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Delphoi: Eth. Delphos, fem. Delphis, Delphe; Adj. Delphikos (Kastri).
A town in Phocis, and one of the most celebrated places in the Hellenic world
in consequence of its oracle of Apollo.
I. SITUATION. The situation of Delphi is one of the most striking and sublime in all Greece. It lies in the narrow vale of the Pleistus, which is shut in on one side by Mount Parnassus, and on the other by Mount Cirphis. At the foot of Parnassus is a lofty wall of rocks, called Phaedriades in antiquity, and rising 2000 feet above the level of the sea. This rocky barrier faces the south, and from its extremity two lower ridges descend towards the Pleistus. The rocky ground between these two ridges also slopes down towards the river, and in about the middle of the semicircular recess thus formed lay the town of Delphi, occupying the central area of a great natural theatre, to which its site is compared by the ancient writers. (Hoi Delphoi, petrodes chorion, theatroeides, kata kornphen echon to manteion kai ten polin, Strab. ix. p. 418; media saxi rupes in formam theatri recessit, Justin, xxiv. 6.) The northern barrier of the Phaedriades is cleft towards the middle into two stupendous cliffs, between which issues the far-famed Castalian spring, which flows down the hill into the Pleistus. The ancient town lay on both sides of the stream, but the greater part of it on the left or western bank, on which stands the modern village of Kastri. Above the town was the sanctuary of the god, immediately under the Phaedriades.
Delphi was, so to speak, shut in on all sides from the rest of the world, and could not have been seen by any of the numerous pilgrims who visited it, till they had crossed one of its rocky barriers, when all its glories burst suddenly upon their view. On its northern side were the Phaedriades; on its eastern and western sides, the two lower ridges projecting from the Phaedriades towards the Pleistus; while on the other side of the river towards the south rose the range of Mt. Cirphis. Three roads led to Delphi; one from Boeotia,- the celebrated Schiste,- which passed through the eastern of two ridges mentioned above; and two others from the west, crossing the only two openings in the western ridge. Of these two the more northerly led from Amphissa, and the more southerly from Crissa, the modern Chryso, which was the one taken by the pilgrims coming from Cirrha. Traces of the ancient carriage-road from Crissa to Delphi may still be seen. Delphi was fortified by nature, on the north, east, and west, by the Phaedriades and the two projecting ridges: it was only undefended on the south. On this side it was first fortified by a line of walls by Philomelus, who also erected two fortresses to command its two approaches from the west. The circuit of the city was only 16 stadia, or a little more than two miles. (Strab. l. c.) A topographical description of the city is given below.
The Delphian valley, or that part of the vale of the Pleistus lying at the foot of the town, is mentioned in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo (284), under the name of koile bessa; and is called by Pindar koilopedon napos (Pyth. v. 50), and Apollonia napa (Pyth. vi. 10), and by Strabo also nape (Strab. l. c.).
II. HISTORY. The town of Delphi owes its origin as well as its importance to the oracle of Apollo. According to some traditions, it had belonged to other divinities before it passed into the hands of Apollo. In Aeschylus it is represented as held in succession by Gaia, Themis, and the Titanian Phoebe, the last of whom gave it to Phoebus, when he came from Delos. (Eum. 1, seq.) Pausanias says that it was originally the joint oracle of Poseidon and Ge; that Ge gave her share to Themis, and Themis to Apollo; and that the latter obtained from Poseidon the other half by giving him in exchange the island of Calaureia. (Paus. x. 5.. § 6, seq.) The proper name of the oracle was Pytho (Putho); and in Homer that of Delphi, which was subsequently the name of the town, does not occur. In the Iliad the temple of Phoebus Apollo at the rocky Pytho is already filled with treasures (Il. ix. 405); and in the catalogue of the ships the inhabitants of Pytho are mentioned in the same line with those of Cyparissus (Il. ix. 405). In the Odyssey Agamemnon consults the oracle at Pytho (Od. viii. 80). It thus appears in the most ancient times as a sacred spot; but the legend of its foundation is first related in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo. In this poem Apollo, seeking for a spot where he may found an oracle, comes at last, to Crissa under Mount Parnassus. He is charmed with the solitude and sublimity of the place, and forthwith commences the erection of a temple, which is finished under the superintendence of the two brothers Trophonius and Agamedes. He then slays the huge serpent which infested the place; and from the monster rotting (from puthein) in the ground, the temple was called Pytho, and the god the Pythian:
ex ou nun Putho kiklesetai: hoi de anakta
Puthion kaleousin eponumon, houneka keithi
thutou puse pelor menos oxeos eelioio.
(Hymn. in Apoll. 372.)
The temple now wanted priests; and the god, beholding a Cretan ship sailing from Cnossus, metamorphosed himself into a dolphin, and brought the vessel into the Crissaean gulf. Here the Cretans landed, and, conducted by the god, founded the town of Crissa, and became the priests of the temple. He taught them to worship him under the name of Apollo Delphinius, because he had met them in the form of a dolphin (Delphis). Muller (Dorians, vol. i. p. 238), and many other writers, suppose that this temple was really founded by colonists from Crete, and that the very name Crissa points to a Cretan origin. We, however, are disposed to think that in this, as in so many other cases, the legend has sprung out of an attempt to explain the names; and that it was simply the names of Crissa and Delphi which suggested the story of the Cretan colonists and of the metamorphosis of the god into the dolphin. It is useless to speculate as to what is the real origin of the names of Crissa and Pytho. Many writers derive the latter from puthesthai, to inquire, in spite of the difference of the quantity (Putho, phuthesthai); but the similarity of sound between the two words is probably only accidental. Whatever may be thought of the origin of the places, the historical fact worthy of notice is, that Crissa had at first the superintendence of the sanctuary of Pytho, and continued to claim jurisdiction over it even after the Amphictyonic Council held its spring meeting at the temple, and began to regard itself as the guardian of the place. A town gradually sprung up round the sanctuary, the inhabitants of which claimed to administer the affairs of the temple independently of the Crissaeans. Meantime Cirrha, which was originally the sea-port of Crissa, increased at the expense of the latter; and thus Crissa declined in importance, as Cirrha and Delphi augmented, It is probable that Crissa had already sunk into insignificance before the Sacred War in B.C. 595, which ended in the destruction of Cirrha by the order of the Amphictyonic Council, and in the dedication of the Cirrhaean plain to the town; and it is only necessary to repeat here, that the spoils of Cirrha were employed by the Amphictyons in founding the Pythian games, which were henceforwards celebrated under the superintendence of the council every four years,- in the former half of every third Olympiad. The first celebration of the Pythian games took place in B.C. 586. The horse races and foot races were celebrated in the maritime plain near the site of Cirrha. The hippodrome continued to be in this spot down to the latest times (Pans. x. 37. § 4); but the stadium, which was still in the maritime plain in the time of Pindar (Pyth. xi. 20, 23), was subsequently removed to the city, where the musical and poetical matches seem to have been always held.
From the time of the destruction of Cirrha, Delphi was indisputably an independent state, whatever may have been its political condition before that time. From this time it appears as the town of Delphi, governed by its own magistrates. The name of Delphi first occurs in one of the most recent of the Homeric hymns (xxvii. 14.), and in a fragment of Heraclitus. (Plut. de Pyth. Orac., c. 21, p. 404.) The population of Delphi came from Lycoreia (Lukoreia), a town situated upon one of the heights of Parnassus above the sanctuary. This town is said to have been founded by Deucalion, and from it the Delphian nobles, at all events, derived their origin. Hence, Plutarch tells us that the five chief-priests of the god, called Hosioi, were chosen by lot from a number of families who derived their descent from Deucalion. (Strab. ix. pp. 418, 423; Schol. ad Apoll. Rhod. ii. 711; Paus. x. 6. § 2; Plut. Quaest. Graec. 9, p. 380.) The remains of Lycoreia are found at the village of Liakura. Muller conjectures, with much probability, that the inhabitants of Lycoreia were Dorians, who had spread from the Dorian Tetrapolis over the heights of Parnassus. At all events, we know that a Doric dialect was spoken at Delphi; and the oracle always showed a leaning towards the Greeks of the Doric race. Moreover, that the Delphians were of a different race from the Phocians is clear from the antipathy which always existed between the two peoples.
The government of Delphi appears at first to have been in the exclusive possession of a few noble families. They had the entire management of the oracle, and from them were chosen the five Hosioi, or chief-priests of the god, as is mentioned above. These are the persons whom Euripides describes as sitting near the tripod, the Delphian nobles, chosen by lot (hoi plesion thassousi tripodos . . . Delphon aristes, hous eklerosen palos, Ion, 415). They are also called by the poet the lords and princes of the Delphians, and formed a criminal court, which sentenced by the Pythian decision all offenders against the temple to be hurled from a precipice. (Koiranoi Puthikoi, 1219; Delphon anaktes, 1222; Puthia psephos, 1250; from Muller, Dorians, vol. i. p. 240.) From the noble families the chief magistrates were chosen, among whom in early times a king (Plut. Quaest. Graec. 12. p. 383), and afterwards a prytanis, was supreme (Paus. x. 2. § 2). We also find in inscriptions mention of archons who gave their names to the year, of a senate (Boule), and in later times of an agora. (Bockh, Inscr. No. 1687-1724; Muller, Dor. vol. i. p. 192.) The constitution of Delphi and its general condition offered a striking contrast with what we find in other Grecian states. Owing not only its prosperity, but even its very existence, to its oracle, the government was of a theocratic nature. The god possessed large domains, which were cultivated by the slaves of the temple, who are frequently mentioned in inscriptions. (Muller, vol. i. p. 283.) In addition to this, the Delphian citizens received numerous presents from the monarchs and wealthy men who consulted the oracle, while at the same time the numerous sacrifices offered by strangers were sufficient for their support. (Comp. Athen. iv. p. 173.) Hence they became a lazy, ignorant, and sensual people; and their early degeneracy is implied in the tradition of Aesop's death.
