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The Oracle of Delphi

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Delphi, Greece After the Acropolis, Delphi is the most popular archaeological site in Greece. Located 180 kilometers from Athens, a trip to Delphi is listed in just about every tour itinerary and is by far the most popular day trip out of Athens.

Many people don't even know why they are going to Delphi. It's just something they know they are supposed to do when they go to Greece. But for those people who read, Delphi has a special meaning, more then just another collection of ruins in a country that is full of them. Delphi in ancient times was considered the center of the known world, the place where heaven and earth met. This was the place on earth where man was closest to God. In Mythology, Delphi was the meeting place of two eagles, released by Zeus and sent in opposite directions. Where they met indicated the center of the earth. Delphi is known as the center of worship for the God Apollo, son of Zeus who embodied moral discipline and spiritual clarity. But even before the area was associated with Apollo there were other deities worshipped here including the earth goddess Gea, Themis, Demeter and Poseidon, the well known god of the sea. By the end of the Mycenaean period Apollo had displaced these other deities and became the guardian of the oracle. Delphi was to become a panhellenic sanctuary, where every four years, (starting in 776 BC) athletes from all over the Greek world competed in the Pythian Games, one of the four panhellenic games, precursors of the Modern Olympics.

Delphi, Greece The oracle of Delphi was a spiritual experience whereby the spirit of Apollo was asked for advice on critical matters relating to people's lives or affairs of the state. Questions were asked to the Pythia, or priestess who 'channeled' the spirit of the God, in the same way that people now channel Jesus or the various other disembodied spirits who have not only helped people with their advice but kept their channelers on the tops of the best seller lists. Whether one believes in the channeling of Gods or spirits is an individual thing. But even the most skeptical person must realize that there was something 'magical' going on in Delhi for several thousand years and the fact that the town still attracts a million visitors a year makes me believe some of that magic is still there. Many people who come to Delphi claim they have felt 'something'. I suppose it depends on your receptivity and your belief system. But there are those who believe that the spirit of Apollo still resides in Delphi and just as he was thousands of years ago, he is still available now, to answer questions and give personal advice or affairs of the state. One might keep in mind that a visit to Delphi is also on the itinerary of visiting dignitaries and the list of Greek politicians who have not visited the sacred oracle would be a short one. Just food for thought, but visiting Delphi with an open mind may be an enriching experience.  

Delphi, Greece As the reputation of the oracle at Delphi grew, the sanctuary began to develop into an international center as the Greek city-states brought offerings. Remember that this was before the age of paved highways and tour buses and a trip to Delphi was like the proverbial passing of a camel through the eye of a needle, on difficult mountain paths or climbing from the valley below. As the area grew in wealth it developed into an independent state which was governed by the aristocrats. It became the center of a 12 member federation called the Amphictyonia which was a sort of League of  Nations which unified the small city-states. Built on the slopes of Mount Parnassos, the town and ancient site are as awe-inspiring now as it most likely was three thousand years ago, overlooking the Gulf of Corinth and a valley filled with olive and cypress trees. The town of Delphi sits on the edge of a cliff and despite the number of tourists and the abundance of tourism oriented businesses, this is still a very remarkable place to be. Hotels are plentiful, there are two campgrounds within a few kilometers of the town and numerous restaurants including the Taverna Vlachos, recommended by Lonely Planet and featuring a beautiful view of the valley as well as good food at reasonable prices.

Delphi, Greece The center of Delphi is the sanctuary of Apollo, on the southern tip of the mountain slope. The Doric temple was the home of the Pythia, who seated on a tripod above a deep crevasse, would pronounce her prophesies while the priests wrotethem down and translated them to the people. The mythology is that when Apollo slew Python, its body fell into this fissure and fumes arose from its decomposing body. Intoxicated by these fumes, the pythia (sibyl) would go into a trance, allowing Apollo to possess her spirit and spoke, with the priests translating or interpreting what she was saying. This temple was destroyed by fire in the fourth century  BC and then rebuilt. Carved into the temple were three phrases:  "know thyself" "nothing in excess" and "make a pledge and mischief is nigh" which are as meaningful today as they were when they were written even though I am personally confused about the meaning of the last one which sounds like it comes from my local NPR fund drive. The origin of these phrases was attributed to one or more of the Seven Sages of Greece though there is some debate about this and some believe that these were just popular proverbs at the time and were later attributed to the Sages of Greece.

Delphi, Greece The theater was also built in the 4th century and further above is the large stadium which was famous for its chariot races, renovated by Herod Atticus and considered the best preserved in all of Greece.

The Sacred Way leads to the temple, passing the  treasuries and monuments that commemorate great events. In ancient times this road was lined with statues and gifts given by the city state in tribute to Apollo in thanks for victories in battle. The treasury of the Athenians has been reconstructed. My favorite is the Treasury of the Sifniots since it is a reminder of a period when my favorite island was one of the wealthiest areas in Greece. The frieze of the treasury is now in the archaeological museum along with many artifacts from the site including the omphalos, the sculptured cone that stood in the exact center of the world and the famous bronze statue of the Charioteer, one of the most celebrated pieces of ancient art in the world.

Delphi, Greece Below these ruins are the Temple of Pronoia Athena, also known as Marmaria, or the marbles supposedly because of the abundance of ancient stones laying nearby. The Tholos is probably the most widely recognized building on the site because of the color of the marble and the fact that it is a round temple, not all that common in Greece. Strangely enough what the temple was used for and who it commemorates is not known. Beyond is the Gymnasium and the Palaiastra which were used to train the athletes who competed in the Pythian games, held every four years to commemorate Apollo's victory over Python. The Castelian spring is where pilgrims washed themselves before consulting the oracle and the crystal clear water still flows from it has it has for thousands of years.

Conclusion

Delphi, Greece In my opinion the oracle at Delphi poses an interesting question which every person should ask himself during the visit, unless he is just going there to see old buildings, or because it was on a list of somebody's list of things to do in Greece. Lets say that the oracle, whether it was the voice of Apollo or some spirit, actually spoke to the ancient Greeks for all those centuries and it was not some scam or a form of mass hysteria, but something which we don't understand because it follows different rules than those we have grown use to living on planet earth in the 20th century. If people actually did communicate with the God at this sacred spot is it  likely that the spirit went away or died ? Did it get bored and pack up its holy baggage and move on to some other new sacred site like Sedona, Arizona, or whither away like fruit on a tree that goes unpicked? Or is it more likely that the God still goes on speaking and we mortals have lost our ability or desire to listen. Maybe there are people who still communicate with whatever spoke and perhaps continues to speak to mankind in Delphi. Maybe all it takes is an open mind and heart to hear a voice that for centuries distributed wisdom to mankind.

So if you go to Delphi listen with your heart. Someone or something may be talking to you.

  

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