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The Road to Delphi: The Life and Afterlife of Oracles    by Michael Wood order for
Road to Delphi
by Michael Wood
Order:  USA  Can
Picador, 2004 (2003)
Hardcover, Paperback
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Michael Wood launches himself off from the topic of 'Oracles' into history and philosophy, poetry, plays and psychoanalysis, literature and film, mythology and modern times. Though by no means a tome, The Road to Delphi is weighty in erudition, not a quick or easy read, but rather one that requires a great deal of thought along the way, and a strong literary understanding.

Wood tells us that 'An oracle answers our questions, and we interpret the answer', that we're in search of certainty. The oracle allows a dialogue 'with the unknown'. The author gets into a fascinating discussion of 'equivocation', though he also tells us that oracles are not always ambiguous. He talkes about Oedipus at length, and in particular his fateful encounter (after a singularly unhelpful oracular query) with his birth father Laius on the 'road to Delphi'. Discussing the word 'sibylline', Wood mentions 'a touch of snakiness and sneakiness in the language itself'. He tells us that 'Pythias answered particular questions' while 'Sibyls offered generalized predictions, usually of disasters'. He recounts different versions of the cruel tale of Cassandra, 'blessed with foresight, cursed with the disbelief of others'. And he explores the decline and 'death of oracles', and the long Christian debate about their nature.

Eventually, Wood wends his philosophical way to The Matrix and its 'Oracle', and on to the oracles in Minority Report. He touches on the role of psychoanalysis in creating the 'inward oracle', the oracular nature of doctor/patient relationships and of economic predictions, the popularity of horoscopes, and recurring attempts to relate the predictions of Nostredamus to current events. Throughout, Michael Wood speaks, in an oracular style, of our 'deepest longing for cause and purpose', and he concludes by warning of 'the appalling attractions and alluring dangers of certainty, its complicated absence and presence in our lives.'

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