History of the Oracle of Delphi Part 1

About the history of the Oracle at Delphi in ancient Greece, mythology, Apollo, and seeing the future.


The temples and treasure houses that were once the home of the priestesses and priests of the Delphic oracle are now in ruins. However, some 2,500 years ago the oracle at Delphi was one of the most influential and powerful institutions in Greece. Individuals and ambassadors of city-states and empires came to Delphi to pose questions in order to solve personal problems and to gain advice on political and international issues. To answer these questions and give the inquirer a glimpse of the future, the Delphic high priestess--titled the Pythia--uttered predictions while in a state of frenzy. The Greeks believed that the Pythia was the spokeswoman of the sun-god, Apollo, who used her to voice the will of his father, Zeus. In her role as link between gods and humans, the Pythia could instigate government policies, cause cities to be built and colonies to be established, and begin or end wars.

Located in central Greece near the Corinthian Gulf, the oracle at Delphi was situated on the slopes of Mt. Parnassus, with steep 2,000-ft.-high cliffs forming a semicircle behind it and with the deep Pleistus gorge in front. The place was first settled around 1500 B.C. by Minoan priests from Crete, who established there an oracle of their supreme deity, the earth-goddess. Sometime near 1000 B.C., the Greeks won control of Delphi and founded the oracle of their god Apollo.

According to Greek myths, Apollo fought and killed a she-dragon called Python in a cave below Delphi. The corpse of this monster decomposed eternally, emitting a gaseous stench which escaped from the cave through fissures in the earth. Grazing his flocks in the area, a Greek shepherd accidentally inhaled this gas and promptly went into convulsions and started babbling prophecies. At first the shepherd's friends thought he had gone mad, but when his predictions came true, they realized that breathing the vapors had put him in contact with Apollo. Soon everyone in the vicinity was sniffing the gases, going into convulsions, and mumbling predictions. A number of people in these throes fell into the fissures and were killed. Deciding that prophecy was a risky business, the local citizenry elected one woman to inhale the gases while seated on a tripod over a chasm from which the gases flowed. This woman was called the Pythia after the monster Python, and eventually her position became that of high priestess of the Delphic oracle.

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