Delphi (Greek Δελφοί - Delphoi; is an archaeological site and a modern town in Greece. In ancient times it was the site of the Delphic Sibyl, dedicated to the god Apollo. Delphi was revered throughout the Greek world as the site of the ομφαλός (omphalos) stone, the centre of the universe. In the inner εστία (hestia), or hearth, of the Temple of Delphic Apollo (Απόλλων Δελφίνιος - Apollon Delphinios), an άσβεστος φλόγα (eternal flame) burned. After the battle of Plataea, the Greek cities extinguished their fires and brought new fire from the hearth of Greece, at Delphi; in the foundation stories of several Greek colonies, the founding colonists were first dedicated at Delphi (Burkert, 1985, pp. 61, 84).
Delphi is located in a plateau on the side of Mt. Parnassus. This semicircular spur is known as Phaedriades; it overlooks the Pleistos Valley. Southwest of Delphi, about 15 km away, is the harbor-city of Kirrha on the Corinthian Gulf.
The name Delphoi is connected with δελφός delphus "womb" and may indicate archaic veneration of an Earth Goddess at the site. Apollo is connected with the site by his epithet Δελφίνιος Delphinios, "the Delphinian", i.e. either "the one of Delphi", or "the one of the womb". The epithet is connected with dolphins] (the "womb-fish") in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo Εις Απόλλωνα Πύθιον, 400), telling how Apollo first came to Delphi in the shape of a dolphin, carrying Cretan priests on his back.
Another legend held that Apollo walked to Delphi from the north and stopped at Tempe, a city in Thessaly to pick laurel, a plant sacred to him. In commemoration of this legend, the winners at the Pythian Games received a laurel wreath picked in Tempe.
Delphi was the site of a major temple to Phoebus Apollo, as well as the Pythian Games and a famous oracle. Even in Roman times hundreds of votive statues remained, described by Pliny the Younger and seen by Pausanias.
When young, Apollo killed the chthonic serpent Python, which lived beside the Castalian Spring, according to some because Python had attempted to rape Leto while she was pregnant with Apollo and Artemis. This was the spring which emitted vapors that caused the Oracle at Delphi to give her prophesies. Apollo killed Python but had to be punished for it, since Python was a child of Gaia. The shrine dedicated to Apollo was probably originally dedicated to Gaia and then Poseidon. The oracle at that time predicted the future based on the lapping water and leaves rustling in the trees.
The first oracle at Delphi was commonly known as Sibyl, though her name was Herophile. She sang her predictions, which she received from Gaia. Later, "Sibyl" became a title given to whichever priestess manned the oracle at the time. The Sibyl sat on the Sibylline Rock, breathing in vapors from the ground1 and gaining her often puzzling predictions from that. Pausanias claimed that the Sibyl was "born between man and goddess, daughter of sea monsters and an immortal nymph". Others said she was sister or daughter to Apollo. Still others claimed the Sibyl received her powers from Gaia originally, who passed the oracle to Themis, who passed it to Phoebe.
This oracle exerted considerable influence across the country, and was consulted before all major undertakings: wars, the founding of colonies, and so forth. She also was respected by the semi-Hellenic countries around the Greek world, such as Lydia, Caria, and even Egypt. Croesus of Lydia consulted Delphi before attacking Persia, and according to Herodotus received the answer "if you do, you will destroy a great empire." Croesus found the response favorable and attacked, and was utterly overthrown (resulting, of course, in the destruction of his own empire).
The oracle is also said to have proclaimed Socrates the wisest man in Greece, to which Socrates said that if so, this was because he alone was aware of his own ignorance. This claim is related to one of the most famous mottos of Delphi, which Socrates said he learned there, Gnothi Seauton (Γνώθι Σεαυτόν): "know thyself". Another famous motto of Delphi is Meden Agan (Μηδέν Άγαν): "nothing in excess".
In the 3rd century A.D., the oracle (perhaps bribed) declared that the god would no longer speak there.
1 After investigating the site, archeologists were convinced that these vapours are only a myth, as no evidence for them could be found, and — so the then standard opinion in geology — gaseous emissions from rock only occur in conjunction with volcanic activity. However, recent geological research indicates that the site of the oracle shows young geological faults, and it seems plausible that these emitted in ancient times light hydrocarbon gases from bituminous limestone which do have an intoxicating effect. (de Boer et al., Geology 29 (2001) pp. 707; see e.g. here for a popular science coverage)
Other archaeologists believe that the oracle also inhaled fumes of burning bay leaves.
From the entrance of the site, continuing up the slope almost to the temple itself, is a large number of votive statues, and numerous treasuries. These were built by the various states – those overseas as well as those on the mainland – to commemorate victories and to thank the oracle for advice important to those victories. The most impressive is the now-restored Treasury of Athens, built to commemorate the Athenians' victory at the Battle of Marathon. The Athenians had previously been given the advice by the oracle to put their faith in their "wooden walls" – taking this advice to mean their navy, they won a famous battle at Salamis. Another impressive treasury that exists on the site was dedicated by the city of Siphnos, who had ammassed great wealth from their silver and gold mines and so they dedicated the Siphnian Treasury.
The Tholos at the sanctuary of Athena Pronaia is a circular building that was constructed between 380 and 360 B.C. It consisted of 20 Doric columns arranged with an exterior diamater of 14.76 meters, with 10 Corinthian columns in the interior. The Tholos is located approximately a half-mile (800 m) from the main ruins at Delphi. Three of the Doric colums have been restored, making it the most popular site at Delphi for tourists to take photographs.
The modern Delphi or Delfi or Delfoi is situated west of the archaeological site. It is passed by a major highway linking Amfissa along with Itea and Arachova. The main street is two-ways. Delphi also has a school, a lyceum and a square (plateia). The communities include Chrysso which in ancient times was Crissa.
- Homepage of the modern municipality (in English or Greek)
- Hellenic Ministry of Culture: Delphi
- The Oracle of Delphi and Ancient Oracles, annotated guide edited by Tim Spalding
- Delphi guide
- Delphi (in Greek)
- C. Osborne , "A Short detour to Delphi and the Sibyls"
- Livius Picture Archive: Delphi
- Eloise Hart, "The Delphic oracle"
- "The Delphic oracle"
Geology of Delphi
- John R. Hale, et al., "Questioning the Delphic Oracle: When science meets religion at this ancient Greek site, the two turn out to be on better terms than scholars had originally thought", in Scientific American August 2003
- John Roach, "Delphic Oracle's Lips May Have Been Loosened by Gas Vapors" in National Geographic news, August 2001
- Geology of Delphi
- The New York Times, March 19, 2002: "Fumes and Visions Were Not a Myth for Oracle at Delphi"
- Burkert, Walter, Greek Religion 1985.