Delphi – The History

The History of the Oracle of Delphi

The oracle of Delphi holds a dominant role in the ancient Greek history. It is estimated that there was a temple in the 14th century BC, dedicated to the goddess Gaia, the Earth.

The Legend

The oracle was built in the navel of the Earth, to the point where, according to the legend, the two eagles had been met, those which had been released by Zeus, just for this purpose. Later, the god Apollo wanted to get the navel of the earth under his dominion: for this purpose, he killed the terrible dragon Python, the son of Gaia and guard of the sanctuary. Regretted for his action, then he left to purify and to return “pure” anymore in the space.

During the absence of Apollo, the Cretans have expressed a desire to build a temple in his honor and become his priests, expecting his return. Indeed, when the ships of the Cretans began, the god transformed into a dolphin, accompany them to reach to their destination safely. So, he came back as a dolphin in the area since named ‘Delphi’ by this word and it was dedicated to the worship of the son of Zeus and Leto, the god of light that makes everything noticeably and visible.

The Archaic Period

During the Archaic period, from the 7th century, the Oracle knows the period of its high growth: it is the era of the colonization and every city that wants to colonize consult their gods through the Oracle. It was founded the Delphic Amphictyony, which since then and for a long time held the administration of the sanctuary. Then, the Pythian were established, sports games at the standards of matches in Olympia, while the musician and theatrical competition takes place in the theater of the sanctuary.

During this period, the magnificent temple of Apollo was built. With a Doric rhythm, with 6 towering columns on the front and 15 on the sides. On the pediment of the temple, the visitor admired scenes of the Giants, the Muses, Dionysus and of course the god Apollo. In the walls of the vestibule, there were engraved quotations of the seven sages of antiquity, such as “know yourself” (= to know yourself) and “nothing in excess” (= nothing excessive), quotations that determined the evolution of the humanity and formed whole philosophical trends through the centuries. In the deepest sanctuary of the church was the navel and unfolding the divination process by the priestess Pythia.

Around the temple of Apollo, the Treasuries were built: small buildings like temples, where was kept the treasure that each city offered in the sanctuary. When the prophecy was fulfilled, the pilgrim had to to donate to oracle a financial offer, or valuable items, statues, sculptures and more. The Athenian treasury, which was reconstructed after the Athenian victory over the Persians at Marathon in 490 BC, was saved largely to our days. Extremely impressive reliefs depicting the victories of Athenian hero Theseus and they adorned its pediments. In the walls of the treasury, there was a huge table made ​​of soft stone, so that visitors can carve their offerings, their wishes and their dedications.

The process of prophecy

The process of submit a question and performance of an oracle of Apollo through Pythia and the priests were specific: the pilgrim before entering the oracle, cleaned with the water of Castalia Spring, of the ancient fountain that was near. Then he paid a certain fee, a tax, which was defined differently each time and was called pelanon. Finally, he sacrificed an animal, usually a goat, on the altar of Apollo.

Then, Pythia had to prepare. She was also washed in the waters of Castalia, as a kind of purification before entering in the sanctuary, in the sanctuary of the temple of Apollo for prophecy. At that point, the navel of the earth, the god Apollo communicated with the priestess who sat on this tripod through fumes emerging from the bowels of the earth. The priests of the temple, who were in the next room raised in oracle the query pilgrim and they interpreted its delirium as meaningful proposal.

The oracle characterized by their ambiguous meaning, in which is assigned their almost certain success. When for example the king of Lydia, Croesus, asked the Oracle if his attack would succeed against the Greeks, the oracle replied that if attacked, he would destroy a great Kingdom. Croesus, finally, proceeded to attack and he was defeated and the great Kingdom that was destroyed was his own.  He has not refuted the rightness of the oracle, and after his failure, he offered gifts to the oracle to delight it.

The fumigations

In 1892, French archaeologists began excavations in the sanctuary of Delphi with a view to find something to show that there was indeed a gap that allowed to gases to emerge and create the channel “communication” between Pythia and Apollo. Their investigations didn’t have a result.

Eight years later, a different research team argued that the navel rock, on which Pythia sat, stood just over a gap that had been created due to the slippery of ground plates, which allow a passage so that the fumigations of gases, such as methane,  rise to the surface of the soil and be inspired by Pythia.

Since, as it is known, if someone inspires a small amount of chemical gas, he gets in a mood of euphoria, as a result to be created delusional visions, so it is attempted to explain and “delirium” of Pythia, when she was in contact with Apollo.

The Oracle of Delphi in Ancient World

The reverence with which the ancient world obeyed the oracle was undeniable. During its heyday, it played an important role in shaping the balance. Although, it was a neutral space where the Treasuries of cities are bordered on, even though it was at war among them, the Oracle often clearly took the part of one or the other side, the most characterized example is the Peloponnesian war, when it came out clearly in favor of Lacedaemonians.

The economic power and the power acquiring the master of Delphi were the causes that the Oracle was found many times to be claimed by various opponents. The “holy wars” ended with several winners, each time modifying the rules of its operation. For a long time, Delphi was one of the most important religious sites of antiquity.

The end of the Oracle of Delphi

Its operation was stopped by order of the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius I in 394 AD. The sources said as last Delphic oracle, a message to the Emperor Julian, in 362 AD. The Pagan emperor wanted to campaign against the Persians, and he asked to inform him if he had to do it or not. The oracle said “Tell the king that an ornate house fell down, nor Phoebus Apollo has longer residence nor laurel divination or source speaking, and the water dried up”.