THE ORACLES AT DELPHI NO
LONGER GIVEN IN VERSE
(DE PYTHIAE ORACULA)
Plutarch's essay on the changed custom at Delphi
is quite as interesting for its digressions as for its
treatment of the main topic. Portents, coincidences,
history, a little philosophy, stories of persons like
Croesus, Battus, Lysander, Rhodope, finally lead up
to the statement that many oracles used to be
delivered in prose, although still more in early times
were delivered in verse ; but the present age calls
for simplicity and directness instead of the ancient
obscurity and grandiloquence.
We possess a considerable body of Delphic oracles
preserved in Greek literature, as, for example, the
famous oracle of the ' wooden wall ' (Herodotus, vii.
141). Practically all of these are in hexameter verse.
Many more records of oracles merely state that someone consulted the oracle and was told to perform a
certain deed, or was told that something would or
might happen, often with certain limitations. We
have, therefore, no means of determining the truth
of Plutarch's statement, but there is little doubt
that he is right. If we possessed his lost work,
(no. 171 in Lamprias's list), we
should have more abundant data on which to base
The essay often exhibits Plutarch at his best.
Hartman thinks that Plutarch hoped that the .work
would be read at Rome, and therefore inserted the
encomium of Roman rule near the end.
The essay stands as no. 116 in Lamprias's catalogue.
It is found in only two mss. and in a few places the
tradition leaves us in doubt, but, for the most part, the
text is fairly clear.
The references to the topography and monuments
of Delphi have become more intelligible since the site
was excavated by the French. Pomtow, in the
Berliner Pkilologische Wochenschrift
, 1912, p. 1170,
gives an account of the monuments visited by the
company in this essay.