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A very ancient seat of prophecy at Delphi, originally called Pytho, and situated on the south-western spur of Parnassus in a valley of Phocis. In historical times the oracle appears in possession of Apollo; but the original possessor, according to the story, was Gaia (the Earth). Then it was shared by her with Poseidon, who gave up his part in it to Apollo in exchange for the island of Calauria, Themis, the daughter and successor of Gaia, having already given Apollo her share. According to the Homeric hymn to the Pythian Apollo, the god took forcible possession of the oracle soon after his birth, slaying with his earliest bow-shot the serpent Pytho, the son of Gaia, who guarded the spot. To atone for his murder, Apollo was forced to fly and spend eight years in menial service before he could return forgiven. A festival, the Septeria, was held every year, at which the whole story was represented: the slaying of the serpent, and the flight, atonement, and return of the god. Apollo was represented by a boy, both of whose parents were living. The dragon was symbolically slain, and his house, decked out in costly fashion, was burnt. Then the boy's followers hastily dispersed, and the boy was taken in procession to Tempe, along the road formerly followed by the god. Here he was purified and brought back by the same road , accompanied by a chorus of maidens singing songs of joy. The oracle proper was a cleft in the ground in the innermost sanctuary, from which arose cold vapours, which had the power of inducing ecstasy. Over the cleft stood a lofty gilded tripod of wood. On this was a circular, slab, upon which the seat of the prophetess was placed. The prophetess, called Pythia, was a maiden of honourable birth; in earlier times a young girl, but in a later age a woman of over fifty, still wearing a girl's dress, in memory of the earlier custom. In the prosperous times of the oracle two Pythias acted alternately, with a third to assist them. In the earliest times the Pythia ascended the tripod only once a year, on the birthday of Apollo, the seventh of the Delphian spring month Bysios. But in later years she prophesied every day, if the day itself and the sacrifices were not unfavourable. These sacrifices were offered by the supplicants, adorned with laurel crowns and fillets of wool. Having prepared herself by washing and purification, the Pythia entered the sanctuary, with gold ornaments in her hair, and flowing robes upon her; she drank of the water of the fountain Cassotis, which flowed into the shrine, tasted the fruit of the old bay tree standing in the chamber, and took her seat. No one was present but a priest, called the Prophetes, who explained the words she uttered in her ecstasy, and put them into metrical form, generally hexameters. In later times the votaries were contented with answers in prose. The responses were often obscure and enigmatical, and couched in ambiguous and metaphorical expressions, which themselves needed explanation. The order in which the applicants approached the oracle was determined by lot, but certain cities, as Sparta, had the right of priority. The reputation of the oracle stood very high throughout Greece until the time of the Persian wars, especially among the Dorian tribes, and among them re-eminently the Spartans, who had stood from of old in intimate relation with it. On all important occasions, as the sending out of colonies, the framing of internal legislation or religious ordinances, the god of Delphi was consulted, and that not only by Greeks but by foreigners, especially the people of Asia and Italy. After the Persian wars the influence of the oracle declined, partly in consequence of the growth of unbelief, partly from the mistrust excited by the partiality and venality of the priesthood. But it never fell completely into discredit, and from time to time its position rose again. In the first half of the 2nd century A.D. it had a revival, the result of the newly awakened interest in the old religion. It was abolished at the end of the 4th century A.D. by Theodosius the Great. The oldest stone temple of Apollo was attributed to the mythical architects, Trophonius and Agamedes. It was burnt down in 548 B.C., when the Alcmaeonidae, at that time in exile from Athens, undertook to rebuild it for the sum of 300 talents, partly taken from the treasure of the temple, and partly contributed by all countries inhabited by Greeks and standing in connexion with the oracle. They put the restoration into the hands of the Corinthian architect Spintharus, and carried it out in a more splendid style than was originally agreed upon, building the front of Parian marble instead of limestone. The groups of sculpture in the pediments represented, on the eastern side, Apollo with Artemis, Leto, and the Muses; on the western side, Dionysus with the Thyiades and the setting sun; for Dionysus was worshipped here in winter during the imagined absence of Apollo. These were all the work of Praxias and Androsthenes, and were finished