The Oracle of Delphi in Greece
Delphi in Greece and its oracle was one of the most sacred
places in the ancient world. Situated in the breathtaking
surroundings by the mythical Mt. Parnassus, where
Pan and the
nymphs lived, it is still an enchanting site.
The ancient Greeks believed that Delphi was the centre of the world
and in the oracle was foretold the future of kings and common men.
Mythology: Although Delphi had been dedicated to many deities
Themis and Phoebe,
Apollo is the god most
connected to the place. According to mythology, Apollo killed
Python who guarded the site and built the first
temple here. He then went away to purify himself from the deed,
and the Pythean games were held every eight years to commemorate
the event. Later, they were held every four years and were
mainly musical competitions. The winner was crowned with a
wreath of laurel, since the Laurel was Apollo's special tree.
Delphi had been defined as the canter of the earth by
one day let his two eagles fly around the earth and where they
met - the centre, Delphi, lay. A stone was put at the point
called Omphalos - the Navel - an can still be seen in the museum
Another myth also tells us that it was here the human kind got a
second chance. Zeus was sick and tired of humanity, its
thievery, lies and treachery, and decided to drown them all in a
flood. The good man
Deucalion had been warned by his father
Prometheus and had built an ark in good time. The flood drowned
the earth, but Deucalion and his wife were safe in the ark, and
when the water started sinking, they landed on the top of Mt.
Parnassos. Deucalion then went to the oracle to ask what to do
next, and the oracle told him to throw the earths bones behind
him. He then took some stones which he interpreted to be the
bones, threw them over his shoulder, and new humans grew out of
Deucalion had a son with his wife, and he was to be called
Hellen ("Greek"). He, in his turn, became the father of three
children. Aeolus, Dorus and Xythos, and the grandfather of Ion
and Achaios. These sons would all be the ancestors of the Greek
Heracles had also come to Delphi, but with a wicked purpose: he
wanted to steal the tripod Pythia sat on. He failed, but still
a temple was built in Heracles' honour.
Dionysus also had to do with Delphi. He ruled here in Apollo place during the three months the latter was away in the
north. Then chaos ruled here, with enraged women, the maenads,
tearing wild animals to pieces and everyone in a constant state
History of Delphi: Delphi is mentioned by Homer, who calls it Pytho.
There is evidence that there was a cult here in the Mycenaean period.
A temple dedicated to God Apollo stood here in the 8th century BC, if not
before. In the 7th century BC the area was already quite full of buildings
and statues. In the 6th century BC a big sphinx was made out of marble from
Naxos and put here, as well as treasure houses for Athens, Sicyon and Knidos.
It was also now that Delphi had been liberated from the Krisan state, and
thus became autonomous. The games and the sanctuary was from then on
organised and controlled by the 12 citystates that had formed the
In 528 a terrible fire destroyed the old temple of Apollo. Almost all Greek
city-states helped to rebuild it, and in 505 a magnificent new temple stood
In the following century the Sifnian treasure house was built, and after the
battle of Marathon Athens also built a new one.
In 373BC an earthquake destroyed much of Delphi, including the Apollo
temple. Soon, s new collection began among the city states, and in 329BC it
was finished. Here, the famous inscriptions "Know yourself", "Keep the
measure" and "E" were made. Pythia sat here and told the future through an
incomprehensible mumble that was then interpreted by the priests.
This is also where the omphalos, the navel stone, stood as well as Dionysus'
The theatre was built, but it was during the next century that it was
rebuilt of stone by Eumenes II of Pergamon so that the audience would
actually have seats, and not just sat on the slopes. It could hold 5000
In AD390 the oracle was shut down by emperor Theodosius.
In 1892 French archaeologists started excavating the are, after the ancient
village Kastri, that was built on top of it, had been moved.
The Oracle of Delphi
At first, the oracle of Delphi could only be consulted once a
year, but as its reputation grew more and more pilgrims came,
and more days were added to the agenda. During the three months
that Apollo was believed to be away, the oracle was silent.
After going through purification rituals and paying a certain
tax, the pilgrim that would be allowed to consult the oracle
could ask his question to Pythia.
Pythia was a woman from the village Delphi, and in most cases
she was a young virgin. We do not know exactly in what state of
mind she was, but she was probably under the influence of some
sort of narcotic substance. Tradition holds that fumes were
coming out of a crack in the ground, but no such crack has been
After Pythia had spoken, the priests interpreted her words to
the pilgrim. The answers were always vague, and in this way the
oracle was almost always right. This gave the priests great
political power, and their credibility was discussed even in
ancient times. It is said that the fable writer
Aesop had called them the "parasites of Apollo" and for this
the priests killed him
The museum of Delphi
If you come to Delphi, you should not miss the museum. It has
some amazing finds from the area, the most famous being the
Omphalos, the statue "The Charioteer" and the two sculptures of
Cleobis and Biton.
Getting there: Delphi can be reached by road. Many travel
agencies in Athens offer daytrips to the site, but you can also
get here on your own. There are several hotels in the area if
you want to stay.
"Though killed I killed the
killer; but even so he didn't go to Hades, it was I who died"
Riddle from the Delphic Oracle