Delphi played a very important role in the ancient Greek world. People would travel from hundreds of miles away to visit the Oracle there, and listen to prophecies whenever important decisions were to be made. But just who was the Oracle at Delphi?
Greek Mythology Tour to Delphi
If you are planning to visit Greece, a Greek Mythology Tour of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Delphi is highly recommended. This important spiritual center for the ancient Greeks was known as the ‘Navel of the World’, and people would make pilgrimages there from all around in order to seek advice and wisdom from the Oracle.
Whilst the site is visually beautiful and set in a stunning location, it’s really the stories behind it that help explain what is being seen in more detail. One of those stories, is to do with who the Oracle was. When you take one of our Greek Mythology Tours, and expert guide will fully explain the story of the Oracle and the importance of Delphi in relation to the ancient Greek world. In the meantime, here’s some background information.
Origins of the Oracle of Delphi
Much of who the Oracle was and how prophecies were given is shrouded in mystery, and the picture we have today is built up from surviving texts from the period, artworks, and even geology surveys. Although the importance of Delphi is heavily mentioned by significant authors from the 7th century BC to the 4th century AD, there are few if any details of ceremonies or orders of proceedings. The authors probably thought it was knowledge so common it was not worth the time to write about, although the Oracle is repeatedly referred to as Pythia.
The Oracle Pythia
Pythia was the name given to the High Priestess who served as the Oracle at Delphi. Her role was to act as an intermediary between mankind and the god Apollo, to whom the main temple was dedicated. Visitors from all over Greece and even foreign countries would travel to Delphi in order to seek advice before making any major decisions to do with politics, settlements or war. Pythia would transmit this information to Apollo who would then in turn speak his reply through her. Sometimes the prophecy she gave might be straightforward, but mostly it is believed to have been cryptic. Whatever the answers were, they must have been believable enough – it is thought that Delphi was an important prophecy and spiritual center for nearly 2000 years!
Who was Pythia?
There would have been dozens if not hundreds of Pythias over the centuries. They were all women, which some people believe had its roots back in a form of Gaia (Mother Earth) worship. Little is known about how the High Priestess would have been selected, but it is generally thought that as one High Priestess relinquished her role, another would be chosen from a guild of priestesses. These priestesses were all from Delphi, and were required to have good backgrounds. Being a priestess was considered a worthy career for women, allowing them more freedom, power and wealth than other women of the time.
When did the Oracle speak at Delphi?
Originally, it is thought that the Oracle could only be consulted once a year at Delphi, on the seventh day of the Greek month of Bysios – Apollo’s birthday. In later times, due to the popularity of consulting the Oracle, this was extended to the seventh day of the nine warmest months of the year. At times, there may also have been up to three ‘Pythias’ at any one time, with two giving prophecies and one resting, ready to swap when the others became exhausted. Apparently, the role of Pythia was hard upon the body, either due to the rituals involved, or the presence of dangerous fumes.
How did the Oracle at Delphi receive visions?
Many people had written that there were fissures in the earth from which sweet smelling fumes arose, and it is from constant contact with these that Pythia was able to give her visions. Over the years, earthquakes had closed these fissures, which may have been one of the factors involved in Delphi losing its importance as a spiritual center. It was even thought until relatively recently that the story of fissures was a myth, however geologists located two fault lines beneath Delphi and detected gases trapped beneath the surface. As is so often the case in Greek Mythology, science seems to prove some of the stories true, as it may have done with the tale of the Labyrinth in Crete!
We offer Greek Mythology Tours to Delphi as part of our 3 day mythology trip to Greece, along with our 5 and 7 day trip packages. The tours are specifically designed with families in mind, and custom designed to give you a unique and incredible experience. Our expert guides link together the stories from Greek Mythology and even the Percy Jackson books to explain more about the ancient Greek civilisation and each site visited. They are the perfect way for families to both experience and learn about Greece during their mythological vacation!