about 430 B.C. The temple was, on account of its vast extent, a hypaethral building; that is, there was no roof over the space occupied by the temple proper. The architecture of the exterior was Doric, of the interior Ionic, as may still be observed in the surviving ruins. On the walls of the entrance-hall were short texts written in gold, attributed to the Seven Wise Men. One of these was the celebrated "Know Thyself." In the temple proper stood the golden statue of Apollo, and in front of it the sacrificial hearth with the eternal fire. Near this was a globe of marble covered with fillets, the Omphalos or centre of the earth. In earlier times two eagles stood at its side, representing the two eagles which fable said had been sent out by Zeus at the same moment from the eastern and western ends of the world. These eagles were carried off in the Phocian war, and their place filled by two eagles in mosaic on the floor. Behind this space was the inner shrine, lying lower, in the form of a cavern over the cleft in the earth. Within the spacious precincts (peribolos), stood a great number of chapels, statues, votive offerings and treasure-houses of the various Greek states, in which they deposited their gifts to the sanctuary, especially the tithes of the booty taken in war. Here, too, was the council chamber of the Delphians. Before the entrance to the temple was the great altar for burnt-offerings, and the golden tripod, dedicated by the Greeks after the battle of Plataea, on a pedestal of brass, representing a snake in three coils. [The greater part of this pedestal now stands in the Hippodrome, or Atmeidan, at Constantinople.] Besides the treasures accumulated in the course of time, the temple had considerable property in land, with a population consisting mainly of slaves (hierodouloi), bound to pay contributions and to render service to the sanctuary. The management of the property was in the hands of priests chosen from the noble Delphian families, at their head the five Hosioi or consecrated ones. Since the first spoliation of the temple by the Phocians in 355 B.C., it was several times plundered on a grand scale. Nero, for instance, is said to have carried off 500 bronze statues. Yet some 3,000 statues were to be seen there in the time of the elder Pliny. [See an article on the Delphic temple by Professor Middleton, Journal of Hellenic Studies, ix 282-322.]
A Greek term for an oracle of the dead. (See ORACLES.)
ORACLES 100.00%
The seats of the worship of some special divinity, where prophecies were imparted with the sanction of the divinity, either by the priests themselves or with their co-operation. There were a great many such places in all Greek countries, and these may be divided, according to the method in which the prophecy was made known, into four main divisions: (1) oral oracles, (2) oracles by signs, (3) oracles by dreams, and (4) oracles of the dead. The most revered oracles were those of the first class, where the divinity, almost invariably the seer-god Apollo, orally revealed his will through the lips of inspired prophets or prophetesses. The condition of frenzy was produced for the most part by physical influence: the breathing of earthly vapours or drinking of the water of oracular fountains. The words spoken whilst in this state were generally fashioned by the priests into a reply to the questions proposed to them. The most famous oracle of this kind was that of Delphi (see DELPHIC ORACLE). Beside this there existed in Greece Proper a large number of oracles of Apollo, as at Ab' in Phocis, in different places of Boeotia, in Euboea, and at Argos, where the priestess derived her inspiration from drinking the blood of a lamb, one being killed every month. Not less numerous were the oracles of Apollo in Asia Minor. Among these that of the Didym'an Apollo at Miletus traced its origin to the old family of the Branchid', the descendants of Apollo's son Branchus. Before its destruction by Xerxes, it came nearest to the reputation of the Delphian. Here it was a priestess who prophesied, seated on a wheel-shaped disc, after she had bathed the hem of her robe and her feet in a spring, and had breathed the steam arising from it. The oracle at Clarus near Colophon (see MANTO) was also very ancient. Here a priest, after simply hearing the names and the number of those consulting the oracle, drank of the water of a spring, and then gave answer in verse. The most respected among the oracles where prophecy was given by signs was that of Zeus of Dodona (q.v.), mentioned as early as Homer [Od. xiv 327=xix 296], where predictions were made from the rustling of the sacred oak, and at a later time from the sound of a brazen cymbal. Another mode of interpreting by signs, as practised especially at the temple of Zeus at Olympia by the Iamid', or descendants of Iamus, a son of Apollo, was that derived from the entrails of victims and the burning of the sacrifices on the altar. There were also oracles connected with the lot or dice, one especially at the temple of Heracles at Bura in Ach'a; and prophecies