Oracle of Delphi

The oracle of Delphi was a divination site of ancient Greece . It was located on the slope of Parnass near the city of Delphi in the Phokis landscape . The place of worship of Delphi with the oracle was the most important of the Hellenic world and existed until late antiquity . For a long time, Delphi was considered the center of the world, which was symbolically marked by the Omphalos .


Temple of Apollo in Delphi
According to the myth , Zeus had two eagles fly from one end of the world each, meeting in Delphi. Since then, this place has been considered the center of the world.

Earth Mother Gaia joined with the mud left over from the world after the end of the Golden Age , and gave birth to the winged serpent Python (often referred to as the “dragon”). Python had clairvoyant abilities and lived in the place that was later to be called Delphi. According to different variants of the legend Python was female or male.

Hera , the wife of Zeus, was a granddaughter of Gaia. Gaia prophesied to her jealous granddaughter that Leto , her rival and one of Zeus’ lover, would one day give birth to twins who would be taller and stronger than all her children. So she sent Python to devour Leto, even before she could give birth to their children. This intrigue was prevented by Zeus, and Leto gave birth to Artemis and Apollon .

Tholos in the sanctuary of Athena Pronaia in Delphi
One of Apollo’s first acts was the revenge on Python for his attack on his mother. He opposed Python at Delphi and killed the dragon. Python’s spilled blood transmitted its clairvoyant abilities to the place. Thus, Delphi was snatched from the control of Gaias and was henceforth under the protection of Apollo.

History [ edit | Edit ]
The cult in Delphi, which dates back to the fifth century BC Chr. Pytho meant was loud mythological report first the earth goddess Gaia and later the Apollo . The exact date of the takeover of the sanctuary by Apollon is no longer detectable, but already in Homer is spoken by an Apollo cult in Delphi. Finds show a rise of the sanctuary from the eighth century BC Chr.

It is due to the cult worship of Gaia that Apollon did not speak through a priest , but through the Pythia . This sat on a tripod over a crack in the earth. Tradition has it that vapors rose from this fissure, causing the Pythia to enter a state of trance. The end of the Delphic oracle came by the Christian emperor Theodosius I , who in 391 AD canceled all oratories by an edict .

Main shrine for Apollo in Delphi
Expiration of the Oracle [ edit | Edit ]
The oracle of Delphi first gave information only once a year on the birthday of Apollo, the seventh day of the month Bysios , later on the seventh day of each month in the summer. In winter it took a break for three months. According to Greek ideas, the god stayed with the Hyperboreern , a legendary people in the north. The oracle was meanwhile governed by Dionysus .

Before the oracle spoke, it took an omen : a high priest sprinkled a young goat with ice-cold water. If she remained calm, the oracle fell out for the day, and the counselors had to come back a month later. If the goat jumped, she was slaughtered as a sacrificial animal and burned on the altar . Now the prophecies could begin: Accompanied by two priests, the Pythia went to the sacred spring Kastalia , where she took a bath naked to be cultically pure. From a second source, Kassotisshe then drank some sips of holy water. Accompanied by two senior priests and the members of the Five Men’s Council, the Pythia then went to the Temple of Apollo. She was now led in front of the altar of the Hestia , where – according to some theories – the intoxicating fumes rose from a crack in the earth, so that she made her prophecies in a kind of trance .

Controversial is the extent to which the statements of the Pythia were interpreted and formulated by the priests and to what extent they also included insights gained from informants in their interpretation. Joseph Fontenrose came to the conclusion that the Pythia spoke directly to the questioners. [1] However, only the wealthy clients were advised individually and were given detailed, albeit often cryptic answers. The poorer had to be content with a binary oracle (yes-no-oracle). Therefore, they were only allowed to ask questions that could be answered with yes or no. The Pythia then reached into a container of white and black beans and took out one of them: white meant yes, black no .

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The Delphi gave a privilege to the questioning of the oracle, the Promanteia . It was first given to cities, and later to individuals.

