THESE Oracles are considered to embody many of the principal features of Chaldæan philosophy. They have come down to us through Greek translations and were held in the greatest esteem throughout antiquity, a sentiment which was shared alike by the early Christian Fathers and the later Platonists. The doctrines contained therein are attributed to Zoroaster, though to which particular Zoroaster is not known; historians give notices of as many as six different individuals all bearing that name, which was probably the title of the Prince of the Magi, and a generic term. The word Zoroaster is by various authorities differently derived: Kircher furnishes one of the most interesting derivations when he seeks to show that it comes from TzURA = a figure, and TzIUR= to fashion, ASH = fire, and STR = hidden; from these he gets the words Zairaster = fashioning images of hidden fire;--or Tzuraster=the image of secret things. Others derive it from Chaldee and Greek words meaning " a contemplator of the Stars."
It is not, of course, pretended that this collection as it stands is other than disjointed and fragmentary, and it is more than probable that the true sense of many passages has been obscured, and even in some cases hopelessly obliterated, by inadequate translation.
Where it has been possible to do so, an attempt has been made to elucidate doubtful or ambiguous expressions, either by modifying the existing translation from the Greek, where deemed permissible, or by appending annotations.
It has been suggested by some that these Oracles are of Greek invention, but it has already been pointed out by Stanley that Picus de Mirandula assured Ficinus that he had the Chaldee Original in his possession, "in which those things which are faulty and defective in the Greek are read perfect and entire," and Ficinus indeed states that he found this MS. upon the death of Mirandula. In addition to this, it should be noted that here and there in the original Greek version, words occur which are not of Greek extraction at all, but are Hellenised Chaldee.
Berosus is said to be the first who introduced the writings of the Chaldæans concerning Astronomy and Philosophy among the Greeks, * and it is certain that the traditions of Chaldea very largely influenced Greek thought. Taylor considers that some of these mystical utterances are the sources whence the sublime conceptions of Plato were formed, and large commentaries were written upon them by Porphyry, Iamblichus, Proclus, Pletho and Psellus. That men of such great learning and sagacity should have thought so highly of these Oracles, is a fact which in itself should commend them to our attention.
The term "Oracles" was probably bestowed upon these epigrammatic utterances in order to enforce the idea of their profound and deeply mysterious nature. The Chaldæans, however, had an Oracle, which they venerated as highly as the Greeks did that at Delphi. *
We are indebted to both Psellus and Pletho, for comments at some length upon the Chaldæan Oracles, and the collection adduced by these writers has been considerably enlarged by Franciscus Patricius, who made many additions from Proclus, Hermias, Simplicius, Damascius, Synesius, Olympiodorus, Nicephorus and Arnobius; his collection, which comprised some 324 oracles under general heads, was published in Latin in 1593, and constitutes the groundwork of the later classification arrived at by Taylor and Cory; all of these editions have been utilised in producing the present revise.
A certain portion of these Oracles collected by Psellus, appear to be correctly attributed to a Chaldæan Zoroaster of very early date, and are marked "Z," following the method indicated by Taylor, with one or two exceptions. Another portion is attributed to a sect of philosophers named Theurgists, who flourished during the reign of Marcus Antoninus, upon the authority of Proclus, † and these are marked "T." Oracles additional to these two series and of less definite source are marked "Z or T." Other oracular passages from miscellaneous authors are indicated by their names.
The printed copies of the Oracles to be found in England are the following:--
1. Oracula Magica, Ludovicus Tiletanus, Paris, 1563.
2. Zoroaster et ejus 320 oracula Chaldaica; by Franciscus Patricius. . . . 1593.
3. Fred. Morellus; Zoroastris oracula, 1597. Supplies about a hundred verses.
4. Otto Heurnius; Barbaricæ Philosophiæ antiquitatum libri duo, 1600.
5. Johannes Opsopoeus; Oracula Magica Zoroastris 1599. This includes the Commentaries of Pletho and of Psellus in Latin.
6. Servatus Gallœus; Sibulliakoi Chresmoi, 1688. Contains a version of the Oracles.
Thomas Stanley. The History of the Chaldaic Philosophy, 1701. This treatise contains the Latin of Patricius, and the Commentaries of Pletho and Psellus in English.
Johannes Alb. Fabricius, Bibliotheca Græca, 1705-7. Quotes the Oracles.
Jacobus Marthanus, 1689. This version contains the Commentary of Gemistus Pletho.
Thomas Taylor, The Chaldæan Oracles, in the Monthly Magazine, and published independently, 1806.
Bibliotheca Classica Latina; A. Lemaire, volume 124, Paris, 1823.
Isaac Preston Cory, Ancient Fragments, London, 1828. (A third edition of this work has been published, omitting the Oracles.)
Phœnix, New York, 1835. A collection of curious old tracts, among which are the Oracles of Zoroaster, copied from Thomas Taylor and I. P. Cory; with an essay by Edward Gibbon.
4:* Josephus, contra Apion. I.
5:* Stephanus, De Urbibus.
5:† Vide his Scholia on the Cratylus of Plato.