were also delivered at Delphi by means of lots, probably only at times when the Pythia was not giving responses. The temple of the Egyptian Ammon, who was identified with Zeus, also gave oracles by means of signs. Oracles given in dreams were generally connected with the temples of Asclepius. After certain preliminary rites, sick persons had to sleep in these temples; the priests interpreted their dreams, and dictated accordingly the means to be taken to insure recovery. The most famous of these oracular shrines of the healing god was the temple at Epidaurus, and next to this the temple founded thence at Pergamum in Asia Minor. Equally famous were the similar oracles of the seer Amphilochus at Oropus, of Trophonius at Lebadea in Boeotia, and of the seers Mopsus and Amphilochus at Mallus in Cilicia (q.v.). In later times such oracles were connected with all sanctuaries of Isis and Serapis. At oracles of the dead (psychomanteia) the souls of deceased persons were evoked in order to give the information desired. Thus in Homer [Od. xi] Odysseus betakes himself to the entrance of the lower world to question the spirit of the seer Tiresias. Oracles of this kind were especially common in places where it was supposed there was an entrance to the lower world; as at the city of Cichyrus in Epirus (where there was an Acherusian lake as well as the rivers of Acheron and Cocytus, bearing the same, names as those of the world below), at the promontory of T'narum in Laconia, at Heraclea in Pontus, and at Lake Avernus near Cum' in Italy. At most of them oracles were also given in dreams; but there were some in which the inquirer was in a waking condition when he conjured up the spirits whom he wished to question. While oracles derived either from dreams or from the dead were chosen in preference by superstitious people, the most important among oral oracles and those given by means of signs had a political significance. On all serious occasions they were questioned on behalf of the State in order to ascertain the divine will: this was especially the case with the oracle of Delphi (see DELPHIC ORACLE). In consequence of the avarice and partisanship of the priests, as well as the increasing decline of belief in the gods, the oracles gradually fell into abeyance, to revive again everywhere under the Roman emperors, though they never regained the political importance they had once had in ancient Greece. Such investigation of the divine will was originally quite foreign to the ROMANS. Even the mode of prophecying by means of lots (see SORTES), practised in isolated egions of Italy, and even in the immediate neighbourhood of Rome, as at C're, and especially at Pr'neste, did not come into use, at all events for State purposes, and was generally regarded with contempt. The Romans did not consult even the Sibylline verses in order to forecast the future. On the other hand, the growth of superstition in the imperial period not only brought the native oracles into repute, but caused a general resort to foreign oracles besides. The inclination to this kind of prophecy seems never to have been more generally spread among the masses of the people than at this time. Apart from the Greek oracular deities, there were the oriental deities whose worship was nearly everywhere combined with predictions. In most of the famous sanctuaries the most various forms of prophecy were represented, and the stranger they were, the better they were liked. In the case of the oral oracles the responses in earlier times were for the most part composed in verse: on the decay of poetic productiveness, they began to take the form of prose, or of passages from the poets, the Greeks generally adopting lines of Homer or Euripides, the Italians, lines of Vergil. The public declaration of oracles ended with the official extermination of paganism under Theodosius at the end of the 4th century.
PYTHIA 42.45%
The prophetess of Apollo at Delphi. (See DELPHIC ORACLE.)
A marble boss in the temple of Apollo at Delphi, which was regarded as the centre of the earth. (See DELPHIC ORACLE.)
MANTO 30.40%
Daughter of the seer Tireslas, was herself a prophetess, at first of the Ismenian Apollo at Thebes. After the capture of the town by the Epigoni she was presented to the oracle at Delphi as part of the booty, and sent by the god to Asia, in order to found the oracle of the Clarian Apollo in the neighbourhood of what was afterwards Colophon. Here she bore Mopsus (q.v., 2) to the Cretan seer Rhacius.
An Athenian, who lived at the court of Pisistratus and his sons. At the request of Pisistratus, he prepared an edition of the Homeric poems. He was an industrious collector, and also a forger of old oracles and poems. Those which go under the name of Orpheus are regarded as, for the most part, concocted by himself. He was detected in forging an oracle of Mus'us, and banished from Athens by the Pisistratid'; but he was afterwards reconciled to them, and in their interest induced Xerxes, by alleged oracular responses, to decide upon his war with Greece [Herodotus, viii 6].
