When (if Ever) is an Oath Not an Oath?
This chapter examines the ‘informal oaths’ that are recurrent in comedy, oratory, and prose dialogue in ancient Greece, with particular reference to the extent to which, and the circumstances in which, they were felt as having binding force. It offers a reading of Aristophanes's Clouds, a play featuring forty-seven oaths that are being uttered by characters in the action, to assess the degree of sanctity and significance to be attached to an informal oath. The chapter also discusses seven hypotheses about how the expression or context of an oath might influence its perceived solemnity and binding force: whether the oath is by Zeus, or by another god or gods; if the oath is by Zeus, whether it names him with the definite article; whether the name of the god invoked is accompanied by an epithet; whether the oath-formula is a conjunction of two or more invocations; whether attention is drawn to features of sanctity in the environment; whether the oath has been solicited by another person; and whether the oath has been preceded by explicit discussion of swearing.
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