Delphi(/ˈdɛlfaɪ/ or /ˈdɛlfi/; Greek: Δελφοί, [ðelˈfi]) is both an archaeological site and a modern town in Greece on the south-western spur of Mount Parnassus in the valley of Phocis. In myths dating to the classical periodof Ancient Greece (510-323 BC), the site of Delphi was believed to be determined by Zeus when he sought to find the centre of his “Grandmother Earth” (Ge, Gaea, or Gaia). He sent two eagles flying from the eastern and western extremities, and the path of the eagles crossed over Delphi where the omphalos, or navel of Gaia was found.
Earlier myths include traditions that Pythia, or the Delphic oracle, already was the site of an important oracle in the pre-classical Greek world (as early as 1400 BC) and, rededicated from about 800 BCE, when it served as the major site during classical times for the worship of the god Apollo. Apollo was said to have slain Python, “a dragon” who lived there and protected the navel of the Earth. “Python” (derived from the verb pythein, “to rot”) is claimed by some to be the original name of the site in recognition of Python which Apollo defeated. The Homeric Hymn to Delphic Apollo recalled that the ancient name of this site had been Krisa. Others relate that it was named Pytho and that Pythia, the priestess serving as the oracle, was chosen from their ranks by a group of priestesses who officiated at the temple.
Apollo’ssacred precinct in Delphi was a panhellenic sanctuary, where every four years, starting in 586 BC athletes from all over the Greek world competed in the Pythian Games, one of the four panhellenic (or stephanitic)games, precursors of the Modern Olympics. The victors at Delphi were presented with a laurel crown (stephanos) which was ceremonially cut from a tree by a boy who re-enacted the slaying of the Python. Delphi was set apart from the other games sites because it hosted the mousikos agon, musical competitions.
These Pythian Games rank second among the four stephanitic games chronologically and based on importance.These games, though, were different from the games at Olympia in that they were not of such vast importance to the city of Delphi as the games at Olympia were to the area surrounding Olympia. Delphi would have been a renowned city whether or not it hosted these games; it had other attractions that led to it being labeled the “omphalos” (navel) of the earth, in other words, the center of the world.
In the innerhestia (“hearth”) of the Temple of Apollo, an eternal flame After the battle of Plataea, the Greek cities extinguished their fires and brought new fire from the hearth of Greece, at Delphi; in the foundation stories of several Greek colonies, the founding colonists were first dedicated at Delphi.
The site of Delphi is located in upper central Greece, on multiple plateaux/terraces along the slope of Mount Parnassus, and includes the Sanctuary of Apollo, the site of the ancient Oracle. This semicircular spur is known as Phaedriades, and overlooks the Pleistos Valley.
Southwest of Delphi, about 15 km (9.3 mi) away, is the harbor-city of Kirrha on the Corinthian Gulf. Delphi was thought of by the Greeks as the middle of the entire earth.
Dedication to Apollo
The name Delphoi comes from the same root as δελφύς delphys, “womb” and may indicate archaic veneration of Gaiaat the site. Apollo is connected with the site by his epithet Δελφίνιος Delphinios, “the Delphinian”. The epithet is connected with dolphins (Greek δελφίς,-ῖνος) in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo (line 400), recounting the legend of how Apollo first came to Delphi in the shape of a dolphin, carrying Cretan priests on his back. The Homeric name of the oracle is Pytho (Πυθώ).
Another legend held that Apollo walked to Delphi from the north and stopped at Tempe, a city in Thessaly, to pick laurel (also known as bay tree) which he considered to be a sacred plant. In commemoration of this legend, the winners at the Pythian Games received a wreath of laurel picked in the Temple.
Delphi became the site of a major temple to Phoebus Apollo, as well as the Pythian Games and the famous prehistoric oracle. Even in Roman times, hundreds of votive statues remained, described by Pliny the Younger and seen byPausanias.
Carved into the temple were three phrases: γνῶθι σεαυτόν (gnōthi seautón = “know thyself”) and μηδέν άγαν (mēdén ágan = “nothing in excess”), and Ἑγγύα πάρα δ’ἄτη (eggýa pára d’atē = “make a pledge and mischief is nigh”), In ancient times, the origin of these phrases was attributed to one or more of the Seven Sages of Greece.
Additionally, according to Plutarch’s essay on the meaning of the “E at Delphi”—the only literary source for the inscription—there was also inscribed at the temple a large letter E. Among other things epsilon signifies the number 5.
However, ancient as well as modern scholars have doubted the legitimacy of such inscriptions. According to one pair of scholars, “The actual authorship of the three maxims set up on the Delphian temple may be left uncertain. Most likely they were popular proverbs, which tended later to be attributed to particular sages.”
According to the Homeric-hymn to the Pythian Apollo, Apollo shot his first arrow as an infant which effectively slew the serpent Pytho, the son of Gaia, who guarded the spot. To atone the murder of Gaia’s son, 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.
The Pythian Games took place every four years to commemorate Apollo’s victory. Another regular Delphi festival was the “Theophania” (Θεοφάνεια), an annual festival in spring celebrating the return of Apollo from his winter quarters inHyperborea. The culmination of the festival was a display of an image of the gods, usually hidden in the sanctuary, to worshippers.
The “Theoxenia” was held each summer, centred on a feast for “gods and ambassadors from other states”. Myths indicate that Apollo killed the chthonic serpent Python, Pythia in older myths, but according to some later accounts his wife, Pythia, who lived beside the Castalian Spring. Some sources say it is because Python had attempted to rape Letowhile she was pregnant with Apollo and Artemis.
This spring flowed toward the temple but disappeared beneath, creating a cleft which emitted chemical vapors that caused the Oracle at Delphi to reveal her prophecies. Apollo killed Python but had to be punished for it, since she was a child of Gaia. The shrine dedicated to Apollo was originally dedicated to Gaia and shared with Poseidon. The name Pythia remained as the title of the Delphic Oracle.
Erwin Rohde wrote that the Python was an earth spirit, who was conquered by Apollo, and buried under the Omphalos, and that it is a case of one deity setting up a temple on the grave of another. Another view holds that Apollo was a fairly recent addition to the Greek pantheon coming originally from Lydia. TheEtruscans coming from northern Anatolia also worshipped Apollo, and it may be that he was originally identical with Mesopotamian Aplu, an Akkadiantitle meaning “son”, originally given to the plague God Nergal, son of Enlil. Apollo Smintheus (Greek Απόλλων Σμινθεύς), the mouse killer eliminates mice, a primary cause of disease, hence he promotes preventive medicine.