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Friday, June 03, 2005

DELPHI: Consulting the Oracle

" And thence he (Apollo) came
unto this land of Parnassus
and at his side, with awe revering him
were the children of Hephaestus, preparing the way
and taming the land that once was wilderness
and he was received with honour
by all the people and Delphos, their chieftain-king." Eumenidis

We took a day trip to Delphi yesterday. I've been there many times before, and recall the very first time in 1982, when I went up with a Greek friend, Kos. We arrived at night and took our sleeping bags down on the mountainside. The sky was ablaze with stars, meteorites falling, and a big full moon. Delphi's magic was everywhere. In the morning, when we woke, we were sleeping right near the edge of the deep gorge with a spectacular view of the Corinithian Gulf and the far-away little port of Itea.

On another visit, in '93 I went there with my friend Sylvie. I was sitting on the edge of the path that leads up to the stadium, writing in my journal. When I looked up, I saw HIM coming down the path with his companions. Alexander. Clear as if he was really there. That bright lions mane of hair, wearing a robin's egg blue mantle, his head turned as he laughed and spoke to his friends. He would have been about 18, and just as he'd been after the Battle of Chaironea when he went to Delphi to consult the oracle.

There's been other memorable trips too and especially the ones where I take a friend who has never been there. I'm so sorry Suzaki missed out on it. Maybe another time.

It's the most Sacred site in Greece and was known in antiquity as the 'naval of the earth'.

The oracle at Delphi probably originated during early Mycenaean times when the earth goddes Gaia was worshipped. Later it became a sanctuary of Themis, later Demeter and then Poseidon, but by the end of the Mycenaean peior, Apollo had replaced the other dieties.

Delphi reached its height in the 4th C B.C. when multitudes of pilgrims bearing expensive votive gifts came to ask advice of its oracle. The Delphic oracle was the most powerful in Greece. She was a priestess over 50 yrs of age who sat on a tripod at the entrance to a chasm which emitted vaporous fumes. As she inhaled them, they induced hallucinations and her utterances were translated into verse by a priest, in answer to pilgrim's questions.

There were several Sacred Wars as various city states fought for control. The Third Sacred War, precipatated between Thebes and the district of Phocis in 356 BC was a chance of Philip II of Macedon to exert power by acting as arbitrator. He ended the conflict but by 339 war broke out again and Philip took the opportunity to bring his formidable army into Greece and defeated a combiined army of Athenians, Thebans and their allies at the Battle of Charionea, thus achieving his goal for control of Greece.

(I have visited the wide plain of Chaironea where this battle was fought. There's a huge stone lion monument there honouring the Theban dead: Alexander, (age 18) leading the right flank of Macedonian cavalry, anhiatlated the 700 man Theben Sacred Band who fought together in pairs to the death. The Athenian orator, Desmothenes was at this battle but beat a cowardly retreat to Athens where he continued his tirades and published pamphlets against the Macedonians until Alexander's time when he was tracked down on the island of Poros and killed.)

Ingrid and I arrived just in time to catch the last half-hour of the museum where I got to see my two favorite pieces of sculpture: the beautiful marble statue of Antinoos, beloved of Hadrian who drowned in the Nile and was deified. And the fabulous bronze charioteer commemorating a victory in the Pythian Games 4788 or 474 BC (the games were held every four years like the Olympics).

We walked up to the stadium and I swear the path was steeper and the way longer than before!
But we made it and it's worth the effort as it is the best preserved stadium in Greece.

Just as we came down out of the Sacred site, Zeus started rumbling by with his thunder chariot and lightening bolts. By the time we got back into the town it was raining buckets so we had to duck into a shop. In minutes the roadway was ankle deep in a raging torrent. We got soaked, and hid out in a cafe eating pizza while we waited for the bus. We following the storm all the way back to Athens and were two drowned rats by the time we reached home.

Today we went to the Friday street market in Koukaki and later to the Cycladic Museum. Tonight is the big Gemini birthday party at the garden taverna. And tomorrow, a sea cruise to Hydra to check out Leonard Cohen's old haunts.

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