DelphiThis morning we made the 5 hour drive from Vergina to scenic Delphi. The wonders of Greece are spread across the whole country so a good amount of driving is required … but what would we cut out to make it shorter? Fortunately our travelers also want to cram as much as they can into 10 days and show patience and understanding with the drive time. The car rides also afford us the opportunity to see parts of the countryside and slices of Greek life you’d miss if you didn’t drive through the mountains and small towns like we do (or the opportunity to nap and read, to each their own).

Delphi offers the greatest views of all Greece. The mountains are rugged and the sea spreads before you. To boot, you get to wander one of the top sites in the country! We were grateful to be gifted with a warm, partly cloudy day and (even better!) the site was open later than we thought so we took our time, which was needed to make the steep climb up the site.

DSC_0642This site was known for prophesy long before Apollo, Dionysos and Athena took over as the head dieties. Gaia (Mother Earth) was celebrated here starting in the Bronze Age. This was the first known area to provide prophesy from bird’s flight, entrails, pebbles, dreams, and flames. In fact, every method of prophesy practiced during this time was held in Delphi.

As the story goes, four days after his birth Apollo slew a serpent that plagued the land. The serpent was called “Pytho” which means “to rot” and was the son of Mother Gaia. This was a great sin, even though it freed the people of the area, and Apollo had to flee and atone for his deed before he could come back. Reenactments of the slaying, fleeing, atonement and return were performed at Delphi for hundreds of years.

DSC_0646The Temple of Apollo was the home of the infamous Pythia (prophetess) who was consulted heavily especially during the 5th and 6th centuries, BC, by people all through Greece and as far as Egypt. Unlike how she is portrayed in the movies, the Pythia was a middle-to-late aged woman from the area with a good reputation. She didn’t have to be pretty, rich, or important to be chosen. During the height of Delphi’s renown there were three Pythias working in shifts to accommodate all the curious pilgrims.

The Pythia was consulted by great leaders before any important decisions, especially about war. She would sit inside the Temple and prophesy in garbled language, to be interpreted by the priests. Here are some of the most famous oracular statements made in Delphi:

  • King Leonidas of Sparta consulted the oracle before meeting the Persians at Thermopylae. He was told “The strength of bulls or lions cannot stop the foe. No, he will not leave off, I say, until he tears the city or the king limb from limb.” Leonidas chose himself to be destroyed rather than his city and headed off to his suicide mission. (See our time at Thermopylae for more information)
  • DSC_0660The Athenians also consulted the oracle around the same time, knowing the Persians were coming their way. Initially they were told “Now your statues are standing and pouring sweat. They shiver with dread. The black blood drips from the highest rooftops. They have seen the necessity of evil. Get out, get out of my sanctum and drown your spirits in woe.” Confused, the Athenians asked for aid again and were told “a wall of wood alone shall be uncaptured, a boon to you and your children.” Themistocles interpreted the “wall of wood” to mean wooden ships and encouraged the Athenians to evacuate to the island of Salamis. The Persians came through and leveled Athens, only to be defeated at sea. (See our time at the Acropolis for more information)
  • Socrates also appealed to the oracle and was told there was no one wiser than he. Not convinced, Socrates set out determined there was someone wiser and gifted the world with the “Socratic Method” – a series of questions meant to find the underlying belief and limits of knowledge. He found out that every so-called wise man was under the impression that he knew more than he actually did and Socrates came to the conclusion that he was wisest because he knew he was not wise. The knowledge of his limitations was as important as the knowledge itself.

DSC_0651We got to see the ancient Temple of Apollo, the Treasury of the Athenians, the theater and the stadium. Second only to the Olympic games, Delphi held famous festivals here honoring Apollo. These games were unique because they offered musical and dramatic competitions as well as athletic competitions. Finally, we wandered the museum which contains incredible ruins including the Homeric Hymn to Apollo – the first known example of musical notation and where we get much of the mythology surrounding Apollo.

For four months out of the year Apollo would leave Delphi under the influence of Dionysos, the god of wine and revelry. This dichotomy is incredibly interesting to me – to vacillate between the god of Reason and the god of Debauchery shows the Greeks had a different view of human value than we hold today. They celebrated both the light of awareness and the catharsis of intoxication.

DSC_0657Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy speaks intensively about the subject. He talks about the Apollonian side of us, how we understand and relate our experiences, how we find metaphors that give us a way to talk about what life is. He then contrasts that with the Dionysian experience itself – the moments that can’t be repeated, that can’t be explained to outsiders. There is a side of us that tries to make sense of it all, and yet the underlying experience of living is in itself a grand mystery to be lived fully: the dissonance between the two build our character and make us who we are.

Tonight we all enjoy dinner separately. This gives us a chance to quietly take in everything we have seen so far, Athens, Thermopylae, Meteora, Vergina and Delphi. We still have Corinth, Mycenae, Naplio and more Athens ahead of us!