An account of the Delphic oracle, of the mode in which it was consulted, and of its influence in Greece, is given in the Dict. of Ant. (art. Oraculum). It only remains here to trace its history. In the eighth century before the Christian era its reputation was established, not only throughout Hellas, but even among the surrounding nations, which sometimes sent solemn embassies to ask the advice of the god. This wide extension of the influence of the oracle was owing to the fact that almost all Greek colonies were founded with the sanction, and frequently by the express command, of the Pythian Apollo; and thus the colonists carried with them a natural reverence for the patron god of their enterprise. Gyges, the founder of the last Lydian dynasty, who reigned B.C. 716-678, presented valuable gifts to the god (Herod. i. 13, 14); and Croesus, the last monarch of this race, was one of the greatest benefactors which the god ever had. His numerous and costly presents are specified at length by Herodotus (i. 50. seq.). The colonies in Magna Graecia also spread among the inhabitants of Italy a reverence for the Delphic oracle. The Etruscan town of Aylla (Caere) had at Delphi a thesaurus belonging to their state; and the last king of Rome sent to consult the oracle.
In B.C. 548 the temple was destroyed by fire (Paus. x. 5. § 13), when many of its votive offerings perished or were greatly injured (Herod. i. 50). The Amphictyons determined that the temple should be rebuilt on a scale of magnificence commensurate with the sanctity of the spot. They decreed that one-fourth of the expense should be borne by the Delphians themselves, and that the remainder should be collected from the other parts of the Hellenic world. The sum required for the building was 300 talents, or 115,0001. sterling; and when it was at length collected, the family of the Alcmaeonidae, then exiles from Athens, took the contract for the execution of the work. They employed as architect Spintharus, the Corinthian, and gained great reputation for their liberality in using Parian marble for the front of the temple in place of. the coarse stone prescribed in the contract. (Herod. ii. 180, v. 62; Paus. l. c.)
In B.C. 480 Xerxes sent a detachment of his army to plunder the temple. The Delphians' in alarm sought safety on the heights of Mt. Parnassus, but were forbidden by the god to remove the treasures from his temple. Only sixty Delphians remained behind, but they were encouraged by divine portents; and when the Persians, who came from Phocis by the road Schiste, began to climb the rugged path leading up to the shrine, and had already reached the temple of Athena Pronaea, on a sudden thunder was heard to roll, the warshout sounded from the temple of Athena, and two huge crags rolled down from the mountains, and crushed many to death. Seized with a sudden panic the Persians turned and fled, pursued by two warriors of superhuman size, whom the Delphians affirmed were the two heroes Phylacus and Autonous, whose sanctuaries were near the spot. Herodotus, when he visited Delphi, saw in the sacred enclosure of Athena Pronaea the identical crags which had crushed the Persians; and Ulrichs noticed near the spot large blocks of stone which have rolled down from the summit. (Herod. viii. 35-39; [p. 763] Diod. xi. 14; Ulrichs, p. 46.) In B.C. 357 the Phocians, who had been sentenced by the Amphictyonic Council to pay a heavy fine on the pretext of their having cultivated a portion of the Cirrhaean plain, were persuaded by Philomelus to complete the sacrilege with which they had been branded by seizing the temple of Delphi itself. The enterprise was successful, and Delphi with all its treasures passed into the hands of the Phocians. Hence arose the celebrated Sacred War, which will be found related in all histories of Greece. The Phocians at first abstained from touching the riches of the temple; but being hard pressed by the Thebans and Locrians, they soon converted the treasures into money for the purpose of paying their troops. When the war was at length brought to a conclusion by Philip of. Macedon, and the temple restored to the custody of the Amphictyons (B.C. 346), its more valuable treasures had disappeared, though it still contained numerous works of art. The Phocians were sentenced to replace, by yearly payments, these treasures, estimated at the sum of 10,000 talents, or nearly two millions and a half sterling. The Phocians, however, were far too poor ever to be able to restore to the shrine any considerable portion of its former wealth. In B.C. 279 the report of its riches tempted the cupidity of Brennus and the Gauls; but they probably were ignorant of the loss it had sustained in the Sacred War. They advanced to the attack by the same road which the Persians had taken, but were repulsed in like manner by almost the some supernatural agency. While the thunder rolled and an earthquake rent the rocks, huge masses of stone rolled down from the mountains and crushed the foe. (Justin, xxiv. 6-8; Pans. x. 23.) The temple was plundered by Sulla, when he robbed those of Olympia and Epidaurus. (Dion Cass. vol. i. p. 49, ed. Reimar.; Died. Exc. p. 614, ed. Wess.) Strabo describes the temple as very poor in his time (ix. p. 420). It was again rifled by Nero, who carried off 500 brazen statues (Paus. x. 7. § 1). This emperor, angry with the god, deprived the temple of the Cirrhaean territory, which he distributed among his soldiers, and abolished the oracle. (Dion Cass. lxiii. 14.) But Hadrian, who did so much for the restoration of the Grecian cities and temples, did not neglect Delphi; and under his reign and that of the Antonines it appeared probably in a state of greater splendour than had been the case from the time of the Sacred War. In this condition it was seen and described by Pausanias; and we learn from Plutarch that the Pythia still continued to give answers (de Pyth. Orac. c. 24). Coins of Delphi are found down to the time of Caracalla. Constantine carried off several of its works of art to adorn his new capital. (Sozom. H. E. ii. 15.) The oracle was consulted by Julian, but was finally silenced by Theodosius.
This extract is from: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854) (ed. William Smith, LLD). Cited June 2004 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
The Oracle of Delphi.--The site of Delphi--the victorious rival of Dodona, and
the centre of Greek religion--has never been in the same doubt as the site of
Dodona. The remains have never been so completely covered; and the natural features
of the place--the rocky wall of the Phaedriades overhanging the town, the fountain
of Castalia issuing from a great cleft in this wall, the double peak in which
the rocks culminate, and the Corycian cave on the heights above leading to the
summit of Parnassus--are too striking and have been too well described by ancient
authorities for their identity to be mistaken. Anyone who considers the position
of Delphi in relation to the Peloponnesus, Boeotia, and Attica, will see how great
an advantage it had in its situation; which, without being absolutely under the
rule of any of the chief Greek states, was yet at no great distance from any of
them, and was at once isolated and accessible.
If the Iliad were to be taken as a poem composed in its entirety as it stands, we should be compelled to say that Delphi was at least as ancient as even Dodona. For in the ninth book, vv. 404-5, Achilles speaks of it, under the name of Pytho, as a proverb for wealth; he would not barter his life, he says, for all that is contained within the stone threshold of Apollo at Pytho: Oud hosa lainos oudos apsetoros entos eergei phoibou Apollonos Puthoi eni petreessei.
It is impossible that such wealth can have arisen in any other way but that in which history tells us that the temple of Delphi did grow rich; namely, by the gifts of those who consulted the oracle. Hence the oracle of Delphi was in full vigour when the ninth book of the Iliad was written. But that book was probably not part of the original Iliad; the arguments of Grote on this point (Hist. of Greece, vol. ii. pp. 240-246) are almost impossible to controvert. (See also Jebb, Homer, pp. 155-170.) And if Apollo, when the greater part of the Iliad was written, had been so distinctly the Pythian god as the 9th book implies that he was, it is scarcely possible that more trace of the connexion should not be found in the poem. It is true that in the Odyssey (viii. 79-82) there is one mention of the Pythian oracle; but the passage is no doubt later than the Iliad generally, and may be much later. On the whole, in spite of the assumption of the tragedians that the Delphic oracle was the source of spiritual guidance to Greece from the remotest past, the probability is that it was still in its infancy when the greater part of the Iliad was written. It must be particularly noticed that the word Delphi does not occur either in the Iliad or in the Odyssey.
To trace the rise of the oracle is a problem of equal interest and difficulty. The persistent tradition among the Greeks was, that it had first been an oracle of the Earth (gaiapsa): so say Aeschylus (Eumen. 1, 2) and Euripides; the latter even speaking of a certain conflict for possession between Earth and Apollo (Iph. in T. 1249, and 1261-1283). It is clear how the rocky chasm at Delphi, in which the oracle was believed to reside, would suggest the notion of Earth as a supernatural power; and though it may be less clear to us why a close association should have been thought to exist between Earth and Themis (i. e. Law or Right Order), as Aeschylus (l. c., and compare Prom. 209) intimates, still there is a meaning in such alliance. In those dim early ages, the divine agent would receive various names, as chance or the character of the speaker might direct; and hence we may consider it a part of the same tradition, that Night (Nux) was sometimes thought to take the place of Earth. (Plut. de Sera Numinis Vindicta, c. 22; Argum. Pind. Pyth.) But how and why did the transition from these vague powers to the [p. 281] clearly conceived and radiant god, Apollo, take place? It would be idle to affirm positively; but it seems better here to desert our oldest authority, Aeschylus, who (Eumen. 6, 7) makes a certain Titaness, Phoebe, the intermediary; which sounds like a poetical contrivance. There is really more support for, and more probability in, the view which regards Poseidon as the intermediary. This is practically affirmed by Pausanias (x. 5, § 3, and 24, § 4), by Pliny (vii. § 203), and others; the mention of Poseidon in connexion with Delphi by Aeschylus (Eumen. 27) and Euripides (Ion, 446) adds strength to this view; still more does the fact that he had an altar in the Delphic temple itself (Pausan. l. c.); and it is plain how Poseidon in his quality of Earthshaker (ennosigaios) would naturally be thought of as a more personal power than the abstract Earth, especially as the region about Parnassus suffers from earthquakes. The proximity of the sea, again, would suggest Poseidon as the presiding deity; and the name Delphi furnishes another ground. But this brings in some intricate points.
