- Art Gallery -

 

.


There are more than 500 Oracular statements which have survived from various sources referring to the oracle at Delphi The following list presents some of the most prominent and historically significant.

In the 9th century BC, Lycurgus, regent of Sparta and the writer of the Spartan constitution went to the oracle to ask for guidance. The oracle told Lycurgus that his prayers had been heard and that the state which observed the laws of Lycurgus would become the most famous in the world. With such an endorsement, Lycurgus went to the leading men of Sparta and enlisted their support. Seeking further assistance she also told him

There are two roads, most distant from each other: the one leading to the honorable house of freedom, the other the house of slavery, which mortals must shun. It is possible to travel the one through manliness and lovely accord; so lead your people to this path. The other they reach through hateful strife and cowardly destruction; so shun it most of all

As a result Lycurgus built a constitution for the Spartans that combined features of a monarchy with two kings, of a land-owning aristocracy and a democracy. The oracle further told him

Love of money and nothing else will ruin Sparta.

As a result Lycurgus decreed that no silver money was allowed in Sparta, creating a cumbersome iron currency instead. The oracle was to prove correct. The enslavement of the helots and the gold and silver its soldiers sent home after the Peloponnesian War were to prove to be Sparta's undoing.

In 630 BC the king of the island of Thera, went to Delphi to offer a gift on behalf of his native city, and was told by the oracle

that he should found a city in Libya.

Most did not know where Libya was, and so did little. It then did not rain on Thera for a considerable period, and to find out what went wrong they again approached the oracle. She said

that if they ... would make a settlement at Cyrene in Libya, things would go better with them.

To relieve the pressure from the drought, and following the advice of the oracle, the Therams sought advice from the Cretians as to where Libya was and a colony of Thera was established at Platea. But bad luck still followed them for another two years, so they visited the oracle a third time. She said

Know you better than I, fair Libya abounding in fleeces? Better the stranger than he who has trod it? Oh! Clever Therans!

The Therans sought advice from the local Libyans who gave them a new site, and the colony prospered.

In 595 BC the affairs of the Oracle were too important to be left to the Delphians alone, and the sanctity of the site had been protected by an Amphictyonic League of 12 cities since 1100 BC, named after Amphictyon of Thermopylae, brother of Hellen, the first Greek (or non-Pelasgian) King of Athens. In that year nearby Crisa levied a toll on pilgrims, so ushering in the first Sacred War. After 5 years of struggle, the Oracle decreed that the site of Crisa be left fallow, sacred to Apollo. It ushered in a period of great prosperity.

In 594 BC Solon, the Athenian lawgiver, seeking to capture the island of Salamis from Megara and Cirrha was told by the oracle

First sacrifice to the warriors who once had their home in this island,
Whom now the rolling plain of fair Asopia covers,
Laid in the tombs of heroes with their faces turned to the sunset,

He did, and taking as volunteers 500 young Athenians whose ancestors came from Salamis, was successful in capturing the island, that was to prove so important in later Athenian history. Solon never ceased to support and give credit to the oracle for its support in declaring the island was originally Ionian.

In framing his famous constitutional reforms for Athens, Solon again sought the advice of the oracle who told him

Seat yourself now amidships, for you are the pilot of Athens.

Grasp the helm fast in your hands; you have many allies in your city.

As a result Solon refused the opportunity to become a revolutionary tyrant, and created a constitution for which he, and Athens, were justly honoured. Through trial by jury, a graduated tax system and the forgiveness of debts he prevented a growing gap between the "haves" and the "have-nots". But he refused to accept the confiscations of the property of the rich, so creating an Athenian middle class. He secured an Oath from the Athenian Council of Magistrates that if they violated these laws they would dedicate a gold statue to the Oracle of Delphi of equal weight to themselves.

In 582 BC, the Pythian Games, were created, and run every four years, two years after the Olympic games. They were as important in ancient Greece as the Olympic Games, and included prizes in poetry and drama.

In 560 BC Croesus of Lydia consulted all the famous oracles as to what he was doing on an appointed day. According to Herodotus the oracle proclaimed

I count the grains of sand on the beach and measure the sea; I understand the speach of the dumb and hear the voiceless. The smell has come to my sense of a hard shelled tortoise boiling and bubbling with a lamb's flesh in a bronze pot: the cauldron underneath it is of bronze, and bronze is the lid.

Delphi was declared the winner, Croesus asked if he would have a long reign. He was told

Nay, when a mule becometh king of Medes, flee, soft-soled Lydian, by pebbly Hermus, and stay not, nor feel shame to be a coward.

Croesus thought it impossible that a mule should be king of the Medes and so asked advice about attacking Persia, and according to Herodotus Croesus

After crossing the Halys, Croesus will destroy a great empire.

