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Delphi

Δελφοί). A small but important city of Phocis in Greece, situated on the southern side of Mount Parnassus and built in the form of an amphitheatre. Justin (xxiv. 6) says that it had no walls, but was defended by its precipices. Pausanias (x. 5) calls it πόλις, which seems to imply that it was walled like other cities. In earlier times it was, perhaps, like Olympia, defended by the sanctity of its oracle and the presence of its god. These being found insufficient to afford protection against the enterprises of the profane, it was probably fortified and became a regular city after the predatory incursions of the Phocians. The walls may, however, be coeval with the foundation of the city itself; their high antiquity is not disproved by the use of mortar in the construction, for some of the Egyptian pyramids are built in a similar manner.

The more ancient name of Delphi was Pytho, from the serpent Python , as is commonly supposed, which was said to have been slain by Apollo (Biblioth. i. 4, 3). Whence the name Delphi itself was derived we are not informed. Some make the city to have received this name from Delphus, a son of Apollo. Others deduce the appellation from the Greek ἀδελφοί, “brethren,” because Apollo and his brother Bacchus were both worshipped there, each having one of the summits of Parnassus sacred to him. The author of the Hymn to Apollo seems to pun on the word Delphi, in making Apollo transform himself into a dolphin (δελφίς—v. 494). Some supposed that the name was intended to designate Delphi as the centre or navel of the earth.

A short sketch of the history of this most celebrated oracle and temple will not be out of place. Though not so ancient as Dodona (q.v.), it is evident that the fame of the Delphic shrine had been established at a very early period, from the mention made of it by Homer and the accounts supplied by Pausanias and Strabo. The Homeric Hymn to Apollo informs us (391 foll.) that, when the Pythian god was establishing his oracle at Delphi, he beheld on the sea a merchant-ship from Crete; this he directed to Crissa, and appointed the foreigners the servants of his newly established sanctuary, near which they settled. When this story is stripped of the language of poetry, it can only mean that a Cretan colony founded the temple and oracle of Delphi. Strabo reports that it was at first consulted only by the neighbouring States; but that after its fame became more widely spread, foreign princes and nations eagerly sought responses from the sacred tripod, and loaded the altar of the god with rich presents and costly offerings (420 B.C.). Pausanias states that the most ancient temple of Apollo at Delphi was formed, according to some, out of branches of bay, and that these branches were cut from the tree that was at Tempé. The form of this temple resembled that of a cottage. After mentioning a second and a third temple—the one raised, as the Delphians said, by bees from wax and wings, and sent by Apollo to the Hyperboreans, and the other built of brass—he adds that to this succeeded a fourth and more stately edifice of stone, erected by two architects named Trophonius and Agamedes (Pausan. x. 5). Here were deposited the sumptuous presents of Gyges and Midas, Alyattes and Croesus (Herod.i. 14, Herod. 51), as well as those of the Sybarites, Spinetae, and Siceliots, each prince and nation having their separate chapel or treasury for the reception of these offerings, with an inscription attesting the name of the donor and the cause of the gift. This temple having been accidentally destroyed by fire in B.C. 548, the Amphictyons undertook to build another for the sum of three hundred talents, of which the Delphians were to pay one fourth. The remainder of the amount is said to have been obtained by contributions from the different cities and nations. Amasis, king of Egypt, furnished a thousand talents of electrum. The Alcmaeonidae, a wealthy Athenian family, undertook the contract, and agreed to construct

View of Delphi and Mount Parnassus.

