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Rhapsodomancy

Pronounced /ræpˈsɒdəmænsɪ/Help with pronunciation

Rhapsodomancy is a form of divination in which guidance was sought through the chance selection of a passage in literature.

It goes back to the ancient Greeks, in which verses uttered by the oracles were transcribed for random consultation in the sybilline books, or in which a phrase from one of the poets was picked on for guidance. Another example is the I Ching, an ancient book of wisdom in which hexagrams are consulted according to a random sequence that is generated by throwing sticks.

Rhapsodomancy comes from the Greek rhapsoidos, someone who recites epic poems, particularly the Homeric odes; its roots are rhaptein, to sew together or stitch, and oide, song (the source of our word ode), so such a person was a weaver of songs. It is closely related to our rhapsody, which originally meant a section of an epic poem suitable for reading at one time, but which later took on the modern sense of some exaggeratedly enthusiastic or self-indulgently effusive piece of writing or music.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 1 Aug. 1998

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

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This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-rha1.htm
Last modified: 1 August 1998.