Croesus was pleased by the response and attacked the Persians. The defeat of Croesus ensured that he had destroyed his own empire. He apparently forgot that Cyrus, the victor was in fact half Mede (by his mother), half Persian (by his father) and therefore could be considered a mule.

In 480 BC, when Xerxes the son of Darius of Persia, returned to finish the job of conquering the Greeks in which his father had failed, the Athenians consulted the oracle. They were told

Now your statues are standing and pouring sweat. They shiver with dread. The black blood drips from the highest rooftops. They have seen the necessity of evil. Get out, get out of my sanctum and drown your spirits in woe.

It was unambiguous. When persuaded to seek advice a second time the oracle gave a way for the Athenians to escape their doom. Athena had approached her father for help for her city. Zeus said that he would grant that

a wall of wood alone shall be uncaptured, a boon to you and your children.

The oracle again advised Athenians to flee

Await not in quiet the coming of the horses, the marching feet, the armed host upon the land. Slip away. Turn your back. You will meet in battle anyway. Oh holy Salamis, you will be the death of many a woman's son between the seedtime and the harvest of the grain.

Meanwhile the Spartans consulted the oracle themselves and were told

The strength of bulls or lions cannot stop the foe. No, he will not leave off, I say, until he tears the city or the king limb from limb.

The Spartans withdrew in consternation, wondering which of the two fates was worse.

The Delphians themselves then asked how could Persia be defeated. The oracle repled

Pray to the Winds. They will prove to be mighty allies of Greece.

Events overtook the prophecy when the Persian army assaulted Thermopylae, where the Spartans (notably “the 300”) and allies held the pass against them. The Spartans under King Leonidas (The Lion), at Thermopylae halted the Persian advance until betrayed by treachery. Refusing to retreat, the Spartans lost their lives, including that of their King (as foretold), but gained immortal fame. The Persian armada then sailed to nearby Cape Artemesium, where the Athenian fleet met them. The Athenian ships fought against great odds, but in three battles managed to hold their own.

It is a historical fact that a tremendous storm then arose at Artemesium, with the most violent winds attacking the ships for 3 days. The Persians lost approximately 20% of their warships and perhaps the same number of transport vessels to the storm. The stormy winds and huge waves did not harm the Athenian ships.

Back in Athens Themistocles argued that the wall of wood referred to the Athenian navy and pursuaded the Athenians to pursue their policy of using their Laurentian silver to continue building their fleet. On the grounds that the oracle referred to Holy Salamis, he claimed that those slain would be Greece's enemies, not the Ahenians. For these the oracle would have said "Oh cruel Salamis". His voice carried the day, Athens was evacuated to Salamis and in a following naval battle the Athenian fleet and its allies destroyed the Persian fleet at Salamis, while watched by Xerxes. Despite the fact that Athens was burned by the Persians, her occupants were saved, the Persian risk was ended and the authority of the Oracle was never higher.

Apparently to the Greeks, the Oracle had made them unrivaled victors over the mightiest empire of the world.

In circa 440 BC the oracle is also said to have said that there was no one wiser than Socrates, to which Socrates said that either all were equally ignorant, or that he was wiser in that 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!" (the Greek expression is a command). Socrates was perhaps only about 30 years old at the time, his fame as a philosopher was yet to come. It has been said that in encouraging Socrates' philosophical leanings, the Oracle was to have its greatest impact upon the future of successive civilisations.

In 403 BC Lysander, the Spartan victor of the Peloponnesian War was warned to beware

Also the dragon (serpent), earthborn, in craftiness coming behind thee.

He was slain from behind in 395 BC by Neachorus, who had a serpent painted upon his shield.

In 401 BC Sparta was warned.

Sure though thy feet, proud Sparta, have a care,
A lame king's reign may see thee trip — Beware!
Troubles unlooked for long shall vex thy shore,
And rolling Time his tide of carnage pour.

Agesilaus, the lame king of Sparta, who acceeded to the Spartan throne at the time of Lysander, through attacking enemies in every quarter, lost control of the seas to the Persians who attacked the Spartan coasal locations, and in his obsession with Thebes, led the Thebans under Epaminondas to fight back, defeating the Spartans for the firs time in the battle of Leuctra in 371 BC, which led to the invasion of Sparta itself and its defeat at the battle of Mantinea in 362 BC.

In 373 BC an earthquake devastated the temple of Delphi. It took the Geek states 50 years to raise the money this time to rebuild the ediface, as so many states had become poorer through overpopulation, famine, plague and war.

In 359 BC Philip II of Macedon, when he consulted the Oracle was told

With silver spears you may conquer the world

The king then sought to capture control of the Silver mines of his neighbouring Thracian and Illyrian kingdoms and used them to bribe his way to many early victories, playing one Greek state off against the others, and isolating his enemies by bribes to potential allies.

