Ans. This historian relates that a shepherd, while feeding his flocks on the side of Mount Parnassus, observed that his sheep and goats, on approaching a certain cavity in the earth, began to skip and dance about in an extraordinary manner. As he drew near to examine the cause of this phenomenon, the vapors, exhaling from the earth, affected him in the same way; his body was convulsed, and he spoke words which revealed futurity. Others experienced similar effects, and the exhalation was supposed to have a certain divine property. The cavity was approached with reverence; a tripod was placed over it; and a priestess or Pythia was appointed to preside. The words which she uttered when under the influence of the vapor were considered to be inspired by Apollo; crowds came to consult the oracle; a temple was built, and the city of Delphi arose insensibly around the spot.
As the oracle grew in repute it became necessary to appoint a second and a third Pythia to answer those who came to consult the god. The Pythia could not prophesy until she had become intoxicated by the vapor from the sanctuary. This effect was not produced at all times, and on some days it was not permitted to consult the oracle. Spring was considered the most propitious season. When Apollo was favorably disposed, his approach was made known by the moving of a laurel that stood before the gate of the temple. The sacred tree was then seen to tremble in every leaf.
The Pythia was obliged to prepare by fasts, sacrifices and purifications before she ascended the tripod. When under the influence of the mysterious vapor, her hair stood erect, her eyes flashed, she foamed at the mouth, and a convulsive trembling seized her whole body.
She then spoke prophetic words, which were carefully noted by the attendant priests. The oracles were sometimes in verse, but more commonly in prose; in the latter case they were immediately versified by poets employed for that purpose.
Many remarkable oracles are recorded by Herodotus as having been delivered at Delphi, but as a general thing the answers were ambiguous, and so cautiously worded as to seem true, whatever might be the event. Such was the answer given to Crœ´sus, king of Lydia, when he consulted the oracle concerning the result of his expedition against the Medes. The Pythia told him that by crossing the river Halys he would ruin a great empire, but as she did not say what empire, whether his own or that of his enemies, the oracle could not fail of being fulfilled. There is no doubt that the Pythia was often influenced by persuasion or bribes, and many illustrious persons were accused of having bought the oracles they desired.
The temple of Apollo at Delphi was enriched by the offerings of different princes, and the surrounding nations vied with one another in the magnificence of their gifts. The building was destroyed by fire in the year 548 B. C., but was soon rebuilt. Xerxes, after having forced the pass of Thermopylæ, sent a detachment of his army to plunder the treasures of Delphi. The expedition was unsuccessful, owing, as the Delphians asserted, to a manifest interposition of the deity. Afterwards, Philome´lus, a Phocian general, seized these treasures to pay his troops. He is said to have carried off, in gold and silver, a sum equal to ten million dollars. Still later Delphi was threatened by the Gauls, under their king Brennus. According to Pausanias, the city and temple were saved by Pan, as we have seen in the account given of that god; but others declare that the invaders possessed themselves of great booty. Sylla also plundered Delphi, and Nero took from it, at one time, no less than five hundred statues of bronze.
The temple was finally dismantled by Constantine the Great, who adorned his Hippodrome with the sacred tripods.
No traces are known to exist of the cavern whence issued the sacred vapor, but some have thought it might be discovered by searching in the central part of the ruins of the ancient city.
Compiled From Sources In The Public Domain.
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It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent. W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915