Explanatory Notes [ edit | Edit ]
Earlier geological studies made it seem doubtful at first that in Delphi real gases leaked out of an earth column. [2] It was therefore assumed that the myth of a spiritual touch physical ‘ve made gases. However, research published in 2001 by the American geologist Jelle de Boer could prove, after extensive laboratory analysis, that the gas released in Delphi ethylene could have caused the trance of the priestess. [3]

However, Italian geologists around Giuseppe Etiope disagreed with de Boer’s thesis in 2006, saying that ethylene did not reach neurotoxic levels. In her opinion, the trance of the priestess is explained by the high methane and carbon dioxide content of the gases rising from the rock; this has led to an oxygen deficiency and hallucinations in the Pythia. However, De Boer continues to stick to his thesis. The fact that no large ethylene concentrations are reached at Delphi today is explained by the fact that the escape routes would have closed due to shifting or sintering .

It is undeniable that Delphi, as one of the largest Panhellenic sanctuaries, regularly received travelers from all over the Mediterranean. Inquiries to the oracle, such as those from a polis or an oikist , revealed their confidential political intent or information about colony plans. The Delphic priesthood knew more than any other group of information, could create connections between them and certainly make predictions in this way, which can not be explained by trance states alone.

Famous Delphic oracles [ edit | Edit ]
Below are the most famous (alleged) Delphic oracles. Since the oracle of Delphi was already fabled in antiquity, some of its prophecies (and even the best known) in modern history are judged as legendarisch or fake (fictitious). This is especially true of all those sayings that should have gone beyond a mere “yes” and “no.” Following the individual famous oracles, here is their source, their historical assessment, as well as the reference in the authoritative work of Joseph Fontenrose (1978) called: they are all in today’s research as clear or at least very likely fictitious.

Oedipus [ edit | Edit ]
According to the myth, the oracle of Delphi prophesied to the king of Thebes , Laius, that his son would one day kill him and marry his wife. Then he had the newborn’s feet pierced and tied together and exposed to it by a shepherd in the mountains. But the shepherd gave the rejected child to the royal couple of Corinth, who adopted it and named Oedipus after his swollen feet . So Oedipus grew up in Corinth without knowing his origin. When an oracle announced that he would kill his father, he left Corinth out of concern for his supposedly biological father and made his way to Thebes.

On the way he met at a crossroads the traveling Laios with a small entourage; Oedipus considered this a robber and did not want to let him through, whereupon Oedipus killed him and most of his followers. Thus, one of the two prophecies was fulfilled. Subsequently, Oedipus succeeded in solving the mystery of the Sphinx and thus freeing Thebes from the Sphinx . As a reward, he was appointed as the successor of Laius king of Thebes and Ioclaste , his mother, as a wife. Thus fulfilled the second prophecy.

Not knowing about their relatives, they had four children in the following years. When, after some happy years, a plague broke out in Thebes, the oracle of Delphi announced that the killer of Laius had to be found. Oedipus investigated the case and found out that he himself was the wanted murderer and had married his own mother. Thereupon Iocaste hanged itself and Oedipus blinded himself.

Source: Numerous ancient evidence, z. B. Sophocles , Oidipus Tyrannos .
Historical assessment: Legendary. [5]
Gyges [ edit | Edit ]
The Lydian king Gyges of Sardes was confirmed by the oracle of Delphi his rule after he was around 685 BC. His predecessor Kandaules had been murdered. For this, Gyges thanked with generous gifts of gold for the oracle. But according to Herodotus , the Pythia is also said to have said that Kandaules will be avenged in the fifth generation after him, Gyges. That’s how it actually happened, because the fifth king after Gyges in his so-called Mermnaden dynasty , Croesus by name, was also the last: Croesus gambled away his rule with his failed Persian campaign (see the next section “Croesus”).

Source: Herodotus, Histories 1, 13, 2.
Historical assessment: unreal; the exact number of the ruling generations in the Gyges family would hardly have been predictable. [6]
In addition, the very rich Gyges should have considered himself the happiest person in the world. However, the Oracle of Delphi could not confirm this on demand, but replied that Agelaos, an unknown and poor villager in Psophis, was much happier.