What is here affirmed is this: that when men first desired to personify the Delphic divinity (more than by the vague terms Earth or Night), Poseidon was the deity first selected. The dolphin (delpsis) would manifestly be a symbol of Poseidon; and consequently an altar with the figure of a dolphin sculptured on it (delpseios bomos, Hymn. ad Pyth. Apoll. 319) would mark the first site of the city of Delphi, and would be the reason for the name of that city. And when afterwards the votaries of the more youthful, more splendid Apollo--the god to whom the prophetic art was assigned--succeeded in expelling the rude and ungraceful Poseidon (who was not specially believed to be a prophet) from the oracular seat, the altar would still bear its symbol, the dolphin, and legends drawn from that symbol would be invented appropriate to the victorious deity. Whereas, if the worship of Apollo came to Delphi without the previous worship of Poseidon, it is not easy to say why there should be any connexion between Apollo and the dolphin. It is true, we find the temple of Apollo Delphinius at Athens (Plut. Theseus); but that is likely to be named after Delphi, as the temple of Apollo Pythius (in the same neighbourhood) after Pytho. And we find that at Anticyra, close by Delphi, Pausanias (x. 36, § 4) saw a temple of Poseidon with a statue of the god, in which he was represented as setting one foot on the back of a dolphin; which, though it may be a mere accident, yet in such a locality suggests a reminiscence of an old tradition. If Delphi had been a large city, we might have expected more evidence than we have; but for at long time it was but small: hence all the earliest records speak of Pytho, the district, not of Delphi, the town. The meaning of the name Pytho, and of the celebrated legend of Apollo, on his advent, slaying the dragon Python, are difficult points; it may even be that some conflict between Apollo and his predecessors is shadowed out by the legend (Eur. Iph. in T. l. c.).
Whatever may be thought of the claims of Poseidon, the principal fact is, that the Delphic oracle had a complex, and not, like the Dodonaean oracle, a simple origin. The aspect of the place had from immemorial time suggested that a power of divine prophecy was inherent in it; and this in the course of ages was taken possession of by that god, Apollo, in whom the chief prophetic power had been believed to dwell, even before any definite oracular seat was assigned to him. Two currents of strong religious feeling met, and produced the most powerful religious influence that Greece knew.
And there were yet other currents of feeling, and passionate aspirations, which imprinted on the Delphic oracle its exact form. The peculiar influence of the oracle was exerted through the frenzy of the Pythian prophetess. The god was believed to mould her accents, to speak with her voice; an awe-striking phenomenon! much more than when the devout inquirer listened to the rustling of leaves or to the rattling of bronze basins. Such inspiration was a novelty; it may have been imitated afterwards, and the idea of it was always attached to those impalpable personages, the Sibyls (Verg. Aen. vi. 44 sqq.), one of whom, Herophile, was said to have been closely connected with Delphi (Pausan. x. 12). But at Delphi it was more than an idea: and whatever may have been the exact date or manner in which it arose, there can be little doubt that it was but one form of that religious exaltation which prevailed so strongly in central Greece in the early times, and which sent the Bacchanals to wander and rave on the heights of Parnassus itself (Eurip. Ion, 714-718; Iph. in T. 1243, 4). Indeed, this identification of the Pythian with the Bacchic frenzy, this close alliance between Apollo and Dionysus, has the authority both of Aeschylus and Euripides, according to Macrobius, Saturn. i. 18; who quotes from Aeschylus the line ho kisseus Apollon ho Kabaios (? Bakcheios or Sabaios) ho mantis, the ivy-crowned Apollo (fr. 383), and from Euripides, Despota psilodapsne Bakche, Paian Apollon eulure (fr. 480). Conversely, Euripides attributes prophetic power to the Bacchic enthusiast: to gar bakcheusimon kai to maniodes mantiken pollen echei (Bacchae, 298, 9). We must indeed not quite go the length of these expressions; no doubt there was a difference between the worship of Apollo and the worship of Dionysus, between the Pythia and the Bacchante; but it is important to notice the resemblance too. Delphi and the region round were full of memorials of Dionysus (Plut. Quaest. Graec. 12; Pausan. x. 33, § 5); but the traditions do not go so far as to make Dionysus the actual possessor, at any period, of the Delphic oracle. Conjointly with these religious causes of the Pythian frenzy must be noticed a physical cause supposed by all the later writers on the subject to have co-operated or even to have been the leading agency in the matter. This was an exhalation from the cavernous chasm over which the tripod, or prophetic seat, was placed. Now, an attentive examination of the evidence will show that in all probability this supposed exhalation was a mere product of the imagination. Had it been a real smoke or gas, it is incredible that no mention of it should be found in those descriptions of the temple and shrine which Aeschylus and Euripides have given us. Whereas even the later writers generally speak of it as something abstract and impalpable: Strabo [p. 282] (ix. 3, § 5) calls it pneuma enthousiastikon: Cicero (de Divin. i. 36) calls it terrae vis. Plutarch, who uses the word anathumiasis to denote it, does indeed treat it as material; but the single sensible quality which he ascribes to it is one unlike a natural product of the earth: he says that a ravishingly sweet smell was sometimes perceived by visitors to the oracle to proceed from the shrine (Defect. Orac. 50). These worthy persons had doubtless not inquired if the burning myrrh to which Euripides refers (Ion, 89) had been used more freely than usual.
It is of course not to be questioned that Aeschylus and Euripides believed that an influence, causing prophetic frenzy, did ascend from the Delphic chasm. But the materialising of that influence, so as to make it definitely sensuous, was the work of a later day. The story of Diodorus (xvi. 26) and others, that the oracular power was first made known by the fact that some goats, on approaching the chasm, became intoxicated in a marvellous way--an intoxication which the goatherd afterwards experienced--forms a natural transition to the more material view. Pausanias, who when recounting this story uses the very material word atmos to describe the influence (x. 5, § 3), afterwards (x. 24, § 5) says that it is the water of the fountain Cassotis, flowing through the chasm, which makes the women prophetic.
Special solemnities accompanied the promulgation of an oracle. Not on every day could a consultant inquire of the god. Plutarch tells us (Quaest. Graec. 9), on the authority of Callisthenes and Anaxandrides, that originally only one day in the year was assigned for these deliverances, the 7th of the month Bysius (our March). This is hard to believe of any historical period; and even the after-regulation of which he speaks, permitting consultation once a month, seems hardly adequate. We may suppose, in practice, more frequent possibilities of consultation, though by what rule we do not know. That there were unlucky days (apophrades) when no consultation was permissible, is clear from the anecdote about Alexander seeking to force the Pythia to reply on such a day (Plut. Alex. 14). (Her involuntary cry, My son, thou art invincible, was seized on by him as a true answer.) But a powerful and friendly state, seeking to consult the oracle, would hardly be left very long without an opportunity of doing so. No doubt there were distinctions made, the knowledge of which is quite lost to us. The 7th of the month Bysius was, it may be observed, regarded as the birthday of Apollo. Three days before the day of oracular utterance, the Pythia is said to have begun her preparation for the solemn act by fasting and bathing in the Castalian spring (Schol. ad Eurip. Phoen. 223). This last statement has been doubted, but hardly with good reason; at all events to bathe in the fountain of Castalia would seem to have been a duty for all who either asked for or who assisted in giving out the oracular reply (Eurip. Ion, 94-101; Phoen. 222-225; Pindar, Pyth. v. 39, and compare iv. 290; Heliod. Acth. ii. 26). It is just possible that the fountain of Cassotis, which flowed through the actual shrine (Pausanias, l. c.), may have been included under the term Castalia; but it is not likely; and the remains of a rockhewn bath are still to be seen near the Castalian spring. The Pythia herself was chosen from among the virgins of Delphi (Eurip. Ion, 1323); she was not allowed to marry, and in early times was always a young girl; but after the Thessalian Echecrates had seduced a Pythia, women above fifty were selected for the office, though they were still dressed as young maidens. (Diod. l. c.). How strictly these rules were kept, we do not know. In early times there was but one Pythia; later on there were two, and even a third if need were (Plut. Defect. Orac. 8); then again in Plutarch's time a single prophetess sufficed for the reduced clientele of the oracle.