the edifice of Porine stone, but afterwards liberally substituted Parian marble for the front, a circumstance which is said to have added considerably to their influence at Delphi (Herod.ii. 180; v. 62). According to Strabo and Pausanias, the architect was Spintharus, a Corinthian. The vast riches accumulated in this temple led Xerxes, after having forced the pass of Thermopylae, to send a portion of his army into Phocis, with a view of securing Delphi and its treasures, which, as Herodotus affirms, were better known to him than the contents of his own palace. The enterprise, however, failed, owing, as it was reported by the Delphians, to the manifest interposition of the deity, who terrified the barbarians and hurled destruction on their scattered bands (Herod.viii. 37). Many years subsequent to this event, the temple fell into the hands of the Phocians, headed by Philomelus, who did not scruple to appropriate its riches to the payment of his troops in the war he was then waging against Thebes. The Phocians are said to have plundered the temple during this contest of gold and silver to the enormous amount of 10,000 talents, or about $11,000,000 (cf. Pausan. x. 2). At a still later period, Delphi became exposed to a formidable attack from a large body of Gauls, headed by their king, Brennus. These barbarians, having forced the defiles of Mount Oeta, possessed themselves of the temple and ransacked its treasures. The booty which they obtained on this occasion is stated to have been immense; and this they must have succeeded in removing to their own country, since we are told that, on the capture of Tolosa, a city of Gaul, by the Roman general Caepio, a great part of the Delphic spoils was found there. Pausanias, however, relates that the Gauls met with great disasters in their attempt on Delphi, and were totally discomfited through the miraculous intervention of the god (x. 23; cf. Polyb. i. 6, 5; ii. 20, 6). Sulla is also said to have robbed this temple as well as those of Olympia and Epidaurus. Strabo assures us that in his time the temple was greatly impoverished, all the offerings of any value having been successively removed. The emperor Nero carried off, according to Pausanias (x. 7), five hundred statues of bronze at one time. Constantine the Great, however, proved a more fatal enemy to Delphi than either Sulla or Nero. He removed the sacred tripods to adorn the Hippodrome of his new city, where, together with the Apollo, the statues of the Heliconian Muses, and a celebrated statue of Pan, they were extant when Sozomen wrote his history (Gibbon, Decline and Fall, ch. xvii.). Among these tripods was the famous one which the Greeks, after the battle of Plataea, found in the camp of Mardonius. The Brazen Column which supported this tripod is still to be seen at Constantinople. See the illustration on p. 386.

The spot whence issued the prophetic vapour which inspired the priestess was said to be the central point (ὀμφαλός) of the earth, this having been proved by Zeus himself, who despatched two eagles from opposite quarters of the heavens, which there encountered each other (Pausan. x. 16). The Omphalos was marked by a stone in the shape of half an egg. Strabo reports that the golden tripod was placed over the mouth of the cave, whence proceeded the exhalation, and which was of great depth. On this sat the Pythia, who, having caught the inspiration, pronounced her oracles in extempore prose or verse; if the former, it was immediately versified by the poet always employed for that purpose. The oracle itself is said to have been discovered by accident. Some goats having strayed to the mouth of the cavern, were suddenly seized with convulsions; those likewise by whom they were found in this situation having been affected in a similar manner, the circumstance was deemed supernatural and the cave pronounced the seat of prophecy (Pausan. x. 5; De Orac. Def. p. 433). Earthquakes have long since obliterated the chasm. The priestess could only be consulted on certain days. The season of inquiry was the spring, during the month Busius (Quaest. Graec.). Sacrifices and other ceremonies were to be performed by those who sought an answer from the oracle before they could be admitted into the sanctuary.

Plan of Delphi in 1890.

The most remarkable of the Pythian responses are those which Herodotus records as having been delivered to the Athenians before the invasion of Xerxes (vii. 140); to Croesus (i. 47); to Lycurgus (i. 65); to Glaucus the Spartan (vi. 86). One relative to Agesilaüs is cited by Pausanias (iii. 8). There was, however, as it appears, no difficulty in bribing and otherwise influencing the Pythia herself, as history presents us with several instances of this imposture. Thus we are told that the Alcmaeonidae suggested on one occasion such answers as accorded with their political designs (Herod.v. 62Herod., 90). Cleomenes, king of Sparta, also prevailed on the priestess to aver that his colleague Demaratus was illegitimate. On the discovery, however, of this machination, the Pythia was removed from her office (Herod.vi. 66). Delphi derived further celebrity from its being the place where the Amphictyonic Council held one of their assemblies, and also from the institution of the games which that body established after the successful termination of the Crissaean War. See Amphictyones.

The site of Delphi is occupied by the modern hamlet of Kastri. There still exist at Delphi a part of the wall of the great temple of Apollo with columns and steps, a fragment of a curious marble sphinx, the “Column of the Naxians” with an inscription, a small part of the theatre, a carefully constructed tomb, remains of the Stoa of the Athenians, and some other remnants of the ancient buildings. For many interesting details regarding Delphi and the oracle, see A. Mommsen, Delphika (Leipzig, 1878), and Bouché-Leclerq, Histoire de la Divination dans l'Antiquité, vol. iii. (Paris, 1880); and on the temple, a valuable paper by Prof. Middleton in the Journal of Hellenic Studies, vol. ix. pp. 282- 322. See also the article Oraculum.

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