The Road To Delphi


Cultures of all epochs have consulted oracles in times of need. This fascinating exploration of the enduring popularity of oracles examines how they are interpreted and why. Taking examples from literature and history, from the oracles at Delphi to those in Macbeth, and further still to the works of Kafka and Bob Dylan, and even in the film The Matrix, Wood combines storytelling and commentary to provide a lively account of humanity’s persistent faith in signs, which continues to exert an important influence on ...

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Cultures of all epochs have consulted oracles in times of need. This fascinating exploration of the enduring popularity of oracles examines how they are interpreted and why. Taking examples from literature and history, from the oracles at Delphi to those in Macbeth, and further still to the works of Kafka and Bob Dylan, and even in the film The Matrix, Wood combines storytelling and commentary to provide a lively account of humanity’s persistent faith in signs, which continues to exert an important influence on the course of civilization.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"An immensely rich and provocative subject...Wood’s wide-ranging and penetrating scrutiny is cogently philosophical, keenly aesthetic, and gratifyingly entertaining."—Booklist

"There's a little something here for everyone...Sometimes erudite, sometimes esoteric, always unpredictable."—Kirkus Reviews

"The Road to Delphi is a refreshingly original and sometimes startling rereading of oracles, from ancient ambiguities on through Shakespeare to our current perplexities of medicine and terrorism. For Wood, the gods keep returning, but only to confound us."—Harold Bloom, author of The Western Canon

"If not an oracular pronouncement, then a source of terrific and myriad pleasures. Michael Wood's The Road to Delphi is all that and then some."—James McManus, author of Positively Fifth Street

The New York Times
Wood, who teaches English at Princeton, is not a true believer -- he is an amiable skeptic with a soft spot for the oracular utterances of astrologers. But in The Road to Delphi, his erudite romp through the history of oracles, from the ancients to the soothsaying economists and physicians of our own time, Wood finds a beautifully clear picture of the complex mechanics of mythmaking and a helpful explication of the tangle of human desire and interpretation. — Laura Ciolkowski
The Washington Post
If Wood didn't write with such clarity and modest good sense, one might regard his range as a bit show-offy. As it is, The Road to Delphi seems elegantly European, the sort of essay a Roland Barthes might turn out or a Roberto Calasso. — Michael Dirda
Publishers Weekly
Finding that oracles present prediction seekers with equivocations, ambiguities and "amphibologies," Princeton English professor Wood (The Magician's Doubts) guides those looking for the future through the forms oracles have taken. Reading more like transcribed lectures than a composed text, the book hops, skips and sometimes trudges through oracular moments in history, literature, theater and film. Stops include Shakespeare; the Oxford English Dictionary; Wittgenstein; Nietzsche; etymology, anthropology; doctors; economic advisers; Macbeth's encounter with three oracles and Oedipus's experience with the Delphic one-via Sophocles' and Euripides' plays, Stravinsky's opera, Passolini's movie, Freud's analysis and Gjertrud Schnackenberg's poetry. Then come sibyls, the oracle's "most famous cousins," but with Milton's poetry we arrive at "the sudden and total death of oracles at the birth of Christ"-though the oracular lives on in The Matrix and elsewhere. Throughout, Wood, who reviews regularly for the New York Review of Books and London Review of Books, plays professorial cat-and-mouse: "The idiom makes perfect sense, and I have just used it six times, I hope unobtrusively." (Question implied-can you find it?) Sometimes he cozies up: "No success like failure, as Bob Dylan used to moan, and these paradoxes are apt to make your head spin." As might Wood's multiple references and tepid games, if they were not designed to remind us that "our choices are choices, and that not even an oracle can take this freedom from us." (Aug.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Wood (English, Princeton) assesses the history of oracles in literature, drama, film, myth, and popular culture in this thorough examination of God's messengers. Plato, Shakespeare, Mann, Tolstoy, Freud, and Kafka are just a few of the authors whose oracular references Wood explicates. He spends a great deal of time discussing Oedipus, the Bible, the Greek heroine Cassandra, and the movie The Matrix, arguing that oracles play on our hopes and fears. Are the prophecies of oracles always right? Did oracles disappear with the birth of Christ? Why do oracles sometimes speak in riddles or use ambiguous language? Wood answers these questions with sweeping coverage across various cultures, religions, and time periods. An extensive bibliography is included, but footnotes would have been more appropriate to help the reader keep up with his frequent references. Recommended for academic libraries or extensive classic collections.-Jaime Anderson, Cty. of Henrico P.L., Richmond, VA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The oracle’s enduring presence in literature, film, and popular culture, assessed by Wood (English/Princeton Univ.) as a historical and cultural phenomenon. There’s a little something for everyone here. The author provides learned, sometimes challenging discussions of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Shakespeare, and Milton; he alludes to The Matrix, Bob Dylan, W. C. Fields, the Marx Brothers, films both popular (Minority Report) and otherwise (Throne of Blood); he offers revisionist and even generous considerations of the daily horoscope, Nostradamus, and your primary-care physician. Wood (Children of Silence, 1998, etc.) begins by wondering why the idea of oracles has lingered in so many cultures since its origins in--as nearly as he can tell--Greece in the eighth century b.c. He considers the centrality of the notion of gods in the oracular tradition. ("All things are full of gods, even if they are often figurative, and these gods talk all the time") and explains how the oracles worked: communication with a god, then a generally ambiguous reply or prediction or warning. Wood distinguishes carefully among the various sorts of predicting entities and their intermediaries, giving a particularly interesting analysis of sibyls and a lovely riff on the sound of sibylline. Examining Cassandra, best known of all sibyls, he chronicles the cursed princess’s appearances in myths and in Christa Wolf’s 1984 novel, Cassandra. The author wonders (with Wittgenstein, whom he considers at length) about certainty, which he concludes has both "appalling attractions and alluring dangers." Wood sees astrology as a harmless, playful pastime for people who don’t bother to ask about the process astrologers use to arriveat their generally genial pronouncements. And he tells a couple of brief, wrenching personal medical stories, one about a brother-in-law who died, another about his own son, who lived. Sometimes erudite, sometimes esoteric, always unpredictable.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312423070
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 7/1/2004
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 284
  • Sales rank: 1,176,125
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Wood is Charles Barnwell Straut Professor of English at Princeton University. He is the author of three previous books, most recently The Magician’s Doubts, an acclaimed analysis of Nabokov’s works. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

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Table of Contents

On the road 3
1 The Clever Animals 5
2 What God, Which God, Where? 20
3 So Much for Nero 41
The way back 61
4 The Death of the King 63
5 What Are Such Things? 81
6 Sibyls and Poets 103
Calling home 131
7 The Death of Oracles 133
8 Can the Devil Speak True? 157
9 Vestiges 181
Dead or alive 209
10 Medicine and Probability 211
11 Our Astrology 229
Off the road 251
Bibliography 255
Acknowledgments 265
Index 267
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