When the day arrived, the various consultants determined by lot their precedence in inquiring; except in the case of certain favoured individuals or states, to whom in return for special services a right of precedence (promanteia) had been accorded; as, e. g. to Croesus and the Lydians (Herod. i. 54), the Lacedaemonians (Plut. Pericl. 21), and to Philip of Macedon (Demosth. Phil. iii. p. 119, § 32). That a certain payment was made to the oracle, appears from the fact that ateleia as well as promanteia was granted to the Lydians. But, however propitious in itself the day might be, it was necessary that the omens should be taken before the votary could actually put his question to. the god. IN the earliest times it is probable that the flight of birds would furnish an augury (cf. Hymn. ad Herm. 540); but in the historical times a sacrifice was invariably offered,--a goat, an ox, a sheep, or a wild boar (Eurip. Ion, 229; Plut. Defect. Or. 49). Extraordinary pains were taken to see that the victim was sound in all respects. An ox was fed on barley, a wild boar on chick-peas, to see whether they ate them with appetite; water was poured on the goats, and it was necessary that they should tremble all over (and not merely move the head, as in other sacrifices) for the omen to be good.
If the omen were not good, to consult the oracle was dangerous; nor was this a mere idle fancy; for Plutarch (Defect. Orac. 51) records one such case in which the Pythia (overwrought doubtless in the highest degree by the imaginations connected with her office) leaped from the tripod, fell into convulsions, and within a few days died.
But if the omens were good, the Pythia, after burning laurel leaves and flour of barley (Plut. Pyth. Orac. 6), or perhaps myrrh (Eurip. Ion, 89), in the never-dying flame (Aesch. Choeph. 1036) on the altar of the god, and dressed in a costume which recalled that of Apollo Musagetes (Plut. ib. 24), mounted the tripod, the three-legged stool, which was suspended over the chasm. Close beside her was a golden statue of Apollo (Pausan. x. 24, § 4). What are we to say about the state of frenzy into which she then fell? Was there true uplifting of the spirit in it, and a mixture of real inspiration? Was the question put to her understood by her, and did her mind, however fienzied, really attempt an answer? Or was she in any degree instructed beforehand? Or was the whole an exhibition of pure raving nonsense? None of these elements would probably be wholly absent; it is but human nature that [p. 283] the inferior should have predominated; but the higher are not quite to be excluded. Of course, the general history of the oracle must guide our opinion.
By the side of the Pythia stood the prophet (Herod. viii. 36; Plut. Defect. Orac. 51), whose office was to interpret her vague and wild cries, and put them into ordered language. His proximity, it may be noted, is clear proof that there was not really any intoxicating vapour in the shrine; else he must inevitably have been infected as well as the Pythia. Sometimes more than one official of this sort attended (he seems to have been called prophet or priest indifferently--the latter is the general term in the inscriptions discovered at Delphi), but no doubt the duty would be discharged by only one at one time. The determination of those who were to serve was made by lot (Eurip. Ion, 416), the whole number of the noble families of Delphi being apparently eligible. Besides these prophet-priests, another band of functionaries must be noticed--the Saints (hosioi), of whom there were five in number, chosen from the most ancient families of Delphi who claimed to be descended from Deucalion (Plut. Quaest. Graec. 9). The victim sacrificed at the time of the appointment of a hosios was called hosioter. It is not quite certain that these Saints were not identical with the priests, Saints and priests being alike distinguished from the prophets ; but in any case the two (or three) classes assisted each other in the whole cycle of duties pertaining to the oracle. Three names of these Deucalionic families are known to us: Cleomantids, Thracids (Diodor. xvi. 24; Lycurg. c. Leocr. § 158), and Laphriads (Hesych. s. v.). (It has been ingeniously conjectured that the Saints were a remnant of old forms of worship, anterior to the arrival of Apollo at Delphi.)
Before proceeding to characterise, as far as can be done, the final upshot of these elaborate schemes of divine guidance, a few minor points may be noted. The responses of the oracle, as delivered to the consultant by the prophet, were at first always in hexameters. It was said that this metre was invented by the first Pythia, Phemonoe; but Dodona set up a rival claim: no doubt both were wrong. The verses, composed on the spur of the moment, were often rough enough; nevertheless, when the oracle betook itself to prose, many regretted the change. Plutarch wrote a treatise in which he tried to make the best of the matter; but it must be admitted, that the main cause of the change, the decline in the dignity of the questions which the oracle was called on to solve (seeing that it no longer had high points of government to deal with), might well excite the regret of its votaries (Plut. Pyth. Orac. 28).
It is implied in various ways, and especially in the accusation against the Pythia Perialla (of having been bribed by king Cleomenes), that the Pythia was not a mere idle instrument in the matter, but really directed, in part, the answers. Some have thought that there were means of divination at Delphi independent of the Pythia; but, in spite of the empura (Eur. And. 1213) and the dreams (Iph. Taur. 1263), all oracular utterances in historical times seem to have been derived from prophetic frenzy. The presence of the ompsalos or sacred stone in the temple served to put the oracles under the highest guarantee, that of Zeus himself; who, it was believed, had determined this stone to be the earth's centre by sending from the remotest east and west a pair of eagles; they met in this point (Pindar, Pyth. iv. 131; iv. 3).
What, in fine, was the good or ill of the Delphic oracle? The general impression that we receive from history is, that it acted for good; and that in the freedom of its own action and the freedom of action of its consultants, it had a great advantage, enabling the Greek race to combine the sense of religious mystery in a rare degree with individual energy; but that it failed, when the Greek race had reached a certain degree of development, in guiding and controlling power. The causes that produced this failure were: the non-reality of the creed of Apollo, whereby intelligent minds were alienated; the attempt on the part of the oracle to be wiser than it could be, and the consequent. recourse to evasion and deception; and the lack (not the entire absence) of positive moral force. In private life, it had various beneficent functions, of which the chief perhaps was the aid that it gave in the manumission of slaves: the advice which it gave to individuals could not probably, except where the moral principle involved was clear (e. g. Herod, vi. 86), rest on any sure ground.
In treating of the oracle in its public aspect, the idea that it had any extraordinary prophetic power, or second sight, must be laid aside; not. that there are not some things in the history that may puzzle us as regards this, especially the first oracle given to Croesus; but the second. oracle to Croesus, being plainly an evasion, demolishes the effect of the first oracle. The miraculous defence of Delphi against the Persians (Herod. viii. 37-39) is one of the best. attested of heathen miracles; the similar defence against the Gauls (Pausan. x. 23, § 3 sqq.) has less evidence: but in the first case a natural explanation is open to us; the second is more frankly legendary.
The real good which the oracle did, and especially in the earlier days, lay in the courage which it imparted through the supernatural blessing of which it was believed to be (and perhaps was) the minister. Sincerity of intention, and the belief in a presiding divine power, were elements of value which, on the whole, it. impressed strongly on society. Whether we can rely or not on the statements that it supported the great legislators, Lycurgus and Solon (Herod. i. 65; Plutarch, Solon, 148), it. unquestionably directed and encouraged the colonising spirit of the Greeks. The most remarkable instance of this is the case of Cyrene, the foundation of which appears to have been. entirely due to the Delphic oracle (Herod. iv. 150-159): King Apollo sends thee, are the words of the oracle to Battus (ib. 155). But Syracuse (Suid. s. v. Archias), Crotona (Strabo, vi. p. 262), Rhegium (ib. p. 257), Magnesia (Athen. iv. p. 173 e), and probably Metapontium (Strabo, vi. p. 264), are also instances in point; and the remark which Herodotus makes (v. 42) that Dorieus did not consult the oracle in his colonising effort shows how exceptional [p. 284] such a case was. There is indeed some likelihood in the supposition that the Delphic oracle had, through its numerous correspondents, real information of the state of foreign countries, such as a private individual could not possess (this is one explanation of the successful reply to Croesus, Herod. i. 47); if so, force would be added to its spiritual encouragement. In the internal relations of Greeks to each other, the oracle was not faultless in its directions, yet sometimes beneficent: e. g. we read (Thucyd. i. 103) that it sent word to the Lacedaemonians to spare the captive Helots at Ithome; on the other hand, it countenanced the futile and rapacious attempt of Cylon (Thucyd. i. 126). It is not said that the Amphictyonic council (whose laudable intention to promote peace among Greeks had so little result) was founded from Delphi; but it had close connexions with the oracle (Strabo, ix. p. 420; Pausan. x. 8, § 1; Aeschin. de Fals. Leg. § 121). Undoubtedly, however, the most important act of the Delphic oracle, as regards the internal affairs of the Greek states, was the command which it issued to Sparta to liberate Athens from the despot Hippias; a command issued to an unwilling but dutiful agent, and successfully carried out (510 B.C.). Few deeds in the world's history have been more fruitful of great consequences; but it was too great a service to be rewarded with gratitude. The Athenians declared that the Pythia had been bribed (Herod. v. 63), and falsely attributed their own liberation to Harmodius and Aristogeiton. The 6th century B.C., in which the last-named event was one of the closing scenes, is that which shows Delphi at the height of its power. It begins with the first Sacred war, in which Delphi was delivered from the rival pretensions and aggressions of Cirrha and Crissa; yet the severity exercised towards those cities is a blot on its fair fame. In the middle of the 6th century the great gifts of Croesus were made; shortly after which (548 B.C.) the temple at Delphi was burnt down, but rebuilt with great splendour by the Alcmaeonidae. Inside this temple the sayings of the seven wise men (of which gnothi seauton, know thyself, is the most famous) were inscribed (Pausan. x. 24, § 1).
