Viewing the Past in Alias
Antiquity, Divinity, and Prophecy
Does Alias, a television series endowed with all the prerequisite gadgets of its spy thriller genre, have any contact with the world of the past? How can ancient concepts of prophecy help the contemporary viewer understand or even anticipate the remarkable plot twists of the series?
This essay will analyze the construction of Rambaldi and the narrative function of his prophecy against the background of ancient Greek oracles. Prophecy as a mode of communication between mortals and the gods in the ancient world can provide a model for interpreting the show’s representations of divinity and the past. But here the conventions of ancient literature and contemporary television overlap: a prophecy isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be. In ancient Greek and Roman literature, prophecies require human interpretation, and this interpretation may be misguided or plain wrong. In an action-suspense series like Alias, spectacular reversals are the rule, not the exception. The more infallible a given seems to be, especially when delivered by a quasi-divinity and confirmed by the Lab, the more likely it is that a surprise is lurking.
In the ancient Mediterranean, Apollo’s oracle at Delphi was widely recognized among Greeks and other peoples as the most reliable contact point with the gods. Archaeological evidence reveals a sacred enclosure as early as the eighth century B.C.E., and it is mentioned in Homer and numerous other texts as the most famous oracle in the Mediterranean world. Prophecy at Delphi usually came as a response to a question posed by a visitor, …