The Oracle OF DelphiBy Manojj Dhinakaran
December 19, 2018
Technology and other advancements have made the ancient traditions of soothsaying and prophecy bogus and sometimes proved them to be a sort of tangible events orchestrated by bright minds of deception. But for the ancient world, the oracles were the only hope in the dark ages. Some of those traditions of faith and belief still continue to this date in many countries. The Delphic Oracle was one among the important figures of the ancient world that decided the course of the history in many cases. These Oracles were revered as gods and were worshipped and consulted at every turn of events for their opinion upon them. Major events like war and other issues relating to the kingdom were mostly taken cautiously with their guidance.
Origin of the Oraculum :
According to ancient Greek mythology, all father Zeus wanted to find the perfect place for the people of the earth to listen to the commandments of the gods. He sent two eagles to circle the earth and find the centre of the earth. The eagles flew above Delphi and marked it so. Determined to erect a temple at the site Zeus ordered his son Apollo to the task. Upon reaching the site, Apollo discovered that the place was a chasm of darkness lurking with the most detestable of all demons. Among them was the Python, the arch nemesis of Apollo. During his childhood his mother, Leto gave birth to him on Mount Cynthus on the island of Delos. It was alleged that his mother was tormented by this great serpent while she was pregnant and trying to seek a safe asylum from the eyes of the great mother Hera on whom her husband cheated on. Bearing the child of Zeus, she earned an ill favour with Hera who released the demon on her. Apollo took this very seriously and wanted revenge on the injustice done to his innocent mother. And now, he had got the chance to avenge the pains of his mother that she went through while raising him. Upon reaching the place the war raged on between the two. Apollo with his silver bow and golden arrows fought the python with its sharp fangs and massive size. Finally, the battle was over, with Apollo triumphing over the evil. Thus as a symbol of victory, the people of the surrounding area constructed a temple dedicated to him. As a return favour, the gods thought the humans the art of divination in the temple and allowed the chosen one to prophesize, who then became the Oracle. It was said at that time of victory, the fumes that arose from the python’s decaying body gave rise to a trance-like feeling making the young god able to freely possess the humans and communicate with them. The blood of the python also seeped through the plants making them give the same effect when consumed giving the ability for the chosen to divination.
Life of the Oracle through the History:
The Oracle was seen as the guiding force of the nation and as the voice of the Gods above. The Oracles were young girls whose purity was not violated. They were groomed in every possible subject like arts, music, political science, history, and medicine. This was the custom of the people until 217BC, when a Thessalian military officer Echecrates fell in love with the then Oracle, kidnapped her and violated her resulting in a great distress. Thus from then on the oracles were ladies of higher intellect often over fifty years of age. They were appointed as the high priestess (Pythia) of the temple and sat on a special throne over a small hole that let of vapours that had the ability to make the person go in a trance, sometimes the herbs and other burning of incense gave this effect. The oracle was always to remain in the sanctum sanctorum of the temple where no one other than the priestess was to tread. Only one of the people who seek the oracle was allowed at a time for a very brief time. The policy of prophecy was not available through the year but only during the summer as it was believed that Apollo would leave the temple to the northern lands of summer during the winter season and the temple was to be occupied by the wine god Dionysus, who gave faulty premonitions.
Fall of Delphi:
Though the city was considered to be the next in power and fame to Athens, the city only short-lived its life. The constant attacks by the Persians and Gauls, the city fell into ruins. After the Roman conquest of Greece, Delphi came into the hands of the Roman emperors. Despite the change, Delphi still flourished for a while, but the divination given were often faulty compared to its predecessors, making it unpopular among the people. Delphi continued to exist until Theodosius, the Roman emperor ordered the closing of all the temples of paganism and called for the complete conversion towards Christianity. After this Delphi served as an abode for some Christian monks finally bring abandoned by the 7th century CE.
Delphi was one the magnificent places that existed in the ancient world. Its architectural superiority over all the other cities showed its importance and power. The temple of Apollo was one of the most significant structures of the city next to glory to the Athena Pantheon at Athens. But people’s greed and less importance to cultural diversity and tolerance led to its fall. Despite a lot of archaeological digs and surveys giving us insight into their early life, no one will be able to piece the actual history apart from theories and speculations.