The Persian wars show, though almost imperceptibly, a turn in the tide of greatness of Delphi. The oracle perhaps knew too much about the power of the Persians; at all events its tendency was to counsel submission, or, what was tantamount, inactivity. This was the effect of its utterances to the Cnidians (Herod. i. 174), to the Argives (Herod. vii. 148), and to the Cretans (Herod. vii. 169, 171). But such advice was not given through mere cowardice; and in the romantic history of the Persian war, few things are more interesting than the clash of sentiment between the fiery and resolute Athenians and the timid but clear-sighted oracle (Herod. vii. 140-143). The counsel that was hammered out, as it were, between these two contending (but not hostile) forces--the counsel that the Athenians should betake themselves to their wooden walls --was in fact the very best that could have been given; though, had it failed, the oracle would have no doubt sheltered itself under the ambiguity of the term.
The disastrous Peloponnesian war marks the first point in Greek history in which the Delphic oracle sinks below the level required by the situation. Not that it was unnatural, or wholly wrong, for it to support the Spartans (Thucyd. i. 118, 123); but it had no real command over the combatants. The authority of Aelian (V. H. iv. 6) is hardly sufficient for what we would gladly believe, that at the end of the war the oracle pleaded on behalf of Athens. After the beginning of the 4th century B.C. its influence falls. Agesilaus (Plut. Apophthegm. Lacon. Agesil. 10) set it below Dodona; and Epaminondas seems not to have consulted it when Messina was made a state (Pausan. iv. 27, § § 3-6): though he made it gifts after the battle of Leuctra, as Lysander had done at the close of the Peloponnesian war (Plut. Lysander).
As the first Sacred war ushered in the highest fame of the Delphic oracle (B.C. 600-590), so the second Sacred war (B.C. 357-346) marks the beginning of the definite decline, alike of Greece and of Delphi; for it introduced Philip of Macedon into Central Greece. Nor only that; but it was marked by the dispersion of the vast Delphian treasures seized by the Phocians. In the preceding century, such a sacrilege would have been impossible. And though neither Philip nor Alexander intended harm to Delphi, yet the enormous conquests of the latter dispersed the Greek race over many lands, and (what was perhaps of still greater moment) transferred the centre of public interest and of power away from Greece altogether. With the saying of Demosthenes, 7 he Puthia psilippizei, and the exclamation extorted by Alexander from the Pythia, My son, thou art invincible, the public career of the Delphic oracle may be said to close.
Yet it must not be dismissed without one word more. When it declared Socrates the wisest of men, it not only uttered the most remarkable of its deliverances, but also transmitted the sign of its great authority to a moral power that was far to transcend its own, and gave the greatest of its vital impulses exactly when its own apparent force was beginning to wane.
This text is from: A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890) (eds. William Smith, LLD, William Wayte, G. E. Marindin). Cited July 2004 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
North of the Gulf of Corinth, with the twin peaks, the Phaidriades,
above it and the valley of the Pleistos river below, the city (altitude 500-700
m) is superbly situated on the slopes of Mt. Parnassos (2459 m). From there it
overlooks the meeting of the roads coming from the passes of Arachova to the E
and Bralo to the W, which link the Peloponnese to the Greek mainland.
History: At the beginning of the 3d millennium the city of Krisa grew up on the sea coast, on the edge of the fertile plain formed by the deposits of the Pleistos. Removed ca. 1600 B.C. to the Kriso spur, the city was destroyed at the time of the Dorian invasion. Delphi itself was settled no earlier than the Late Bronze Age: the original city, called Lykoreia, was in the region of the Korykian cave. Mycenaean Delphi, "rocky Pytho", was sacred to Athena, Gaia, who spoke oracles through the mouth of a prophetess, and very probably also to Poseidon, Dionysos, the sacred stones (the Omphalos, the Stone of Kronos), and the hero Pyrrhos-Neoptolemos. An avalanche of rocks and mud destroyed the city at the end of the Late Bronze Age.
Delphi became prosperous once again by the 8th c. when the first archaeological evidence of the cult of Pythian Apollo appears. According to the Homeric Hymn, the god seized the Earth oracle by slaying the female dragon that guarded the prophetic spring (Kassotis). Purified of this murder by a sojourn in the valley of Tempe, Apollo spoke his oracles in the Sanctuary of Gaia through a Pythia who sat on a tripod fastened on the edge (stomion) of a chasm (chasma ges) from which issued an inspiring vapor (pneuma). Its first priests were Cretans from Knossos who disembarked at Kirrha; they introduced the cult of Apollo Delphinios (dolphin), brought with them the old wooden idol (xoanon) and probably gave Pytho the name Delphi. Toward the middle of the century Trophonios and Againedes built the first ashlar temple. The sanctuary acquired considerable treasure, arousing the envy of Kirrha, which proceeded to levy dues on the pilgrims. In the course of the first Sacred War (600-586), Kirrha was destroyed (590) by the Amphictyony, a regional association of 12 tribes (from central Greece, Attika, Euboia, the NE Peloponnese) who previously had been grouped around the Sanctuary of Demeter at Thermopylai and probably at this time chose Delphi as the second federal sanctuary. The Ainphictyony reorganized and presided over the Pythian Games, held every four years in the third year of each Olympiad, and added the chariot race. At this time Delphi became truly the "navel of the world": the oracle played an important moral role in colonization, and its fame spread as far as the barbarians. In 548, the temple having been destroyed by fire, the sanctuary was enlarged to its present size and the temple rebuilt by the Athenian family, the Alkmaionidai, with funds collected throughout the Greek world, even from Egypt. Offerings and treasure piled up. Miraculously saved from a Persian raid (480), Delphi received tributes following the Persian Wars (treasury of the Athenians after Marathon, the colossal Apollo of Salamis, golden tripod of Plataia, portico of the Athenians, golden stars of the Aiginetans, trophy of Marinaria, etc.) and minted silver coins. During the second Sacred War (448-446), the Phokians, with the support of Athens, seized the sanctuary, but it was restored to Delphi with the aid of Sparta.
The 4th c. was another golden age for architecture (Temple and Tholos of Athena Pronaia; gymnasium; treasuries of Thebes and Kyrene stadium). The Temple of Apollo, which was ruined in 373, was rebuilt under the guidance of the naopes with funds provided by Delphi, the cities of the Amphictyonic League (which levied a poll tax--epikephalos obolos--on their citizens), and the other Greeks. The building accounts were inscribed on stelai. Philip of Macedon took advantage of the endless quarrel between Delphi and Phokis (third Sacred War, 356-346) and between the Amphictyony and the Lokrians of Amphissa (fourth Sacred War, 340-338) to establish his dominion in Greece and occupy the Phokians' two seats in the Ainphictyonic League. At his instigation silver staters were minted at Delphi; on one side they showed Apollo with the Omphalos and on the other Demeter, veiled.
In 278 the Aitolians repulsed a Gallic invasion (the victory was commemorated by Soteria) and exercised hegemony over the League. The kings of Pergamon showed a pious interest in the sanctuary: Attalos I, having conquered the Gauls in Asia Minor, built a collection of monuments (a portico decorated with paintings, groups of statues, an oikos, a vaulted exedra); Euinenes II and Attalos II gave funds for the schools, for the completion of the theater, and the organization of the Euinenia and Attalaia. In 191 the Romans took the place of the Aitolians as masters of Delphi (the Romaia were instituted at this time). In spite of this powerful protection the sanctuary gradually declined; it was plundered by the Maides of Thrace in 91 and by Sulla in 86. Augustus reorganized the Amphictyony and it was probably in his reign that Delphi instituted a cult of the emperors in the Tholos of Athena. In A.D. 51 Galenus sought Claudius' aid in repopulating the impoverished, half-deserted city. Nero carried off 500 statues, but Doinitian restored the temple. A priest of Apollo from 105 to 126, Plutarch strove to revive the weakened religious life of the city, as did Hadrian and Antoninus later. Herodes Atticus covered the stadium with stone tiers, and in about 170 Pausanias visited the sanctuaries, finding them already dilapidated but still rich in works of art. These, however, were later plundered by Constantine and Theodosius, whose edict of 381 dealt the cult of Apollo its coup de grace. A Christian settlement was built on the ruins.
Institutions: The Amphictyony met twice a year, in the spring (the month of Bysios) and autumn (Boucatios). Each meeting, or pyle, entailed two sessions, one at Thermopylai, the other at Delphi. Consisting of 24 hieroinnemons (two to each people), who if need arose were assisted by pylagorai, the council could in emergencies hold a plenary session (ecclesia) which was open to all the citizens of the Amphictyonic cities. The Amphictyony organized the Pythian Games and, together with Delphi, administered the sanctuary.
Under an oligarchic constitution, political rights being reserved for the demiurges, Delphi was governed by a yearly college of nine (?) prytaneis (the archon eponymus being probably one of them), a Boula, or council, of 15 members in charge during six months, and a popular assembly (ecclesia). The city was responsible for the oracle; it recruited the Pythia, the two priests of Apollo, the two (?) prophets, the five hosioi; collected the consulting taxes (pelanos); assigned the privilege of the promantie (consultation priority); and organized the consultations.
