Ornithomancy (modern term from Greek ornis "bird" and manteia "divination"; in Ancient Greek: οἰωνίζομαι "take omens from the flight and cries of birds") is an Ancient Greek practice of reading omens from the actions of birds, equivalent to the Augury employed by the ancient Romans. Although it was mainly the flights and songs of birds that were studied, any action could have been interpreted to either foretell the future or relate a message from the gods. These omens were considered with the utmost seriousness by Greeks and Romans alike.
This form of divination became a branch of Roman national religion, which had its own priesthood and practice. One notable example occurs in the Odyssey, when thrice an eagle appears, flying to the right, with a dead dove in its talons; this augury was interpreted as the coming of Odysseus, and the death of his wife's suitors.
Ornithomancy is mentioned several times in the Septuagint version of the Bible. Joseph claims that he practices it to frighten his brothers in the Septuagint Book of Genesis, but later in the Septuagint text the practice is expressly forbidden.1
- Spence, Lewis, An Encyclopedia of Occultism, New York, Carl Publishing Group Edition, 1996. ISBN 0-8065-1401-9
- Manelbaum, Allen, The Odyssey of Homer, New York, Bantam Classic Edition, 1991. ISBN 0-553-21399-7
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