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Source: Pliny , Naturalis historia 7, 46, 151.
Historical assessment: False. [7]
Croesus [ edit | Edit ]
Croesus , the proverbially rich last king of Lydia , wanted to test the reliability of seven oracles (besides Delphi, for example, the oracle of Dodona or Siwa ). Messengers should ask each of the oracles on the hundredth day after their departure what Croesus is doing. As Herodotus reports, only the Pythia gave the correct answer, and most of the time, as in a well-versed verse in the hexameter , following in the appropriate translation:

“I have become aware of the smell of turtle, the armored beast, / which is cooked in your cauldron, and pieces of lamb, / brass is laid underneath, and brass will rest on the cauldron.”
In fact, to do something difficult to predict, Croesus had cooked a lamb and a turtle in a covered metal jar that day.

Source: Herodotus, Histories 1, 47, 3.
Historical assessment: unreal; To test Delphi at the same time would have to challenge Apollo himself, and probably no ancient Greek or Lydian would have dared to do so. [8th]
Croesus then fell ill with the oracle he requested before he died in 546 BC. . BC against the Persian king Cyrus II. Broke up, and was a Greek hexameter: Κροῖσος Ἅλυν διαβὰς μεγάλην ἀρχὴν καταλύσει Croesus Halyn diabas megalen archen katalysei, or in Latin translation: Croesus Halyn penetrans magnam pervertet opum vim, in German prose : When Croesus the Halys (today: Kizilirmak ) , he will destroy a great empire. Croesus referred this prophecy to the Persian Empire, but meant his own.

Source: Herodotus, Histories 1, 53, 3 (indirect); Aristotle , Rhetoric 1407a (as hexameter) and others; Latin translation: Cicero , De divinatione 2, 56, 115.
Historical assessment: False. The address of the questioner (Croesus) in the third person instead of in direct Du form is unusual for Delphi. In addition, the saying reveals knowledge that one could only have in retrospect, because the Persian campaign of Croesus could also have ended without destroying one of the two empires. [9]
Themistocles [ edit | Edit ]

The treasure house of the Athenians in Delphi
The Athenians received 480 v. Chr. The instructions of the Delphic oracle to leave their city and defend it with wooden walls. Themistocles interpreted this correctly on ships and was able to defeat the Persians in the naval battle of Salamis .

Source: Herodotus, Histories 7, 141, 3-4 and others
Historical assessment: Most doubtful, at least in the Herodotus handed down, conspicuously long form. [10]
Chairephon / Socrates [ edit | Edit ]
Also famous is the answer that the Athenian Chairephon received when asked if there was a wiser man than Socrates . The Delphic oracle decided that no one is wiser than Socrates. He explained this answer by saying that he was always aware that he was not really sure, and that was the prerequisite for obtaining wisdom. Therefore, many call Socrates apart from the Seven Wise Men as Eighth Wise Men of Delphi.

Source: Plato , Apology of Socrates 21a-c; Xenophon , Apology of Socrates 14 et al
Historical Assessment: Doubted by many scholars as a pious fiction of the Socratic school. [11]
Alexander the Great [ edit | Edit ]
Alexander the Great is said to be 335 BC In Delphi for his planned Persian campaign for advice, but Pythia comforted him: The oracle takes place only at the times determined by the gods. Angry and unwilling to wait, he is said to have dragged Pythia by the hair in the temple. Then she should have just shouted: “Let go of me, you’re insurmountable, boy!” Alexander is said to have said, “Now I have my answer!”, And the Pythia have let go.

Source: Plutarch , Alexandervita 14,4; Diodorus , library 17,93,4 ua
Historical assessment: Legendary. The address of Alexander with the Greek vocative “pai” (boy, youth, son) refers to an older version of the legend, according to which Alexander of Zeus or Amun was referred to as his son in an oracle of Siwa . [12]
Pyrrhos [ edit | Edit ]
Pyrrhus could Romans 280/ 279 v. Chr. Twice only under very large private losses defeat (hence the proverbial Pyrrhic victory ). Prior to this venture, he is said to have asked the Delphic oracle for advice and received the following ambiguous Latin hexameter from the Pythia:

“Aio te, Æacida, Romanos vincere posse. / Ibis redibis nunquam per bella peribis. ”
Pyrrhus interpreted this (the following German translation in prose):

“I say, Aeacide (descendant of Aiakos , the grandfather of Achilles ), you can defeat the Romans. You will go and return and never perish in wars. ”
Grammatically, however, the sentences can also mean (ambiguous subject or object-accusative in AcI , ambiguous position of nunquam ):

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“I say the Romans can defeat you, Aeacide. You will go and never return; in wars you will perish. ”
And so it happened. Pyrrhus had to withdraw from Italy and fell 272 BC. In the street fight in Argos .