DODONA 24.77%
In Epirus. The ancient seat of the oracle of Zeus and Dione, who was worshipped here as his wife instead of Hera. The oldest sanctuary of the god was an oak tree, with a spring at its foot, sacred to Zeus, and probably mephitic. The will of Zeus was ascertained from the rustling of the oak leaves by the priests, whom Homer calls Selloi, and their grey- headed priestesses called Peleiades. In later times oracles were taken at Dodona from lots, and from the ringing of an iron basin. In front of this basin there stood an iron statue of a boy, with a whip formed of three chains, from which hung some buttons which touched the basin. If the whip moved in the breeze, the buttons sounded against the basin. The oracle of Dodona had in early times the greatest name of all; but in later times, though it never lost its reputation, it was eclipsed by that of Delphi. It was still consulted, mainly indeed by the neighbouring populations, but sometimes also by the states of Athens and Sparta. It was in existence in the 2nd century A.D., and does not seem to have disappeared before the 4th.
PYTHON 24.36%
A monstrous serpent produced by Gaea, which haunted the caves of Parnassus. It was slain by Apollo with his first arrows. (See APOLLO and DELPHIC ORACLE.)
AMMON 23.90%
A god native to Libya and Upper Egypt. He was represented sometimes in the shape of a ram with enormous curving horns, sometimes in that of a ram-headed man, sometimes as a perfect man standing up or sitting on a throne. On his head was the royal emblems, with two high feathers standing up, the symbols of sovereignty over the upper and under worlds; in his hands were the sceptre and the sign of life. In works of art his figure is coloured blue. Beside him stands the goddess Muth (the "mother," the "queen of darkness," as the inscriptions call her), wearing the crown of Upper Egypt or the vulture-skin (see cut). His chief temple, with a far-famed oracle, stood in an oasis of the Libyan desert, twelve days' journey from Memphis. Between this oracle and that of Zeus at Dodona a connexion is said to have existed from very ancient times, so that the Greeks early identified the Egyptian god with their own Zeus, as the Romans did afterwards withtheir Jupiter; and his worship found an entrance at several places in Greece, at Sparta, Thebes, and also Athens, whence festal embassies were regularly sent to the Libyan sanctuary (see THEORIA). When the oracle was consulted by visitors, the god's symbol, made of emerald and other stones, was carried round by women and girls, to the sound of hymns, on a golden ship hung round with votive cups of silver. His replies were given in tremulous shocks communicated to the bearers, which were interpreted by a priest.
King of Argos, great-grandson of Danaus, son of Abas, and brother of Proetus. An oracle having declared that a son of his daughter Danae would take his life, he shuts her up in a brazen tower; but Zeus falls into her lap in the shape of a shower of gold, and she bears a son named Perseus. Then mother and child are put in a wooden box and thrown into the sea, but they drift to the island of Seriphus, and are kindly received. Perseus, having grown into a hero, sets out with his mother to seek Acrisius, who has fled from Argos for fear of the oracle coming true; he finds him at Larissa, in Thessaly, and kills him unawares with a discus.
MENIPPE 21.65%
Daughter of Orion, who offered to die with her sister Metioche, when a pestilence was raging in Boeotia, and the oracle demanded the sacrifice of two virgins. (See also ORION).
Son of Heracles and Auge, the daughter of Aleus of Tegea and priestess of Athene. She concealed the child in the temple of the virgin goddess, and the country in consequence suffered a blight. By consulting an oracle, Aleus discovered the cause of the blight, and gave his daughter to Nauplius to drown her in the sea; but he exposed the infant on Mount Parthenion, where he was suckled by a hind and brought up by shepherds. Auge was given by Nauplius to Teuthras, king of Mysia, who made her his wife. When Telephus grew up, he consulted the oracle of Delphi to learn who his parents were, and was ordered to go into Asia to Teuthras. Teuthras welcomed his wife's son, and married him to his daughter Argiope, and at his death appointed Telephus his successor. The Greeks, on their way to Troy, landed on the coast of Mysia and began to plunder it, thinking they had reached Troy. Telephus opposed them bravely, and killed Thersander, son of Polynices; but, being forced by Achilles to fly, Dionysus in his wrath caused him to stumble over a vine, and Achilles wounded him in the thigh with his lance. As the wound did not heal, and he was told by the oracle that it could only be healed by him who had inflicted it, Telephus disguised himself as a beggar, and went to Argos, whither the Greeks had been driven back by a storm. Under the advice of Clytaemnestra he carried off Agamemnon's infant son, whom he stole from his cradle, and took refuge on the house altar, threatening to kill the child unless Agamemnon compelled Achilles to cure his wound. This had the desired effect, and Achilles healed the wound with the rust, or with the splinters, of the lance which had inflicted it. Being designated by the oracle as the guide to Troy, he showed the Greeks the way, but refused to take part in the war, because his wife, Astyoche, was a sister of Priam. His son Eurypylus rendered the Trojans the last aid they received before the fall of their town. This he did at the prompting of his mother, whom Priam had bribed by means of a golden vine wrought by Hephaestus, and given by Zeus to Tros in compensation for carrying off Ganymede. Eurypylus was killed by Neoptolemus after having performed many brave exploits. In the Mysian town of Pergamon, and especially by the kings of the house of Attalus, Telephus was revered as a national hero.
