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Delphi (Ancient Greek: was an important ancient Greek religious sanctuary sacred to the god Apollo. Located on Mt. Parnassus near the Gulf of Corinth, the sanctuary was home to the famous oracle of Apollo which gave cryptic predictions and guidance to both city-states and individuals. In addition, Delphi was also home to the panhellenic Pythian Games.

Mythology

Center of the Earth

Delphi was considered the center of the world, for in Greek mythology Zeus released two eagles, one to the east and another to the west, and Delphi was the point at which they met after encircling the world. This fact was represented by the omphalos (or navel), a dome-shaped stone which stood outside Apollo's temple and which also marked the spot where Apollo killed the Python.

Slaying of the Python

One of Apollo's great deeds was taken place at Delphi: the killing of the serpent Python. Apollo came down from Mount Olympus and with his silver bow and golden arrows, he slayed the beast in one shot to save the people of the land. In remembrance of his deed, it's said that Apollo created the Pythian Games, held every four years. Today we have a very similar form of games, the summer olympics. After taking control of the oracle from Python, he bestowed special abilities of prophecy upon one of his priestesses and named her Pythia.

Apollo's Oracle

The oracle of Apollo at Delphi was famed throughout the Greek world and even beyond. The oracle -

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Pythia of the Oracle of Delphi

the Pythiaor priestess - would answer questions put to her by visitors wishing to be guided in their future actions. The whole process was a lengthy one, usually taking up a whole day and only carried out on specific days of the year. First the priestess would perform various actions of purification such as washing in the nearby Castalian Spring, burning laurel leaves, and drinking holy water. Next an animal - usually a goat - was sacrificed. The party seeking advice would then offer a pelanos - a sort of pie - before being allowed into the inner temple where the priestess resided and gave her pronouncements, possibly in a drug or natural gas-induced state of ecstasy. Apollo allowed Dionysus to stay in Delphi, but only for three winter months, while he visited the country of the Hyperboreans.

Panhellenic Games

Delphi, as with the other major religious sites of Olympia, Nemea, and Isthmia, held games to honour various gods of the Greek religion. The Pythian Games of Delphi began sometime between 591 and 585 BCE and were initially held every eight years, with the only event being a musical competition where solo singers accompanied themselves on a kithara to sing a hymn to Apollo. Later, more musical contests and athletic events were added to the programme, and the games were held every four years with only the Olympic Games being more important. The principal prize for victors in the Games was a crown of laurel or bay leaves.

The Struggle for the Delphic Tripod

The legend of Heracles is also present at Delphi, when the great hero stole the "Tripod of the Oracle".  Hercules journeyed to the oracle at Delphi, in hopes that the priestess there would advise him on how to cure himself. But Hercules was to be disappointed. When he questioned the Pythian priestess, she was unable to answer him in oracles. Heracles, outraged at priestesses unwillingness to help, began tearing the temple apart. When Hercules came upon the Delphic tripod, he started to make off with it, thinking that he would establish an oracle of his own.

Apollo, however, was not about to let Hercules carry off the prized tripod from his sacred site. He began to wrestle with Hercules over its possession; Apollo was supported by his sister, Artemis, while Hercules was supported by his patron, Athena. In the midst of their tug-of-war contest, Zeus dropped in and tried to break up the feuding brothers. Zeus hurled one of his mighty thunderbolts between them. After the two siblings were pried apart, Hercules finally received an oracle, instructing him to be sold into slavery for a year, and to pay Eurytus in compensation for the loss of his son. The tripod remained at Delphi and Hermes sold Hercules to Omphale, Queen of Lydia, for whom he performed women's work for his year of servitude.

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