Source: Cicero, De divinatione 2,56,116 to Ennius .
Historical assessment: Certainly unreal. The Latin verses were first written by Ennius, a Greek original is nowhere recorded, although the oracle of Delphi gave only Greek answers. Evidently Ennius wanted to invent an oracle for Pyrrhus, which in its ambiguity corresponded to the oracle for Croesus (described above). [13]
The donation of the poor farmer [ edit | Edit ]
A story related to the biblical story of the “widow’s mite” (Mark 12: 41-44) is related to the oracle of Delphi: a rich merchant from Magnesia wanted to know if he had made the greatest sacrificial offerings, and learned that the poor peasant Klearchos from Methydrion in Arcadia had done through his regular modest gifts of far greater.

Source: Theopomp , fragment 314.
Historical assessment: Legendary. [14]
Julian [ edit | Edit ]
The last oracle gave the Pythia allegedly in AD 362 the physician Oreibasios , who visited it on behalf of the pagan emperor Julian . He wanted to know if the oracle had any future in a world turning to Christianity , to which Pythia replied:

“Tell the emperor that the nicely finished house has fallen. Phoibos Apollon has no more sanctuary, the holy laurel withers, its springs are silent forever, the murmur of the water is silent. ”
Source: Philostorgios , church history.
Historical assessment: False, Christian fiction. The Oracle of Delphi would hardly have issued such a declaration of bankruptcy while it still existed. There is also evidence that the oracle continued to exist a while after Julian. [15]
Philosophy [ edit | Edit ]

Delphic Sibyl (detail from a fresco by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel , 1510)

Priestess of Delphi by John Collier (1891)
According to tradition, the inscriptions “Know thyself” ( gnôthi seautón , γνῶθι σεαυτόν) and “nothing in excess” (μηδὲν ἄγαν, medèn ágan) should have been appropriate at the entrance to the temple of Delphi . In particular, the first, more familiar call indicates the actual intention of the cult or revered deity, namely the resolution of individual problems and questions by dealing with their own inner personality. The recognition of the “inner world” thus served as access to problem solving in the “outside world”.

The second inscription (medèn ágan, “Nothing in excess”, “Everything in moderation”) urges modesty in one’s own actions. The right measure stands for a basic figure of ancient Greek thought, which apart from the Platonic doctrine to Aristotelian virtue ethics also the music, which covered mathematics, medicine and many other areas of society.

The existence of these inscriptions is not known through archaeological finds, but from written traditions. So lets z. As Plato in the Phaedros and especially in the Symposium the Greek philosopher Socrates on the importance of these inscriptions refer.

Far less well-known is that, according to a tradition of the Charmides and about 500 years younger Plutarch’s report on these two wisdoms still a third, “you are” ( eî ) heard. To what extent this adorned the portal is uncertain. According to Plutarch’s story, it was probably more of a spoken answer to the inscriptions by temple visitors. However, it can legitimately be considered a “third apollonian wisdom” through its later acquired meaning.

Later, while the self-reflexive part of “gnôthi seautón” came to the fore, “gnôthi seautón” in origin may have been intended as a welcoming word of Apollon to the visitors. As Plutarch writes, “As we enter, God speaks to each one of us, as it were, ‘know thyself,’ which is at least as good as ‘salvation!’.” In response, the visitor returned to the god “you are”:

“We respond to God with ‘eî’ [” you are “] by transmitting to him the designation that is true and contains no lie in itself and belongs to him alone and to no other, that of being […]”
Thus, “You are” was originally not self-centered, so in origin it was not part of a self-reflection , but rather a homage to the god Apollo, or divinity in general. Only later was the saying reinterpreted as an expression of the recognition and acknowledgment of the believer’s own existence .

These and other wisdoms taught and lived in Delphi through architecture and ritual were famous throughout the ancient world. Around 200 BC Thus, a certain Kletarchos traveled from today’s Afghanistan (see Ai Khanoum ) to Delphi, to make copies of the proverbs and then to bring it to his hometown, where he had immortalized them in writing.

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