MOPSUS 18.13%
Son of the Cretan seer Rhacius and of Manto (q.v.), and founder, with Amphilochus, son of Amphiaraus, of the celebrated oracle (q.v.) at Mallus in Cilicia. Mopsus and Amphilochus killed each other in a combat for the possession of the sanctuary.
BRIZO 17.68%
A goddess localized in Delos, to whom women, in particular, paid worship as protectress of mariners. They set before her eatables of various kinds (fish being excluded) in little boats. She also presided over an oracle, the answers of which were given in dreams to people who consulted it on matters relating to fishery and navigation.
MOPSUS 17.55%
One of the Lapitae of (Echalia in Thessaly, son of Ampyx and the Nymph Chloris. He took part, in the Calydonian Hunt and in the fight of the Lapithae and the Centaurs see PIRITHOUS), and afterwards accompanied the Argonauts as seer, and died of the bite of a snake in Libya, where he was worshipped as a hero, and had an oracle.
Son of Amphiaraus and Eriphyle, Alcmaeon's brother. He was a seer, and according to some took part in the war of the Epigoni and the murder of his mother. He was said to have founded the Amphilochian Argos (near Neokhori) in Acarnania. Later legend represents him as taking part in the Trojan War, and on the fall of Troy going to Cilicia with Mopsus (q.v.), and there founding a famous oracle at Mallus. At last the two killed each other while fighting for the possession of it.
Specially used of sleeping in a sanctuary where oracular responses were sought through dreams or necromancy. (See ORACLES.) It was with a view to obtaining in a dream a revelation either from the god of the sanctuary, or by conjuring up the spirit of some dead person. Certain preliminaries had generally to be performed, in particular the sacrifice of some animal, on whose skin it was often customary to sleep. These incubations, which were in vogue among the Greeks from the earliest times, but were not extensively practised among the Romans until under the Empire, generally took place in the temple of Aesculapius, the god of healing.
EPIGONI 13.43%
The descendants of the seven princes who marched against Thebes: Aegialeus, son of Adrastus; Alcmaeon, son of Amphiaraus; Diomedes, son of Tydeus; Promachus, son of Parthenopaeus; Sthenelus, son of Capaneus; Thersander, son of Polynices; Euryalus, son of Mecisteus. To avenge the slain, they marched against Thebes, under the leadership of Adrastus, ten years after the first Theban war (see ADRASTUS). Unlike their ancestors, they started with the happiest auspices. The oracle of Amphiaraus at Thebes promises them victory, and a happy return to all, that is, except Aegialeus the son of Adrastus, the only warrior who escaped in the previous war. In the decisive battle at Glisas, Aegialeus falls by the hand of Laodamas, son of Eteocles, and leader of the Thebans. Laodamas is himself slain by Alemaeon. Part of the defeated Thebans, by the advice of Teiresias, fly before the city is taken, and settle in the territory of Hestiaeotis in Thessaly, or among the Illyrian Encheli, where the government is in the hands of descendants of Cadmus (see CADMUS). The victors having conquered and destroyed the city, send the best part of the booty, according to their vow, to the Delphic oracle. Thersander and his family are henceforth the rulers of Thebes.
DIONE 12.98%
In Greek mythology, the daughter of Oceanus and Tethys, or, according to another account, of UrInus and Gaia. By Zeus she was mother of Aphrodite, who was herself called Dione. At Dodona she was worshipped in Hera's place as the wife of Zeus. Her name, indeed, expresses in a feminine form the attributes of Zeus, just as the Latin Juno does those of Jupiter, When the oracle of Dodona lost its former importance, Dione was eclipsed by Hera as the wife of Zeus, and came to be regarded as a nymph of Dodona.
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