Since I have mentioned the tripod, I think it not inopportune to recount
the ancient story which has been handed down about it. It is said that in ancient times goats
discovered the oracular shrine, on which account even to this day the Delphians use goats
preferably when they consult the oracle.
They say that the
manner of its discovery was the following. There is a chasm at this place where now is situated
what is known as the "forbidden" sanctuary, and as goats had been wont to feed about this
because Delphi had not as yet been settled, invariably any goat that approached the chasm and
peered into it would leap about in an extraordinary fashion and utter a sound quite different
from what it was formerly wont to emit.
The herdsman in charge
of the goats marvelled at the strange phenomenon and having approached the chasm and peeped
down it to discover what it was, had the same experience as the goats,1
for the goats began to act like beings possessed
and the goatherd also began to foretell future events. After this as the report was bruited
among the people of the vicinity concerning the experience of those who approached the chasm,
an increasing number of persons visited the place and, as they all tested it because of its
miraculous character, whosoever approached the spot became inspired. For these reasons the
oracle came to be regarded as a marvel and to be considered the prophecy-giving shrine of
For some time all who wished to obtain a prophecy
approached the chasm and made their prophetic replies to one another; but later, since many
were leaping down into the chasm under the influence of their frenzy and all disappeared, it
seemed best to the dwellers in that region, in order to eliminate the risk, to station one
woman there as a single prophetess for all and to have the oracles told through her. And for
her a contrivance was devised which she could safely mount, then become inspired and give
prophecies to those who so desired.
And this contrivance has
three supports and hence was called a tripod, and, I dare say, all the bronze tripods which are
constructed even to this day are made in imitation of this contrivance.2
manner, then, the oracle was discovered and for what reasons the tripod was devised I think I
have told at sufficient length.
It is said that in ancient
times virgins delivered the oracles because virgins have their natural innocence intact and are
in the same case as Artemis; for indeed virgins were alleged to be well suited to guard the
secrecy of disclosures made by oracles. In more recent times, however, people say that
Echecrates the Thessalian, having arrived at the shrine and beheld the virgin who uttered the
oracle, became enamoured of her because of her beauty, carried her away with him and violated
her; and that the Delphians because of this deplorable occurrence passed a law that in future a
virgin should no longer prophesy but that an elderly woman of fifty should declare the oracles
and that she should be dressed in the costume of a virgin, as a sort of reminder of the
prophetess of olden times.
Such are the details of the legend
regarding the discovery of the oracle; and now we shall turn to the activities of Philomelus.