Geographically, Delphi is a municipality located in the middle of Greece. Historically, Delphi was home of the temples of Athena and Apollo and known as the greatest oracle in ancient history. Personally, Delphi was the love of my life, my guardian angel in this life and the next.
Situated in a valley on the foot of Mount Parnassus, the modern day town of Delphi exists purely because of the ancient site near it. Per year, millions of people visit the UNESCO ruins and hotels, restaurants and shops provide income for the townspeople.
It is no surprise people are attracted to the site, they have been since pre-history. Since 800 BC the site was used for worship of both Apollo and Athena, but artifacts from as far back as 4000 BC have been found. The first temples were built around 700 BC and have been used for rituals for at least two centuries AD. It is even said the oracle foretold the reign of Emperor Hadrian!
The rise of Christianity inevitably inhibited much of the ancient practices and around 700 AD a completely new village was built on the remains of the ancient temples. It wasn’t until 1860 that German archaeologists started to excavate the site and its historic importance became undeniable, which was acknowledged by UNESCO in 1987.
In ancient times, Delphi was considered the centre of the world. Legend says Zeus sent out two eagles, each to one side of the world. Where they’d meet again, would be the centre of the earth and the Omphalos (Greek: bellybutton) was made to mark the spot. This Ompahlos was where the oracle was consulted.
It is of course more than likely this story was created long after the locations initial use for prophesizing. But it comes as no surprise the site was then dedicated to both Athena and Apollo, for Athena is considered the goddess of wisdom and her brother Apollo as the god of light. His divine light was said to penetrate that which could not be seen by the eyes of humans, therefor needing the help of an oracle to make his will known.
The oracle was embodied by a female sibyl, known only at Delphi as the Pythia. The job of Pythia would be for life, bound by specific rules and giving up everything else. Seated on a tripod over the Omphalos, she would come in to trance and expel often incoherent sounds, maybe words and sentences. Priests dedicated to Apollo would then interpret these utterings in to understandable verses. An example:
Sophocles is wise, Euripides is wiser, but of all men Socrates is wisest.
This is said to be the answer to a question asked by one of Socrates’ friends. However, not all the interpretations from the priests were that specific. In 67 AD the 30 year old, mother murdering emperor Nero was told:
Your presence here outrages the god you seek. Go back, matricide! The number 73 marks the hour of your downfall!
The room for interpretation still left in this statement led Nero to believe he would reign until the age of 73. It turns out it would be the age of his conquerer, merely a year after the consultation at Delphi.
As with all oracles, they are subject to both the interpretation of the prophet and the receiver. The above mentioned prophecies are also subject to the knowledge of history, being found and translated long after the foretold events came to pass and so influencing its meaning.
Nonetheless, both Delphi and oracles in general are of great importance, if only for its learning purposes. The greatest personal importance of Delphi I will describe in a separate post.