Delphi and the Oracle

Delphi is an easy bus trip from Athens (we were told) so we got up in the morning and took the metro to a stop that was allegedly close to the bus station.

Rick Steves is usually good about giving directions but his Greece book had very little info about inter-country travel and we had no map that gave us information about the exact location of the bus station.

I voted for a taxi.

Corey thought maybe we should walk around a bit and see if we could find it. A taxi won out for time considerations and as we rode to the bus station, I looked out the window and thought “I would NEVER find this place without a map” just as Corey said out loud “This is basically where I thought it was. We should have walked.”

Reasons why we travel well together and yet another reason why everyone I know is astounded I ever find anything by myself.

We bought bus tickets to Delphi and treated ourselves to a Greek Frappe – Nescafé and condensed milk whirled into a highly caffeinated sugary mass – and then got on the bus behind an American couple where he was wearing a cowboy hat and she was complaining about the squat toilet she’d just used.

Times I like to pretend I don’t speak English.

The bus ride went up into the mountains for about two hours and then dropped us off at the town of Delphi. The actual historical site is a half mile back out of town – down the way the bus just came – and then a solid mile and a half trek up the mountainside gaining almost a 1000 feet in elevation. If you want the knowledge, you gotta make the climb.

Delphi

This is the view from the top looking down

Delphi

Ready for me to lay a little learnin’ on ya? Alright then.

Delphi was once considered the middle of the known world.The ancient Greeks believed that Zeus himself had determined this location by releasing eagles at either end of the world and when they met in the middle, there was Delphi. These cone shaped stones are omphalos, which means navel.

Omphalos

And what better place for an Oracle to predict the course of human destiny than the navel of the world??

Pilgrims did a ritual cleanse in the spring at the bottom of the mountain, which still runs, and then toiled up this mountain bringing offerings – a loaf of bread was the minimum entry fee – before going into the Temple of Apollo to confront the Oracle.

Temple of Apollo at Delphi

For a thousand years there was at least one woman as an Oracle in this temple. Until 394AD this temple had a woman sitting on a cauldron on top of a tripod, likely stoned out of her mind from the gases coming thru the rock under her, and listening to questions from pilgrims, kings, conquerors and philosophers asking about matters ranging from finance and farming to military coups.

This is the temple from above

Temple of Apollo at Delphi

The priests around the Oracle interpreted her answers in “vague haiku like poems” after which the supplicants went home and puzzled out the haiku answers in any way they wished.

Some pilgrims didn’t have the patience for this process, like Alexander the Great. Legend has it that the Oracle gave him some kind of mystical answer to his military campaign questions. Her vagueness displeased him so he took her by the throat and shook her until she said “You’re unstoppable!” so he took that to be his answer.

It’s a testament to people’s basic need for advice that this system persisted for 1000 years, isn’t it?

Of course I am not above some good advice or a shot at Oracle wisdom, so I asked some questions of the Ghost of the Oracle, threw some money into her coffers – a couple euros, an American quarter and some Turkish lira – and then cleansed myself in the springs below on my way out. It was all backwards but I think she’d be ok with that.

I can’t tell you her answers because A. they’re haikus and B. you have to make your own trek and ask your own questions!

We also visited the theatre

Corey at Delphi

and the stadium of the Pythian games, a little brother to the Olympic Games and the second largest athletic competition in ancient Greece. This is the running track/stadium, just slightly shorter than the one in Olympia.

Pythian Games stadium

We then staggered back down the mountain and went even further down the road to see the Sanctuary of Athena, a gorgeous ruined tholos of unknown purpose, likely dating back to Mother Goddess/Gaia worship and the well deserved “most photographed spot in all of Delphi.”

Sanctuary of Athena at Delphi

This was my most favorite spot of the entire site. It’s a bit of a hike down the road and then down the hill but really worth it.

Sanctuary of Athena at Delphi

Plus there’s this plinth on the way that provides an excellent photo op!

Kaitlyn at Delphi

I look cranky but I promise I’m just hot.

Our bus ride back home included a handful of loud Italian girls, a very prominent nose picker and a man spreader in front of me taking up all my space. Sigh.

And back at our hostel we went to the roof top bar. The pamphlet at the front desk advertised a “bucket of beer” and even showed a picture of a bucket with several beer bottles in it but when we asked, the bartender got this look on her face and said “what is this ‘bucket’??”

I would call this #americanproblems but she was standing in front of a sign that said “No Smoking at Any Time/No Wifi” while at the bar there were 12 people smoking while using internet on their phones so… clearly no one knows what’s happening.

We chalked it up to “promises unfulfilled,” got a couple big beers, sat on our balcony looking at the lit up Acropolis and then called it a night.

Acropolis

Next up, Mykonos!

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