Delphi was considered one of the most important religious sites in Ancient Greece. It was home to the Delphic Oracle called Pythia, from which all women who held that position were known. Pythia had the power of foresight, a gift given by Apollo but the problem was no one could understand what she was saying. Enter the Priests of Apollo, the only ones who could interpret the seer’s words. But before we continue let’s turn the clock back…
During the Mykenean period [1600 to 1100 BC], Delphi was the site of worship for Mother Earth (Ge) whose son Python would protect the area. In the 11th Century BC, Apollo swoops in, kills Python who had raped his and Artemis’ mother Leto, declares Delphi his and the ancient worship of Ge fades into a lost memory. In place of Python we have Pythia–see the resemblance of the two words–whom Apollo seats as his mouthpiece and provide humans with possible insight into their future. The Ancients believed the god passed his divination onto Pythia. Archaeologists have since found the location or rather source for the gift. Where she sat was a fissure in the earth and hydrocarbon gases from bituminous limestone would pass through. It is believed these emanations caused hallucinations and the reason for the garbled rhetoric.
Anyone who wanted their future read by Pythia would bring gifts for the God Apollo. Wars, founding a new city or township or even agricultural harvesting would be first be sanctioned by the god via his spokesperson. Many sought the Pythia’s advice and of which, a great number came to fruition.
Delphi was also called the ‘omphalos’–navel. How did it get this name? According to mythology, Zeus released two doves and where they met would be the centre of the world. To mark the ‘centre’ a white standing-stone that was carved was placed in situ. This symbolised the spiritual and physical link between the underworld, the earth and the home of the gods.
There are many myths lending to the evolution of Delphi such as Apollo who travels to Delphi in the form of a dolphin carrying Kretan priests on his back. The name ‘Delphi’ also refers to the womb and according to Homeric Hymn, dolphins were known as ‘womb-fish’.
The archaeological site is massive and awe-inspiring. I can understand the thrall of Delphi for the Ancient Greeks. The sweeping panoramic views of Mount Parnassos with the stadium built into the slopes, and as you walk along the sacred way there is the theatre, Temple of Apollo, treasuries and shrines. On the main road is the museum where you can see the famous bronze charioteer and a bull made from gold leaf. Across the road, you head into another part of the sanctuary where there is 1000 year old olive tree, a tholos dedicated to Athene and the gymnasium where the athletes trained for the Pythian Games.
This is also the last stop for my heroes in the story The Legacy. The main character seeks an audience with Pythia who reveals telling and unexpected information.