The tales of Greek mythology are memorable and they have endured the centuries. Most of us know about the gods and goddesses in the stories, but there were a handful of other figures that have also made a lasting impression. One of these characters is the Oracle of Delphi, also known as the Pythia.
The Oracle was said to have lived at the ancient site that is located at Delphi, which at the time was called “Omphalos” by the Ancient Greeks. This term denotes the center of the world. The ancients believed this global focal point was located here at a remote region in upper central Greece on a plateau along the slopes of Mt. Parnassus.
Here’s a look at who the Oracle of Delphi was, and some of the stories associated with her:
Get to Know Apollo and His Priestess
One of the main temples to Apollo was located at Delphi, which is now an archaeological site that receives thousands of visitors each year. The Temple of Apollo was presided over by the Pythia, the high priestess of Apollo. The role of Pythia was passed on from woman to woman in ceremonial succession. The Pythia was chosen from among an assembly of priestesses who served at the temple. The priestess selected to embody Pythia was required to be a woman of superior moral character and probably celibate.
Most historians believe the Oracle of Delphi was established by at least the 8th Century B.C., although the precise history and its first founding is lost to the mists of time. The Oracle of Delphi was not merely a temple to worship Apollo. It had a more practical application – it was a place where the future could be foretold and a method of direct communications with the gods could be facilitated.
Creating a Link with the Gods
Back then, the belief was that one could create a link with the gods by undergoing a specific ritual. There are caves located at Delphi, and it is believed that the Oracle lived inside the caves. The woman who served as the Pythia is said to have sat on a raised tripod, which was thought to be a throne that was made of stone.
It was thought that the Pythia would enter into a special state, induced by hallucinations. At the time, it was believed that these visions were divinely inspired. Scientists and historians have since theorized that they may have come from toxic gases that were emitted by a spring located underneath the cave. These gases were said to have placed the Oracle into a trance, which is where many of her visions and predictions originated.
Kings, generals, and other powerful elites routinely visited the Oracle to get the vital information they needed to ensure success in their important undertakings. For example, a king might want information on how to defeat his most bitter enemy.
The Oracle of Delphi Made a Historical Prediction
A famous example occurred in 480 B.C. when Greece was invaded by the powerful King Xerxes of Persia. The Athenians sought the wisdom of the oracle for advice on how to defend themselves or defeat the Persians.
The Pythia originally gave them terrible news. She basically predicted that defeat for the Greeks was certain. However, a second attempt at appealing to her wisdom resulted in a better result. The Pythia, rather cryptically, told the Greek commanders that, “the wooden wall only shall not fail.” This “wooden wall” was interpreted to mean the wooden ships that made up the Athenian navy. This ended up coming true because the Athenian navy scored a historic victory against a superior Persian invasion fleet and the Greeks won the war.
There is a lot of lore associated with the Oracle of Delphi. Although some of these stories are present in Greek mythology, others have a basis in history. This fact only adds to the mystique associated with this figure from Ancient Greece.