Philip also had a highly spirited black colt that no one could ride. The Oracle of Delphi stated whoever could ride this horse would conquer the world, but despite many attempts neither Philip nor none of his generals could mount the horse. It was his son, the young Alexander the Great who succeeded. As a result Bucephalus became his steed for most of his conquest of Asia.

In 353 BC a third Sacred War broke out when Thebes had placed a fine upon Phokis, and Phokis to pay for the war taxed the people of nearby Delphi heavily and seized the Treasury of Delphi. The Amphictyonic League led by Philip declared a war against Phokis. Philip sought to unite the whole of Greece within the Amphictyonic League with Macedonia to attack Persia.

In 339 BC Philip interfered once again against the Amphictyonic alliance when the Krissans trespassed on Apollo's sacred grounds. Philip punished the Krissans, and consequently in 338 c. B.C. defeated the combined armies of the Athenians and the Spartans, thus becoming the dominant force in Greek affairs. Eventually, at the Battle of Chaeronea he was successful against the Athenians and Thebans but he was assasinated before he could lead the invasion of Persia.

In 336 BC when the young Alexander the Great, Phillip's son, arrived at Delphi to have his fortune foretold, just prior to setting forth to conquer the Persian Empire, the Oracle, uncharacteristically remained silent and could not be prompted to say anything, asking him to come back later. Furious, Alexander the Great dragged Pythia by the hair out of the adyton until she screamed -

Let go of me; you’re unbeatable.

The moment hearing these words he dropped her, saying "Now I have my answer"

In 279 BC plundered by a Celtic invasion, the oracle declared


Care for these things falls on me!

The Celts were met by earthquakes, avalanches and a massive snow storm, forcing them to retreat. But the Romans were a different matter.

In 191 BC, the sanctuary of Delphi fell into the Roman sphere of influence, and the oracle generally supported the rise of Rome henceforth.

133 BC In the War between Carthaginian Hannibal and the Romans, the volcano of Thera created an artificial island. The Oracle predicted both the eventual Roman victory and the appearance of the island, in a notable prophecy that stated

When Trojan race (the Romans) the victory shall win
From Punic (Carthaginian) foe, lo! wonders shall begin;
Unearthly fires from out the sea shall flash,
Whirlwinds toss stones aloft, and thunder crash,
An isle unnamed,unknown, shall stand upright,
The weak shall beat the stronger in the fight.

In 86 BC Sulla the Roman Dictator seized the treasury of Delphi in order to finance his siege of Athens, during the Roman Civil Wars of the Late Republic.

In 83 BC Delphi was razed by an attack from the Thracian tribe of Maedi who extinguished the sacred fire which had been burning uninterrupted for millennia.

At the time of Pompey the Great, Cicero, Pompey's ally, consulted the Oracle as to how he should find greatest fame and was told

make your own nature, not the advice of others, your guide in life.

It was wise advice for Pompey was subsequently defeated by Julius Caesar.

In 67 AD Emperor Nero, who was just 30 years old and had just killed his own mother, when visiting the Oracle was told

Your presence here outrages the god you seek. Go back, matricide! The number 73 marks the hour of your downfall!

He was angered and had the Pythia buried alive. Nero thought he would have a long reign and die at 73. Instead his reign came to a short end after a revolt by Galba who was 73 years of age at the time.

The Emperor Hadrian visited Delphi before he reached the throne. After drinking of the Kassotis his destiny as Emperor was proclaimed. When he had acceeded to the throne, he ordered it blocked up so no one else could get the same idea in the same way.

In the second century AD the Amphictyonic League, which had protected Delphi since about 1100 BC, was disbanded.

In 303 AD when the Emperor Diocletian visited Delphi and asked why the quality of the Oracular utterances had declined, the oracle stated it was as a result of Christian influence. It led to Diocletian's persecution of the Christians, and Christian animosity against the Oracle, which eventually led to its destruction.

In 391 AD, despite the attempt by the Emperor Julian revive the Oracle by removing Hadrian's plug and to exempt the temple from taxation and protect its priesthood, under the reign of Theodosius I, Christian attacks against pagan temples continued, reaching a head when the Emperor ordered that all pagan temples be shut. The oracle declared to the Emperor in 393 CE

Tell the king; the fair wrought house has fallen.
No shelter has Apollo, nor sacred laurel leaves;
The fountains are now silent; the voice is stilled.
It is finished.

Within two years the Emperor Theodosius was dead. Within twenty the Western Roman Empire had fallen to Alaric the Visigoth, invaded by a barbarian for the first time in 800 years.

In addition to these politically important prophecies, there were many thousands of pronouncements that led to the freeing of slaves, the creation of successful marriages, the honouring of local gods, the successful planting of crops and engagement in trade and industry, many of which were later honoured by gifts or inscriptons at the oracle site. It was truly an impressive record in shaping the course of the whole Greco-Roman civilisation.


Retrieved from "http://en.wikipedia.org/"
All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License

Greece

World

Index

Hellenica World