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Delphi is located in upper central Greece, on multiple plateaux along the slope of Mount Parnassus , and includes the Sanctuary of Apollo, the site of the ancient Oracle. This semicircular spur is known as Phaedriades , and overlooks the Pleistos Valley. In myths dating to the classical period of Ancient Greece BC , Zeus determined the site of Delphi when he sought to find the centre of his "Grandmother Earth" Gaia.

He sent two eagles flying from the eastern and western extremities, and the path of the eagles crossed over Delphi where the omphalos , or navel of Gaia was found. Apollo was said to have slain Python , a "drako" a serpent or a dragon who lived there and protected the navel of the Earth. Pottery and bronze as well as tripod dedications continue in a steady stream, in contrast to Olympia.

Neither the range of objects nor the presence of prestigious dedications proves that Delphi was a focus of attention for a wide range of worshippers, but the large quantity of valuable goods, found in no other mainland sanctuary, encourages that view. The victors at Delphi were presented with a laurel crown stephanos which was ceremonially cut from a tree by a boy who re-enacted the slaying of the Python.

Delphi was set apart from the other games sites because it hosted the mousikos agon, musical competitions. These Pythian Games rank second among the four stephanitic games chronologically and in importance. 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 centre of the world. In the inner hestia hearth of the Temple of Apollo, an eternal flame burned.

After the battle of Plataea , the Greek cities extinguished their fires and brought new fire from the hearth of Greece, at Delphi; in the foundation stories of several Greek colonies, the founding colonists were first dedicated at Delphi. In commemoration of this legend, the winners at the Pythian Games received a wreath of laurel picked in the temple. Delphi became the site of a major temple to Phoebus Apollo , as well as the Pythian Games and the prehistoric oracle. Even in Roman times, hundreds of votive statues remained, described by Pliny the Younger and seen by Pausanias.

Carved into the temple were three phrases: However, ancient as well as modern scholars have doubted the legitimacy of such inscriptions. Most likely they were popular proverbs, which tended later to be attributed to particular sages. According to the Homeric hymn to the Pythian Apollo, Apollo shot his first arrow as an infant which effectively slew the serpent Pytho, the son of Gaia, who guarded the spot. To atone the murder of Gaia's son, Apollo was forced to fly and spend eight years in menial service before he could return forgiven.

A festival, the Septeria, was held every year, at which the whole story was represented: The Pythian Games took place every four years to commemorate Apollo's victory. The culmination of the festival was a display of an image of the gods, usually hidden in the sanctuary , to worshippers.

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The theoxenia was held each summer, centred on a feast for "gods and ambassadors from other states. Some sources say it is because Python had attempted to rape Leto while she was pregnant with Apollo and Artemis. This spring flowed toward the temple but disappeared beneath, creating a cleft which emitted chemical vapors that purportedly caused the oracle at Delphi to reveal her prophecies. Apollo killed Python but had to be punished for it, since he was a child of Gaia.

The shrine dedicated to Apollo was originally dedicated to Gaia and shared with Poseidon. Erwin Rohde wrote that the Python was an earth spirit, who was conquered by Apollo, and buried under the omphalos , and that it is a case of one deity setting up a temple on the grave of another. Delphi is perhaps best known for its oracle, the Pythia , the sibyl or priestess at the sanctuary dedicated to Apollo.


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According to Aeschylus in the prologue of the Eumenides , the oracle had origins in prehistoric times and the worship of Gaea , a view echoed by H. One tale of the sanctuary's discovery states that a goatherd, who grazed his flocks on Parnassus, one day observed his goats playing with great agility upon nearing a chasm in the rock; the goatherd noticing this held his head over the chasm causing the fumes to go to his brain; throwing him into a strange trance.

Apollo spoke through his oracle. She had to be an older woman of blameless life chosen from among the peasants of the area. Alone in an enclosed inner sanctum Ancient Greek adyton - "do not enter" she sat on a tripod seat over an opening in the earth the "chasm". According to legend, when Apollo slew Python its body fell into this fissure and fumes arose from its decomposing body. Intoxicated by the vapours, the sibyl would fall into a trance, allowing Apollo to possess her spirit.

In this state she prophesied. The oracle could not be consulted during the winter months, for this was traditionally the time when Apollo would live among the Hyperboreans. Dionysus would inhabit the temple during his absence. The time to consult pythia for an oracle during the year is determined from astronomical and geological grounds related to the constellations of Lyra and Cygnus but [ clarification needed ] the hydrocarbon vapours emitted from the chasm.

While in a trance the Pythia "raved" — probably a form of ecstatic speech — and her ravings were "translated" by the priests of the temple into elegant hexameters. It has been speculated that the ancient writers, including Plutarch who had worked as a priest at Delphi, were correct in attributing the oracular effects to the sweet-smelling pneuma Ancient Greek for breath, wind or vapour escaping from the chasm in the rock.

That exhalation could have been high in the known anaesthetic and sweet-smelling ethylene or other hydrocarbons such as ethane known to produce violent trances. Though this theory remains debatable the authors put up a detailed answer to their critics. Several alternative plant candidates have been suggested including Cannabis , Hyoscyamus , Rhododendron and Oleander. Harissis claims that a review of contemporary toxicological literature indicates that oleander causes symptoms similar to those shown by the Pythia, and his study of ancient texts shows that oleander was often included under the term "laurel".

The Pythia may have chewed oleander leaves and inhaled their smoke prior to her oracular pronouncements and sometimes dying from the toxicity. The Delphic oracle exerted considerable influence throughout the Greek world, and she was consulted before all major undertakings including wars and the founding of colonies. The oracle was also known to the early Romans.

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Rome's seventh and last king , Lucius Tarquinius Superbus , after witnessing a snake near his palace, sent a delegation including two of his sons to consult the oracle. In 83 BCE a Thracian tribe raided Delphi, burned the temple, plundered the sanctuary and stole the "unquenchable fire" from the altar. During the raid, part of the temple roof collapsed.

The sparse local population led to difficulties in filling the posts required. The oracle's credibility waned due to doubtful predictions.


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  • The oracle flourished again in the second century CE during the rule of emperor Hadrian , who is believed to have visited the oracle twice and offered complete autonomy to the city.