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Delphi information

April 21, 2010

I’m currently reading “Ancient Greek Divination” by Sarah Iles Johnston (which, by the way, is infinitely more readable than her Hekate book).  I just read the section on Delphi and found it very interesting.  Below is some of the info that jumped out at me.

  • Two fault lines have been found under Delphi and they cross under the room where the Pythia sat.
  • Trace amounts of ethylene, ethane and methane were found.  Small doses of ethylene not only has a sweet smell but can also produce a lucid altered state of mind.  While the amount of ethylene in the room probably fluctuated over the years, after a while only the slightest sniff of it would be enough to trigger psychologically altered state of mind.  This would mean that the gas prepared the Pythia for divination but was not the cause of it.  This would explain why the priests or anyone else in the area didn’t also prophecy.
  • In Greece, divination did NOT remove personal responsibility because the receiver(s) had to decode the meaning of an oracle and accept responsibility for the action taken due to that meaning.
  • The Greeks were fascinated by riddles and believed that everything in the world could have more than one meaning.
  • Steps of Oracle consultation at Delphi:
    • Step One:  Zeus determines his will
    • Step Two:  Apollo articulates that will and what it will mean for mortals
    • Step Three:  Pythia speaks on Apollo’s behalf
    • Step Four:  Listener(s) decode Apollo’s words
    • Step Five:  Listener(s) act upon their interpretation of those words
  • Pythia only did consultations one day a month for nine months out of the year.  This leads Johnston to theorize that Delphi probably also used lot divination for those matters easily answered in that fashion or for those that couldn’t pay the fee to see the Pythia.
  • There is a vase painting that suggests that either Themis was the first Pythia or that Pythia performed a function originally attributed to Themis.  The word themis has two meanings:  the coming together of a group of people to decided a course of action and it can mean oracles.  For the Greeks both definitions would put into action help determine a course that is, ideally, just and proper.
  • The following quote really explains WHY the Greeks had an active religious life.
    • “…the Greek view that, although the gods are superior to humans, humans are expected to engage with them, rather than simply wait, passively, for what the gods hand down.”
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