oracle of Delphi

Delphi History
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Located on the southern slopes of Mount Parnassus. Delphi was sacred to Apollo, whose famous temple and prophetic shrine were there. In honor of the killing of the monster Python by Apollo, the Pythian Games were held in Delphi every four years. A priestess was known as the Pythia in honour of Apollo’s slaying of a mythical beast called the Python. The trancelike state in which the Delphic oracle (always a woman) delivered her prophecies was induced by vapors that rose from the earth underneath the temple of Apollo. Long dismissed as a legend, this story received confirmation from the findings (2001)

Outline of the oracle

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TheatreAbove the Temple of Apollo is an outdoor theater with 33 tiers of stone seats that could hold up to 5,000 people. It was built partially out of the living rock with some of the supporting masonry dating to fifth century BCE. Four pillars remain of the Roman Triumphal Arch which formed the entrance at the south-eastern corner, built by Herodes Atticus, the famous Athenian philanthropist.

The Theatre

Temple of Apollo

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The ancient Greek shrine of Apollo rests on the side of Mount Parnassus where the Oracles made their predictions (below) centre piece of Delphi, built with donations from every Greek city-state and from abroad the base of the temple still stands, with half a dozen of the original columns on the outside of the base are over 700 inscriptions, most announcing the release of slaves, which was considered a special act of piety (devotion to

Sacred way

Upon arriving at Delphi, the supplicants registered and paid a fee; when their appointments neared, they purified themselves at the Castalian Spring, where the bathing trough is still visible. They then proceeded along the Sacred Way, a zigzag flagstone walk up the hill. The Sacred Way was lined with statues and offerings, most of which have long disappeared, although a few surviving examples can be seen in the Delphi Museum. Also along the way were a series of treasuries, small shrines sponsored by various Greek cities as thank-offerings for important victories.  The Sacred Way ended outside the temple, there the pilgrims would sacrifice a sheep or goat, whose entrails( inner parts) were examined by the priests for omens( future). Then the pilgrims entered one by one to ask the sibyl their question. A carved domed rock, the omphalos, or centre of the earth, was kept at the place of prophecy. In an ancient flood story about the human race, the omphalos was the first thing to emerge from the waters as they receded. In addition, Zeus sent two ravens out from the ends of the earth to find its center, and their beaks touched at the omphalos. The stone is presently kept in a

Castalia Spring/ The Athena Pronoia Temple
The Castalia Springtucked into a ravine right under the Phaedriades. Apollo is said to have planted a laurel tree here which he brought from the Vale of Tempe. All visitors purified themselves here before entering the sanctuary.  Many poets found inspiration from drinking the waters here and it was said that if you drink of the waters of the Castalia Spring, you would return to Greece.    The Athena Pronoia Temple ( "The Marmaria") small sacred terrace  The first Athena temple was built in the Archaic period and was a small peripheral temple and known as the Athena Pronaia temple, the "Athena-in-frontof-the-temple" (Guardian of the Temple). Tholos of Athena Pronoia

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Between the Marmaria and the Castalia Spring, south of the ArachovaDelphi road  This two-level complex of athletic building was built in the late Classical and Hellenistic periods and rebuilt during the Roman period. On the upper level was the xystos or long colonnade where the athletes practiced in bad weather and a parallel track in the open air. On the lower level are the remains of a peristyle court which served as a palaestra or wrestling ground, which is the most recognizable of the standing remains. A monastery was built into this Palaestra, actually reusing some of the ancient walls. It was moved out when the village was relocated in 1891. Next to the palaestra were a bath complex with a cold plunge and some baths built into the back of the terrace

in the museum is a copy of the omphalos stone and the Halos Treasure, religious objects from the sanctuary ritually buried in a pit called a bothros.

The Museum

The highlight of the museum's collection is  a bronze statue known as The Charioteer. It was sculpted in about 470 BC and commemorated the victory of a Syracusan prince in a chariot race of the Pythian games and was probably paid for by Gelon, the tyrant of Syracuse. It is one of the few ancient bronzes to come down to us as most would have been melted down to reuse their valuable raw material. It was part of a group which would have stood on a terrace wall up slope from the Temple of Apollo. It fell from this terrace and was preserved by a landslide to be excavated by the French in 1896. It is famous for the contrast between its severe Classical formality and its intensity and life-like aspects.