The Oracle: Originally, usual consultations took place only once a year on the seventh day of the month of Bysios (February-March); then at an undetermined time they became monthly (the seventh of each month). The oracle could be questioned every day in special consultations, if the signs were favorable, by those whose cities were officially represented at Delphi by a proxenus. The suppliant first paid the pelanos and provided victims for the preliminary sacrifice and the sacred table, then, following the order fixed by protocol and the drawing of lots, was led into the megaron, in the rear of which was a gap in the stone floor through which the surface of Mt. Parnassos could be seen. This was the place of the oracle (adyton, manteion, chresterion). Here were the tripod, set over the mouth of the prophetic cleft or chasma ges, the Omphalos, the sacred laurel, the suppliants' waiting chamber, Dionysos' tomb, and the golden statue of Apollo. Purified at Castalia, having drunk the water of the Kassotis and chewed laurel leaves, the Pythia, assisted by a prophet and some hosioi, took her place on the tripod and under the influence of the pneuma gave the oracle, either in words or by cleromancy (drawing of lots).
The Monuments: These are in two zones, one E (the Sanctuary of Athena, the gymnasium) and the other W (Sanctuary of Apollo, stadium) of the Kastalian Fountain (altitude 533 m) that gushes forth from the two Phaedriades, Phlemboukos and Rhodini. Traces of two fountains can still be seen, one at the spring itself, cut in the rock, the other (6th c.) built at the edge of the ancient road.
The Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia, in the area called Marmaria, stands on a terrace that was enlarged several times. In the 4th c. the terrace measured about 150 m E-W and 50 in at most N-S. The main entrance is to the E not far from the trophy (now gone) dedicated to Zeus after the defeat of the Persians (480). Beyond altars consecrated to Athena (Pronaia, Zosteria, Ergane, Hygieia), Eileithyia, and Zeus (Polieus, Machaneus) are six monuments oriented S: the Temple of Athena, a Doric peripteral (6 x 12 columns) building of tufa, was built about 500 on the site of a 7th c. temple erected over the Mycenaean sanctuary; it was in ruins in Pausanias' time. The Doric treasury, of unknown origin (c. 480) and the Aiolic treasury of Massalia, later known as the treasury of the Massaliots and the Romans (after the capture of Veii in 394?); both of them, of marble and distyle in antis, were decorated with sculptures. About 390-380, with the "money of the sacrilegious ones" who had massacred suppliants in the sanctuary, the archaic two-cella Temple of Arteinis and Athena (6th c.) was replaced by the Doric limestone temple and marble Doric tholos (with Corinthian interior); the tholos was very likely consecrated to all the gods of Marmaria and later was assigned to the cult of the Roman emperors. The hoplotheca (for arms consecrated to Athena) and the Heroon of Phylakos near the sanctuary have not been identified. The gymnasium (4th c., rebuilt in Roman Imperial times) is on two terraces, one above the other, one bearing the covered portico (xystos) 177.55 in long; the other, the palaestra with its pool. Nearby was a Sanctuary of Deineter and the Heroon of Autonoos (not identified).
The Sanctuary of Pythian Apollo is surrounded by a trapezoidal enclosure wall (195 in maximum N-S, 135 m maximum E-W) of the 6th c. (repaired in the 5th and 4th c.). Its artificial terraces (altitude: 538-601 in approximately), which form tiers on the steep mountainside are linked by the Sacred Way. It was enlarged in the 3d c. when the W portico (Aitolian? 74 m long) and terrace of Attalos I to the E were added. It overflowed with works of art (at least 100 statues lined the first 35 m of the Sacred Way) of marble, bronze, ivory, gold, and silver (offerings of Croesus listed by Herodotos; archaic chryselephantine statues discovered in 1938 underneath the Sacred Way; golden tripod from Plataia, etc.). These were votive offerings commemorating not only Greek victories over the barbarians (Messapii, Persians, Gauls, etc.) but also victories of Greeks over Greeks. "Treasuries" abound at the first turning of the Sacred Way: those of the Sikyonians (ca. 500), Siphnos (ca. 525; admirable sculptures), Thebes (370), Athens (post-490: fine sculptures; Syracuse, "Etruscan" treasury, etc.). Passing in front of the Rock of the Sibyl and the bouleutenon (6th c.), the Sacred Way crosses the "threshing floor", the ancient meeting-place of the ecclesia not far from the prytaneum, where the prytanes gathered. The sphinx of the Naxians and the Treasury of Corinth (end of 7th c.) stand close by the Portico of the Athenians in which were kept the bronze prows and flax cables taken from the pontoon bridge that Xerxes threw over the Hellespont. Many statues were perched on the crest of walls (20 Apollos of the Liparaians), on pillars (the Messenians, Paulus Aemilius, the kings of Pergainon, Prusias), on columns or the two-columned monuments typical of Delphi (Charixenos, the Lykos-Diokles family, etc.); they formed a "crown of bronze" over the sanctuary whose splendor dazzled the invading Gauls. The Sacred Way leads up to the Altar of Chios (6th c., repaired in the 3d and 1st c.) and the temple piazza. The latter is bounded to the N by the ischegaon (4th c., rebuilt in Roman Imperial times) and to the S by the great polygonal wall (6th c.), which is covered with over 700 inscriptions, most of them records of emancipation of slaves. The 4th c. temple, which is Doric peripteral with 6 x 15 columns, was rebuilt after 373 on the consolidated and enlarged foundations of the one before it (end of the 6th c.). In the pronaos, among other things, were the Maxims of the Seven Sages engraved on hems, and in the megaron, the Altar of Hestia, the common hearth of all Greeks, that of Poseidon, and the adyton of the oracle described above. The prophetic Fountain of the Earth and the Muses, Kassotis, part of which was incorporated in the foundations of the archaic temple, was moved for reasons of safety N of the piazza, which was ringed with offerings: the Apollos of Salamis and Sitalcas, both colossal; the tripod of Plataea, the chariot of the Rhodians (4th c.), the Column of the Dancing Maiden (end of the 4th c.), the Family of Daochos of Thessaly (by Lysippus), the chariot of Polyzalos of Gela (whence the "Charioteer", ca. 475), etc. The upper region was taken up by the theater (3d-2d c.) with its 5,000 seats, the lesche (club) of the Cnidians (5th and 4th c.), the Stone of Kronos, and the Temenos of Neoptolemos at the edge of a sacred grove. At the top of the site, a few minutes' walk from the sanctuary, is the stadium. Its 7,000 seats and 178 m of track were used for the Pythian gymnastic contests as well as musical contests before there was a theater. Chariot races were held in the hippodrome down in the plain (not found).
The excavations at Delphi have yielded one of the richest collections of epigraphic material. The museum houses the most important finds, in particular a fine collection of sculpture.
G. Roux, ed.
This text is from: The Princeton encyclopedia of classical sites, Princeton University Press 1976. Cited Oct 2002 from Perseus Project URL below, which contains 137 image(s), bibliography & interesting hyperlinks.
Delphi. A small but important city of Phocis in Greece, situated
on the southern side of Mount Parnassus and built in the form of an amphitheatre.
Justin (xxiv. 6) says that it had no walls, but was defended by its precipices.
Pausanias calls it polis, which seems to imply that it was walled like other
cities. In earlier times it was, perhaps, like Olympia, defended by the sanctity
of its oracle and the presence of its god. These being found insufficient to
afford protection against the enterprises of the profane, it was probably fortified
and became a regular city after the predatory incursions of the Phocians. The
walls may, however, be coeval with the foundation of the city itself; their
high antiquity is not disproved by the use of mortar in the construction, for
some of the Egyptian pyramids are built in a similar manner.
The more ancient name of Delphi was Pytho, from the serpent Python, as is commonly supposed, which was said to have been slain by Apoll. Whence the name Delphi itself was derived we are not informed. Some make the city to have received this name from Delphus, a son of Apollo. Others deduce the appellation from the Greek adelphoi, "brethren" because Apollo and his brother Bacchus were both worshipped there, each having one of the summits of Parnassus sacred to him. The author of the Hymn to Apollo seems to pun on the word Delphi, in making Apollo transform himself into a dolphin. Some supposed that the name was intended to designate Delphi as the centre or navel of the earth.
A short sketch of the history of this most celebrated oracle and temple will not be out of place. Though not so ancient as Dodona, it is evident that the fame of the Delphic shrine had been established at a very early period, from the mention made of it by Homer and the accounts supplied by Pausanias and Strabo. The Homeric Hymn to Apollo informs us that, when the Pythian god was establishing his oracle at Delphi, he beheld on the sea a merchant-ship from Crete; this he directed to Crissa, and appointed the foreigners the servants of his newly established sanctuary, near which they settled. When this story is stripped of the language of poetry, it can only mean that a Cretan colony founded the temple and oracle of Delphi. Strabo reports that it was at first consulted only by the neighbouring States; but that after its fame became more widely spread, foreign princes and nations eagerly sought responses from the sacred tripod, and loaded the altar of the god with rich presents and costly offerings (420). Pausanias states that the most ancient temple of Apollo at Delphi was formed, according to some, out of branches of bay, and that these branches were cut from the tree that was at Tempe. The form of this temple resembled that of a cottage.
