

        they were the first women singers and sang these verses:

 

                ‘Zeus was, and is, and shall be, O great Zeus.

                Earth raises crops.  Cry to the Earth-mother’. (74)


But the songs to the Earth-mother were silenced not long after this hymn was sung by Phaennis and the other “old gray ones.”  In the year 219 B.C.E., if she was then alive, she would have been an eyewitness to the sacking of the the whole of Dodona by the Aetolians.  The priestesses were doubtless killed.  The sanctuary was almost immediately restored, but was again decimated by the ever-conquering Romans in 167 B.C.E. (75)  For all intents and purposes, the oracle itself seems to have fallen into disuse after this sacking, but the reports are conflicting.  “In Augustus’s time [63 B.C.E.-14 C.E.] we have Strabo’s evidence that the oracle was extinct; . . . [although] we know from Pausanias that Zeus’s sacred oak was still alive in the reign of Hadrian [117-38 C.E.].” (76) 


A contemporary of Pausanias gives an eye-witness account of the outward signs of the survival and continuing use of the oracle.  He “saw it adorned with wreaths and fillets, ‘because, like the Delphic tripod, it gave forth oracles’.” (77)  Evidence of an even later demise of the oak and its oracles is offered by a scholar of the last century, a woman known only as Mrs. Philpot, to whom many of the giants of Classical scholarship often deferred.  She informs us that:

  

        A later writer states that the oracular voices ceased on the felling of the

        tree by a certain Illyrian bandit . . . but there is evidence that the tree and

        the oracle were still in existence in the middle of the fourth century A.D. (78)


And so, after all of the centuries that bore witness to the violent destruction and desecration of this holy sanctuary, the tree itself remained.  It was left to the Christians to destroy the most sacred tree in Greece.  Prior to its murder, this ancient oak had stood, speaking its messages in the wind, for many more than two and a half thousand years.  The one that stands in its place today was planted by the archaeologists who unearthed the site. (79)  No doubt they felt the emptiness in a place that once filled the world with hope.   


But the spirit of the oak, and the illuminating wisdom of its brooding doves, lives on.  Despite the ravages of patriarchal absorption and destruction, the earliest phases of the religion of the sacred tree have not disappeared without a trace.  We cannot always see the evidence that is left behind for us to see, but it is there if we look – and listen.  It survives, for example, in the strong etymological evidence, which shows that it was a female divinity, Dione, related to Zeus only by the linguistic connection of the word Dia, meaning “the illuminator,” (80) who was the first deity served by the avian chanteurs of Dodona. (81) 


Many scholars insist that it was only in the later periods that the “old gray ones” became “associated with Aphrodite or her mother Dione, who was worshipped there as Zeus’ consort.” (82)  It would appear, however, that in view of the rather lowly, earth-bound, position of Zeus the Thunderer at the base of the majestic oak, combined with a thoroughly unbiased scrutiny of the etymological and astronomical evidence, that this is not so.  The dove-priestesses were there from the beginning to interpret the dreams of the goddess’s suppliants, and to sing the oracles of Dione, ‘the illuminator’ – “a woodland Great Goddess, otherwise known as Diana.” (83)