The aim of this project is to use VR to recreate an approximation of the historical experiences (mental and somatic) of individuals consulting the ancient oracle of Zeus at Dodona and then, through user analysis, to investigate how such a recreation can help to advance understanding of (i) an ancient historical context and individual historical experiences of that context; and (ii) the design and deployment of multi-sensory VR experiences for research and educational purposes. This will be achieved by building a VR recreation of the ancient Greek oracle of Zeus and Dione at Dodona (the VRO). The VRO will, on the one hand, address questions of subjective historical experience by creating a convincing reality that will then enable the detailed exploration of the process, experience and effects of ancient oracular consultation; and, on the other hand, facilitate further research into the design of VR technologies for communication of historical experience, including both museums and classroom settings.
The VRO will recreate the experience of consulting the ancient Greek oracle of Zeus and Dione at Dodona in NW Greece during the Classical period. A broad constituency of ancient society visited this oracle: evidence shows that Dodona was consulted not only by community leaders, but also by ordinary men, women, and even slaves. This will enable the project to encompass a diverse range of ancient experiences. Moreover, the site has yielded thousands of lead tablets inscribed with questions that visitors posed to the oracle-remarkable documents for the ancient world. They show the everyday anxieties that prompted people to consult the gods, about, for example, travel, business and relationships. Alongside the question tablets, the ancient sources offer myriad possibilities for how the oracle worked, some focusing on Dodona's sacred oak tree, others on the priests and priestesses at the site.
This project will explore--and aim to recreate--the diverse experiences of consulting Dodona, by commissioning and working with a VR company to develop a virtual reality oracle (VRO). Using the question tablets found at the site, and informed by specialists in ancient Greek religion and divination, with further support from the Ephorate of Ioannina (near ancient Dodona), the VRO experience will be built around a set of stories about ancient individuals. It will evoke different contexts and subjective experiences of uncertainty and explore the various possible methods of consulting the oracle, helping historians to better understand and differentiate among these mechanisms. The design phase of the VRO will also be informed by the participation of teachers, students and museum/cultural heritage curators, who will help to ensure that the VRO excels in communicating information to different user groups.
In the second half of the project, the project will investigate user responses to the VRO both qualitatively and experimentally. This will enhance the project's ancient historical research into the experience of ancient oracular consultation: analysis of user responses by psychologists and neuroscientists will allow the project team to gauge the sensory and cognitive affects of oracular consultation, and to differentiate between different possible modes of divination. User analysis will also be used to examine how VR may be designed and deployed effectively for educational uses in classrooms and museums. Once the VRO is constructed, analysis of users of the VRO by psychologists and experts in human-computer interaction will be used to better understand the role of all the senses in a successful immersive experience, and to establish effective design parameters for immersive VR environments.