Delphi, Greece – 1/2014

May 6, 2014

This is an introduction to Greek Mythology. There will be a short quiz when we leave Greece and Zeus will be watching you!

Leaving our peaceful overnight camp at the small fishing village of Monastiraki, we drove to Delphi, the most important Ancient Greek site of Oracles. If you glance at a map of Greece, there are hundreds of ruins and major archeological sites, most of whose dates end in “BC”. Occupation of the site at Delphi can be traced back to the Neolithic ( New Stone Age) period with extensive occupation and use beginning in the Mycenaean period  (1600–1100 BC). Many of the ruins surviving today date from the most intense period of activity in the 6th century BC.

In mythology going back to the Classic Period of Ancient Greece (510-323 BC), the site of Delphi was believed to have been chosen by Zeus. For thousands of years in what we now call “Western Civilization”, Zeus was the head “God”. There were other Gods and Goddesses beneath him, (He loved to delegate.), but he had the final word and he was worshiped by learned philosophers like Aristotle and Socrates and a major part of the world before they discovered it was not flat.

Of course Zeus must have known that, so when he sought to find the centre of his Grandmother Earth “Gaia”, he sent two eagles flying from the eastern and western extremities. The path of the eagles crossed over Delphi where a stone was placed called the omphalos to mark the navel of Gaia.

Apollo, one of Zeus’s sons, had his sacred precinct in Delphi. It was also a Pan-Hellenic sanctuary, where every four years, starting in 586 BC, athletes from all over the Greek world competed in the Python Games, one of the four Pan-Hellenic games, precursors of the Modern Olympics.

Delphi would have been a renowned city whether or not it hosted these games. It had other attractions that led to it being labeled the “omphalos” (navel) of the earth, in other words, the center of the world. (Later that was changed to France.)

According to Greek Mythology a serpent or dragon called Python had attempted to rape Leto, one of Zeus’s lovers while she was pregnant with the twins Apollo and Artemis. (Zeus was quite a playboy.) Apollo killed Python but had to be punished for it, since Python was a child of Gaia. That’s a long story.

There was a spring that flowed toward the temple of Athena but disappeared beneath the rocks creating a cleft. When Apollo slew Python, it fell into this fissure.

Apollo spoke through an Oracle. The sibyl or priestess of this Oracle at Delphi was known as the Pythia. She had to be an older woman of blameless life chosen from among the peasants of the area. She sat on a tripod seat over an opening in the earth. Intoxicated by the vapors from the decomposing body of Python, the sibyl would fall into a trance, allowing Apollo to possess her spirit. In this state she prophesied the future. (It has been speculated that a gas high in ethylene, known to produce violent trances, came out of this opening, though this theory remains debatable.)

Many votive statues, and numerous  “treasuries” were built by the various Greek city-states — those overseas as well as those on the mainland — to commemorate victories and to thank the oracle for Pythia’s (Apollo’s) advice, which was thought to have contributed to those victories. They were called “treasuries” because they held the offerings made to Apollo; these were frequently a “tithe” or tenth of the spoils of a battle. Sort of like an early version of the Vatican Museum?

We could not offer any significant sacrifices to learn the future of our adventure along the Silk Road, so we were content to wander the grounds and could only imagine what it might have looked like thousands of years ago.

One Response to “Delphi, Greece – 1/2014”

  1. This is an introduction to Greek Mythology. There will be a short quiz when we leave Greece and Zeus will be…

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