The Oracle
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Home of the sacred oracle of the sun-god Apollo Apollo was believed to send messages to humans through a cleft in the rocks These sayings were interpreted by the oracle, a priestess known as the Pythia The oracles replies were usually so ambiguous that it was difficult ever to prove them wrong, but this does not seem to have discouraged supplicants. Greeks and non-Greeks, kings, and commoners, came to consult the oracle of private and public matters

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It was first necessary to sacrifice an animal, then to wait in the inner chamber of the temple Priestesses ( there were three altogether) were women over 50 years of age. They first cleansed themselves in the scared spring of Castalia and drank water from another spring. They chewed bay leaves while seated on a tripod suspended over a cleft in the rocks “The vapours issuing from the cleft were supposed to give the priestesses (Pyhtia) a heightened consciousness and cause prophetic utterances.” These cries would then be interpreted by a male prophet usually in ambiguous verse

4. Ambiguous Verses

1. Castalia Spring


2. Bay Leaves




During the 8th century the city states began to seek the oracle’s advice on colonizing ventures, and it grew in importance.  Was consulted on a wide range of personal and political problems.  Gained importance as a meeting-place with the establishment of the Pythian games about 590BCE Political Figures that visited the Oracle  Oedipus—> “ Prophesized that he would kill his father and marry his mother.”  When grown, Oedipus heard the prophecy about himself and fled Corinth, believing that Polybius was his father. While on the road he killed a stranger, not knowing that it was Laius. Entering Thebes, he found the city dominated by a sphinx who killed anyone who could not solve her riddle: "Who goes on four feet in the morning, on two at noon, and in the evening on three?" Oedipus vanquished her by replying, "Man, in the three ages of his life," and won the hand of the widowed queen.  Before the Battle of Salamis when the Pythia first predicted doom and later predicted that a 'wooden wall' (interpreted by the Athenians to mean their ships) would save them.  king Croesus of Lydia (circa 546 BCE) who asked if he should invade Persian territory. His reply from the oracle was, if he did invade a mighty empire would be destroyed. Croesus thinking he would be victorious invaded, but it was his own empire that fell and subsequently destroyed.  Socrates  Alexander the Great  Sophocles


Short Term

The city states made rich offerings to Apollo to invoke his help. Became prosperous The interpretations of the ambiguous verses lead to the downfall of some countries. (economically)

Long Term
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“ Personal ethics and social morality were given great importance, and the sanction given to overseas settlements enhanced the sanctuary’s influence in the wider Greek world.” Towns in Greece wanting to establish new settlements abroad, often consulted the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi Local Greek farmers would consult the oracle for advice on crops and harvesting Helped people make decisions In conclusion, this advice and ritual of visiting the oracle became imbedded into their every

Impact on Greece
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In Greek history the chief significance of Delphi was that it provided a meeting place for the inhabitants of the citystates. Pythian games established around 590BCE. In religion its influence was conservative. “On the subject of purification from bloodshed, it took a strong stand and gradually evolved the doctrine that purity was a matter of the spirit rather than of ritual. Its moderate philosophy was well summarized by the maxims inscribed on the wall of the Temple of Apollo "Know thyself" and “Nothing in excess.“ Some of the prophecies lead to the destruction of some civilizations or their salvation. People became dependent on the prophecies given

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In conclusion, the Oracle of Delphi was a place where Greeks, and non-Greeks, kings, and commoners came to consult the oracle on private and public matters. Delphi was sacred to Apollo, the god of prophecy and patron of philosophy and the arts, whose famous temple and prophetic shrine were there. Delphi was considered the center of known world. ( According to Zeus) The oracle helped people make decisions, such as harvesting crops and going to battle. The sanctuary’ had an influence on the wider Greek world.

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What was the Oracle of Delphi? Why did people go there? Do you believe in Prophecies? Why do people find the need to know their future? If you went to a psychic would you believe what they say about your future? Can people really predict the future? Do you have control over your destiny, or believe in fate? Do you think that hearing prophecies can lead to your downfall? Do you believe that someone who is intoxicated (bay leaves) would be able to make a clear prophecy of your future? Explain.


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