Forecasting the Future With the Oracle Of Delphi

By | October 19, 2019

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Consulting the Delphic Oracle. Source: (Universal History Archive/Getty Images)

The most important religious site in Ancient Greece was the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. It was thought to be the center of the world and at its heart was a mysterious oracle who prophesied the future as if she was the mouthpiece of the god. This was the famous oracle of Delphi.

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Attic red-figure kylix from Vulci (Italy), 440-430 BC. Kodros Painter. Oracle of Delphi: King Aegeus in front of the Pythia. Source: (Wikimedia Commons)

Early History

The site of Delphi is located in a dramatic mountainous landscape that provides an atmosphere conducive to religious awe. The original name for Delphi was Pytho, which references a myth of a snake that Apollo had slain in order to establish his sanctuary under Mount Parnassos. The sanctuary itself was thought to be built possibly by people from Crete, no later than the 11th century BC. According to myth, these early inhabitants worship the earth goddess, Gaia, but she was supplanted by Apollo. In the seventh century BC, temples to both Apollo and the goddess Athena were built.

While there were many oracles in the ancient world, the most renown was the one at Delphi. The Delphic oracle, or high priestess, was called Pythia and was believed to be able to channel prophecies from the god Apollo and served as the head of the religious sanctuary. From approximately 800 BC until 393 AD a succession of women took on this role. People would consult the oracle on all sorts of matters: birth, death, sickness, family, wealth management, war, and peace. They reached the peak of their popularity in the 7th and 8th centuries BC at which time there may have been three priestesses available for consultation at any given time.