After mentioning a second and a third temple--the one raised, as the Delphians said, by bees from wax and wings, and sent by Apollo to the Hyperboreans, and the other built of brass--he adds that to this succeeded a fourth and more stately edifice of stone, erected by two architects named Trophonius and Agamedes . Here were deposited the sumptuous presents of Gyges and Midas, Alyattes and Croesus, as well as those of the Sybarites, Spinetae, and Siceliots, each prince and nation having their separate chapel or treasury for the reception of these offerings, with an inscription attesting the name of the donor and the cause of the gift. This temple having been accidentally destroyed by fire in B.C. 548, the Amphictyons undertook to build another for the sum of three hundred talents, of which the Delphians were to pay one fourth. The remainder of the amount is said to have been obtained by contributions from the different cities and nations. Amasis, king of Egypt, furnished a thousand talents of electrum. The Alcmaeonidae, a wealthy Athenian family, undertook the contract, and agreed to construct the edifice of Porine stone, but afterwards liberally substituted Parian marble for the front, a circumstance which is said to have added considerably to their influence at Delphi. According to Strabo and Pausanias, the architect was Spintharus, a Corinthian. The vast riches accumulated in this temple led Xerxes, after having forced the pass of Thermopylae, to send a portion of his army into Phocis, with a view of securing Delphi and its treasures, which, as Herodotus affirms, were better known to him than the contents of his own palace. The enterprise, however, failed, owing, as it was reported by the Delphians, to the manifest interposition of the deity, who terrified the barbarians and hurled destruction on their scattered bands. Many years subsequent to this event, the temple fell into the hands of the Phocians, headed by Philomelus, who did not scruple to appropriate its riches to the payment of his troops in the war he was then waging against Thebes. The Phocians are said to have plundered the temple during this contest of gold and silver to the enormous amount of 10,000 tal ents, or about $11,000,000. At a still later period, Delphi became exposed to a formidable attack from a large body of Gauls, headed by their king, Brennus. These barbarians, having forced the defiles of Mount Oeta, possessed themselves of the temple and ransacked its treasures. The booty which they obtained on this occasion is stated to have been immense; and this they must have succeeded in removing to their own country, since we are told that, on the capture of Tolosa, a city of Gaul, by the Roman general Caepio, a great part of the Delphic spoils was found there. Pausanias, however, relates that the Gauls met with great disasters in their attempt on Delphi, and were totally discomfited through the miraculous intervention of the god. Sulla is also said to have robbed this temple as well as those of Olympia and Epidaurus. Strabo assures us that in his time the temple was greatly impoverished, all the offerings of any value having been successively removed. The emperor Nero carried off, according to Pausanias (x. 7), five hundred statues of bronze at one time. Constantine the Great, however, proved a more fatal enemy to Delphi than either Sulla or Nero. He removed the sacred tripods to adorn the Hippodrome of his new city, where, together with the Apollo, the statues of the Heliconian Muses, and a celebrated statue of Pan, they were extant when Sozomen wrote his history. Among these tripods was the famous one which the Greeks, after the battle of Plataea, found in the camp of Mardonius. The Brazen Column which supported this tripod is still to be seen at Constantinople.
The spot whence issued the prophetic vapour which inspired the priestess was said to be the central point (omphalos) of the earth, this having been proved by Zeus himself, who despatched two eagles from opposite quarters of the heavens, which there encountered each other. The Omphalos was marked by a stone in the shape of half an egg. Strabo reports that the golden tripod was placed over the mouth of the cave, whence proceeded the exhalation, and which was of great depth. On this sat the Pythia, who, having caught the inspiration, pronounced her oracles in extempore prose or verse; if the former, it was immediately versified by the poet always employed for that purpose. The oracle itself is said to have been discovered by accident. Some goats having strayed to the mouth of the cavern, were suddenly seized with convulsions; those likewise by whom they were found in this situation having been affected in a similar manner, the circumstance was deemed supernatural and the cave pronounced the seat of prophecy. Earthquakes have long since obliterated the chasm. The priestess could only be consulted on certain days. The season of inquiry was the spring, during the month Busius. Sacrifices and other ceremonies were to be performed by those who sought an answer from the oracle before they could be admitted into the sanctuary.
The most remarkable of the Pythian responses are those which Herodotus records as having been delivered to the Athenians before the invasion of Xerxes; to Croesus; to Lycurgus; to Glaucus the Sparta. One relative to Agesilaus is cited by Pausanias. There was, however, as it appears, no difficulty in bribing and otherwise influencing the Pythia herself, as history presents us with several instances of this imposture. Thus we are told that the Alcmaeonidae suggested on one occasion such answers as accorded with their political designs. Cleomenes, king of Sparta, also prevailed on the priestess to aver that his colleague Demaratus was illegitimate. On the discovery, however, of this machination, the Pythia was removed from her office. Delphi derived further celebrity from its being the place where the Amphictyonic Council held one of their assemblies, and also from the institution of the games which that body established after the successful termination of the Crissaean War.
The site of Delphi is occupied by the modern hamlet of Kastri. There still exist at Delphi a part of the wall of the great temple of Apollo with columns and steps, a fragment of a curious marble sphinx, the "Column of the Naxians" with an inscription, a small part of the theatre, a carefully constructed tomb, remains of the Stoa of the Athenians, and some other remnants of the ancient buildings.
This text is cited Sep 2002 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
Oracula (manteia, "oracular responses", or the "seats of oracles:;
chresteria is used in the same senses, and also of victims offered by persons
consulting an oracle). The seats of the worship of some special divinity, where
prophecies were imparted with the sanction of the divinity, either by the priests
themselves or with their co-operation. There were many such places in all Greek
countries, and these may be divided, according to the method in which the prophecy
was made known, into four main divisions: (1) oral oracles, (2) oracles by signs,
(3) oracles by dreams, and (4) oracles of the dead.
(1) The most revered oracles were those of the first class, where the divinity, almost invariably the god Apollo, orally revealed his will through the lips of inspired prophets or prophetesses. The condition of frenzy was produced, for the most part, by physical influences: the breathing of earthy vapours or drinking of the water of oracular fountains. The words spoken while in this state were generally fashioned by the priests into a reply to the questions proposed to them. The most famous oracle of this kind was that of Delphi (see further below). Besides this there existed in Greece Proper a large number of oracles of Apollo, as at Abae in Phocis, in different places of Boeotia, in Euboea, and at Argos, where the priestess derived her inspiration from drinking the blood of a lamb, one being killed every month. Not less numerous were the oracles of Apollo in Asia Minor. Among these that of the Didymaean Apollo at Miletus traced its origin to the old family of the Branchidae, the descendants of Apollo's son Branchus. Before its destruction by Xerxes, it came nearest to the reputation of the Delphian. Here it was a priestess who prophesied, seated on a wheel-shaped disc, after she had bathed the hem of her robe and her feet in a spring, and had breathed the steam arising from it. The oracle at Clarus, near Colophon (see Manto), was also very ancient. Here a priest, after simply hearing the names and the number of those consulting the oracle, drank of the water of a spring, and then gave answer in verse.
(2) The most venerated among the oracles where prophecy was given by signs was that of Zeus of Dodona, mentioned as early as Homer ( Od.xiv. 327-xix. 296), where predictions were made from the rustling of the sacred oak, and at a later time from the sound of a brazen cymbal. Another mode of interpreting by signs, as practised especially at the temple of Zeus at Olympia by the Iamidae, or descendants of Iamus, a son of Apollo, was that derived from the entrails of victims and the burning of the sacrifices on the altar. There were also oracles connected with the lot or dice, one especially at the temple of Heracles at Bura, in Achaia; and prophecies were also delivered at Delphi by means of lots, probably only at times when the Pythia was not giving responses. The temple of the Egyptian Ammon, who was identified with Zeus, also gave oracles by means of signs.
(3) Oracles given in dreams were generally connected with the temples of Asclepius. After certain preliminary rites, sick persons had to sleep in these temples; the priests interpreted their dreams, and dictated, accordingly, the means to be taken to insure recovery. The most famous of these oracular shrines of the healing god was the temple at Epidaurus, and next to this the temple founded thence at Pergamum, in Asia Minor. Equally famous were the similar oracles of the seer Amphiaraus at Oropus, of Trophonius at Lebadea, in Boeotia, and of the seers Mopsus and Amphilochus at Mallus, in Cilicia. In later times such oracles were connected with all sanctuaries of Isis and Serapis.
(4) At oracles of the dead (psuchomanteia) the souls of deceased persons were evoked in order to give the information desired. Thus, in Homer ( Od.xi), Odysseus betakes himself to the entrance of the lower world to question the spirit of the seer Tiresias. Oracles of this kind were especially common in places where it was supposed there was an entrance to the lower world; as at the city of Cichyrus in Epirus (where there was an Acherusian lake as well as the rivers of Acheron and Cocytus, bearing the same names as those of the world below), at the promontory of Taenarum in Laconia, at Heraclea in Pontus, and at Lake Avernus, near Cumae, in Italy. At most of them oracles were also given in dreams; but there were some in which the inquirer was in a waking condition when he conjured up the spirits whom he wished to question.
While oracles derived either from dreams or from the dead were chosen in preference by superstitious people, the most important among oral oracles and those given by means of signs had a political significance. On all serious occasions they were questioned on behalf of the State in order to ascertain the divine will: this was especially the case with the oracle of Delphi. In consequence of the avarice and partisanship of the priests, as well as the increasing decline of belief in the gods, the oracles gradually fell into abeyance, to revive again everywhere under the Roman emperors, though they never regained the political importance they had once had in ancient Greece.
