This nOde last updated April 30th, 2002 and is permanently morphing...
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An ancient town of central Greece near Mount Parnassus. Dating to at least the seventh century B.C.E., it was the seat of a famous oracle of Apollo.
Delphi, town of ancient Greece, site of the oracle of the god Apollo, situated on the slope of Mount Parnassus. Considered by the ancient Greeks to be the center of the earth, Delphi was originally the site of an oracle of the earth goddess Gaea. According to mythology, Apollo expelled her from the sanctuary, which he then shared with the god Dionysus. The Delphic priests developed a ritual that centered on a priestess called Pythia, whose utterances were considered the words of Apollo. In 356 BC the Phocians seized Delphi, but they were defeated in 346 BC by King Philip II of Macedonia. By the end of the century the Aetolian League controlled Delphi. After the Roman conquest of Greece, and especially after the spread of Christianity, Delphi declined. The oracle continued until CE 390.
Pythian (pîth´ê-en) also Pythic
1.Greek Mythology. Of or relating to Delphi, the temple of Apollo at Delphi, or its oracle.
2.Of or relating to the Pythian games.
[From Latin Pýthius, from Greek Puthios, from Putho, ancient name of Delphi.]
Inscription on the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi, Greece (6th century B.C.).
of Delphi - high on ethylene?
[Dallas Morning News]
The ancient oracle of Delphi, in Greece, worked like a telephone psychic: Someone in need of advice could call on the priestess and get a rambling prophecy. And now the oracle has some science on its side.
The priestess reportedly
had visions after inhaling fumes that rose from a chasm beneath the temple
at Delphi. But until now scholars rejected the testimony of the ancient
writers because no one had ever found the cleft or the gases. Scientists
have recently discovered two geological faults, intersecting directly
under the temple at Delphi,
which could have created a chasm during an earthquake.
Moreover, geologists have measured hallucinogenic fumes rising from a nearby spring, and narcotic gases preserved within the temple rock.
"Everything fits with the ancient writers being correct," said Jelle de Boer, a geophysicist at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn. "It shows again that many legends have some truth in them."
An Italian geologist has also suggested that the chasm may have been a relic of an ancient earthquake. Luigi Piccardi, of the National Research Agency in Florence, published his conclusions in this month's issue of Geology.
The Delphic oracle held sway over the Greek religious world for nearly two millennia, from at least 1400 BC to AD 381. Traditionally, she sat on a tripod over the cleft, waving laurel branches while gripped by the spirit of prophecy. Different women held the position of oracle, but all were believed to be the divine mouthpiece for Ge, the Earth mother, and later for Apollo.
The ruins of Apollo's temple, which has been destroyed and rebuilt several times, still stand outside the modern village of Delphi, at the foot of Mount Parnassus.
A herdsman reportedly discovered the vapours millennia ago. His goats acted strangely as they grazed near a fissure; coming closer, he breathed in the fumes and entered a prophetic state. A good place for a temple, the locals decided.
Geologists aren't surprised by Delphi's unusual qualities. It lies on the north side of the Gulf of Corinth, an area riddled with faults and often wracked by powerful earthquakes. Two giant plates of Earth's crust converge on the Mediterranean, cracking and straining the ground around Corinth.
Several years ago, de Boer established the behaviour of a fault running east to west beneath the temple. More recently, his group discovered that a second fault runs from north to south.
And where the faults cross, a chasm could have formed. French archeologists excavated the temple earlier this century and found no sign of a chasm, but they didn't dig all the way down to bedrock, de Boer said.
If they had, they might have discovered evidence
of recurring earthquakes, each of which could release a new
burst of gases from the depths. For instance, the earthquake that destroyed the Delphi temple in 373 BC may have caused one of the most powerful breaks along the east-west fault, Piccardi proposes in his paper.
Meanwhile, de Boer's team
has chiselled samples of travertine, a calcium-rich rock deposited
by springs, from a
temple wall. The travertine held tiny bubbles of ancient methane and ethane gas -- both of which would have come from the depths and can have slight narcotic effects.
Even more compelling, de
Boer said, a nearby spring still releases small amounts of ethylene, a
once used as an anesthetic. Higher doses can act as a mild narcotic, inducing a dream-like state without causing fainting -- just what the oracle may have experienced, he said.
De Boer now hopes to identify the carved stones used to channel fumes directly to the oracle.
Science can never determine
exactly how the oracle made her prophecies, de Boer acknowledged. But it
the ingredients to back up the legend really exist.