Such investigation of the divine will was originally quite foreign to the Romans. Even the mode of prophesying by means of lots (see Sortes), practised in isolated regions of Italy, and even in the immediate neighbourhood of Rome, as at Caere, and especially at Praeneste, did not come into use, at all events for State purposes, and was generally regarded with contempt. The Romans did not consult even the Sibylline verses in order to forecast the future. On the other hand, the growth of superstition in the imperial period not only brought the native oracles into repute, but caused a general resort to foreign oracles besides. The inclination to this kind of prophecy seems never to have been more generally spread among the masses of the people than at this time. Apart from the Greek oracular deities, there were the oriental deities, whose worship was nearly everywhere combined with predictions. In most of the famous sanctuaries the most various forms of prophecy were represented, and the stranger they were the better they were liked. In the case of the oral oracles, the responses in earlier times were, for the most part, composed in verse; on the decay of poetic productiveness, they began to take the form of prose, or of passages from the poets, the Greeks generally adopting lines of Homer or Euripides; the Italians, lines of Vergil. The public declaration of oracles ended with the official extermination of paganism under Theodosius at the end of the fourth century.
The following is a list of the most celebrated oracles:
(1) Of Zeus: at Dodona, in Epirus, the most ancient of all; at Olympia, with the Iamidae and Clytiades as its priests; and of Zeus Ammon in a Libyan oasis in the northwest of Egypt.
(2) Of Apollo: at Delphi; at Abae, in Phocis; at Tegyraia, in Boeotia; at Mount Ptoon, near Acraephia; of Apollo Ismenius, near Thebes, the national oracle of the Thebans; of Hysiae, at the base of Mount Cithaeron; at Eutresis, near Leuctra; of Apollo Didymaeus, in the territory of Miletus, with the Branchidae as its ministers; at Claros, north of Miletus; at Patara, in Lycia; at Cyaneae, in Lycia; of Apollo Sarpedonius at Seleucia, in Cilicia; at Hybla, in Magnesia; at Grynea or Grynium, in Asia Minor; at Methymna, in Lesbos; at Chalcedon; at Delos; at Argos; at Daphne, in Syria (in later times).
(3) Of Gaea (the Earth): at Aegira, in Achaia, and at Patrae; of Pluto and Persephone at Acharaca, in Asia Minor, near Tralles; of Bacchus, at Amphiclea, in Phocis, and at Satrae, in Thrace; of Hermes, at Pharae, in Achaia; and of the Nymphs on Mount Cithaeron.
(4) There were also oracles of heroes--e. g. of Asclepius, at Epidaurus and Pergamus; of Trophonius, at Lebadea; of Tiresias, at Orchomenus; of Amphiaraus, near Thebes and near Oropus; of Mopsus, at Mallos, in Cilicia; of Calchas and Podalirius, on Mount Dion, in Southern Italy; of Protesilaus, at Elaeus, in the Thracian Chersonesus; of Autolycus, the Argonaut, at Sinope; and of Odysseus, in Aetolia.
(5) There were Italian oracles of Faunus at Albunea and of Fortuna at Praeneste and Antium ( De Div. ii. 41, 85). At Caere and at Falerii there were "lots" (sortes), from which oracles or perhaps omens were inferred (Livy, xxii. 1).
As the Delphic oracle is by far the most famous and the one to which allusion is oftenest made in literature, a somewhat more detailed account of it may be of interest. Its seat was on the southwestern spur of Parnassus in a valley of Phocis. In historical times the oracle appears in possession of Apollo; but the original possessor, according to the story, was Gaea (Eumen. 1, 2). Then it was shared by her with Poseidon (Eurip. Ion, 446), who gave up his part in it to Apollo in exchange for the island of Calauria, Themis, the daughter and successor of Gaea, having already given Apollo her share. According to the Homeric hymn to the Pythian Apollo, the god took forcible possession of the oracle soon after his birth, slaying with his earliest bow-shot the serpent Pytho, the son of Gaea, who guarded the spot. To atone for his murder, Apollo was forced to fly and spend eight years in menial service before he could return forgiven. A festival, the Septeria, was held every year, at which the whole story was represented: the slaying of the serpent, and the flight, atonement, and return of the god. Apollo was represented by a boy, both of whose parents were living. The dragon was symbolically slain, and his house, decked out in costly fashion, was burned. Then the boy's followers hastily dispersed, and the boy was taken in procession to Tempe, along the road formerly followed by the god. Here he was purified and brought back by the same road, accompanied by a chorus of maidens singing songs of joy. The oracle proper was a cleft in the ground in the innermost sanctuary, from which arose cold vapours, which had the power of inducing ecstasy. Over the cleft stood a lofty gilded tripod of wood. On this was a circular slab, upon which the seat of the prophetess was placed. The prophetess, called Pythia, was a maiden of honourable birth; in earlier times a young girl, but in a later age a woman of over fifty, still wearing a girl's dress, in memory of the earlier custom. In the prosperous times of the oracle two Pythias acted alternately, with a third to assist them. In the earliest times the Pythia ascended the tripod only once a year, on the birthday of Apollo, the seventh of the Delphian spring month Bysius. But in later years she prophesied every day, if the day itself and the sacrifices were not unfavourable. These sacrifices were offered by the supplicants, adorned with laurel crowns and fillets of wool. Having prepared herself by washing and purification, the Pythia entered the sanctuary, with gold ornaments in her hair and flowing robes upon her; she drank of the water of the fountain Cassotis, which flowed into the shrine, tasted the fruit of the old bay-tree standing in the chamber, and took her seat. No one was present but a priest, called the prophetes (and prophetis), who explained the words she uttered in her ecstasy, and put them into metrical form, generally hexameters. In later times the votaries were contented with answers in prose. The responses were often obscure and enigmatical, and couched in ambiguous and metaphorical expressions, which themselves needed explanation. The order in which the applicants approached the oracle was determined by lot, but certain cities, as Sparta, had the right of priority.
The reputation of the oracle stood very high throughout Greece until the time of the Persian Wars, especially among the Dorian tribes, and among them pre-eminently the Spartans, who had stood from of old in intimate relation with it. On all important occasions, as the sending out of colonies, the framing of internal legislation or religious ordinances, the god of Delphi was consulted, and that not only by Greeks, but by foreigners, especially the people of Asia and Italy. After the Persian Wars the influence of the oracle declined, partly in consequence of the growth of unbelief, partly from the mistrust excited by the partiality and venality of the priesthood, who sometimes were bribed into giving oracles favourable to the inquirer, and in the case of Philip of Macedon, when Demosthenes said, he puthia philippizei. But it never fell completely into discredit, and from time to time its position rose again. In the first half of the second century A.D. it had a revival, the result of the newly awakened interest in the old region. It was abolished at the end of the fourth century A.D. by Theodosius the Great.
The oldest stone temple of Apollo was attributed to the mythical architects, Trophonius and Agamedes. It was burned down in B.C. 548, when the Alcmaeonidae, at that time in exile from Athens, undertook to rebuild it for the sum of 300 talents, partly taken from the treasure of the temple, and partly contributed by all countries inhabited by Greeks and standing in connection with the oracle. They put the restoration into the hands of the Corinthian architect Spintharus, who carried it out in a more splendid style than was originally agreed upon, building the front of Parian marble instead of limestone. The groups of sculpture in the pediments represented, on the eastern side, Apollo with Artemis, Leto, and the Muses; on the western side, Dionysus with the Thyiades and the setting sun; for Dionysus was worshipped here in winter during the imagined absence of Apollo. These were all the work of Praxias and Androsthenes, and were finished about B.C. 430. The temple was, on account of its vast extent, a hypaethral building--that is, there was no roof over the space occupied by the temple proper. The architecture of the exterior was Doric, of the interior Ionic, as may still be observed in the surviving ruins. On the walls of the entrance-hall were short texts written in gold, attributed to the Seven Sages. One of these was the celebrated "Know Thyself" (gnothi seauton, Pausan. x. 24, 1). In the temple proper stood the golden statue of Apollo, and in front of it the sacrificial hearth with the eternal fire. Near this was a globe of marble covered with fillets, the Omphalos, or centre of the earth. In earlier times two eagles stood at its side, representing the two eagles which fable said had been sent out by Zeus at the same moment from the eastern and western ends of the world. These eagles were carried off in the Phocian War, and their place filled by two eagles in mosaic on the floor. Behind this space was the inner shrine, lying lower, in the form of a cavern over the cleft in the earth. Within the spacious precincts (peribolos) stood a great number of chapels, statues, votive offerings, and treasure-houses of the various Greek states, in which they deposited their gifts to the sanctuary, especially the tithes of the booty taken in war. Here, too, was the council-chamber of the Delphians. Before the entrance to the temple was the great altar for burnt-offerings, and the golden tripod, dedicated by the Greeks after the battle of Plataea, on a pedestal of brass, representing a snake in three coils, and of which the greater part now stands in the Hippodrome at Constantinople. Besides the treasures accumulated in the course of time, the temple had considerable property in land, with a population consisting mainly of slaves (hierodouloi), bound to pay contributions and to render service to the sanctuary. The management of the property was in the hands of priests chosen from the noble Delphian families, at their head the five hosioi or consecrated ones. Since the first spoliation of the temple by the Phocians in B.C. 355, it was several times plundered on a grand scale. Nero, for instance, is said to have carried off 500 bronze statues. Yet some 3000 statues were to be seen there in the time of the elder Pliny.
This text is from: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities. Cited Oct 2003 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
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