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Ancient history [...] Oracle of Delphi in Ancient Greece, including the important aspects of the cultural experience that took place at Delphi. Delphi was one of the most significant oracles in Ancient Greece. The Greeks submitted their most vital state constitutions to the oracle for approval, and the Delphian god answered the most sacred and important questions of the day, as well (Burkert 116). Culturally, the Oracle at Delphi was a significant part of the everyday lives and society of the people, who based their government, battles, and significant decisions on the Oracle's prophesies. In addition, Apollo, the most important Greek god, ruled over the Oracle at Delphi, and was "present" during consultations when the oracle spoke. Thus, the Oracle at Delphi was one of the most significant oracles in Greece, and had incredible influence over the people's lives. The cultural experience at Delphi encompassed many aspect of Greek life, from the religious to the athletic, and so, it could be a microcosm of Greek culture and social life.
Apollo's sphere of influence of the Greeks is legendary and well documented. According to Burkert, Apollo's sphere of influence included prophesizing or divination. Zeus clearly differentiated between Apollo and Dionysus, his other son, giving Dionysus reign over the erotic, or initiation spheres, effectively separating their duties and responsibilities, while he watched over both equally (Burkert 111). In addition, Apollo's worshippers stretched from Sicily throughout the sphere of Greek influence, and more than one city or town was named for the god. In fact, there is at least some evidence that Apollo was worshipped in other areas of the world, such as Asia Minor, and may have actually been imported to Greece (Burkert 144). As a son of Zeus, Apollo had incredible powers, and these powers led to his reverence as the most important and revered Greek god.
Apollo was a youthful god, and as such, he served as the ideal for the civilization, who revered youth as the model of perfection throughout the culture. In addition, the people saw Apollo as a god of the father (Zeus) and a special interpreter of ancient ideals and matters. They believed he resided in the middle of the people, or the "navel of the earth," and so he knew all and could prophesy all (Source Doc). He was the most complex of the Greek gods because he actually represented two opposite notions. In effect, he was a paradox. His sheath of arrows indicated he was a healing god, and yet, he was also the god of disease (or the plague), and so, he represented the opposites in culture - healing and disease. This made him one of the most complex gods, but certainly one of the most interesting as well.
Apollo's appeal also stems from the fact that he is so multi-talented. He is a hunter and warrior, and yet, he is not the god of the hunt. He is fearsome, but plays a lyre and sings and dances harmoniously. He is a healing god, but his arrows can send disease where it can do the most harm. Ultimately, it seems his healing powers were greater than his destructive powers, and this is another reason he was such a mighty and yet revered god. In addition, Apollo, because of his background and dual representations, is in effect "super-human" and thus, as a god, he must represent purification and oracles as well, it is his function and goal in life (Burkert 147). He represents a larger than life figure, and as such, he has dual powers and a greater impact on the Greeks than other gods have.
Delphi is often noted as Apollo's special sanctuary for any number of reasons. First, the area of Delphi is noted as a sacred area in many texts, long before Apollo made an appearance there. There is also a myth that Apollo slew a serpent at a sacred spring there, which would also point to the importance of the location. In addition, the cult of Apollo thrived on Crete before it moved to Greece, and there are ties between Crete and Delphi, which could also link Apollo to the site. It was also easily accessible, which made it an ideal location for travelers seeking consultations with the oracle.
The Myth of the First Temples helped solidify the power and prestige of Delphi. To attribute five temples on the site, built out of bay, beeswax and feathers, bronze, and finally marble indicates the importance of the site and the many Greek heroes who came to Apollo for guidance, such as Trophonius and Agamedes, who built the forth temple. Their involvement shows the influence of Delphi, because Trophonius had his own oracle, but still supported and built the temple at Delphi. Thus, the myth gives credence to the oracle's powers and ability to predict the future, which in turn brought even more people to Delphi to inquire of the oracle, and in turn increase the oracle's influence and power even more. The myth was necessary because the area was surrounded in myth and legend from the beginning, and this helped continue the legend that the area was powerful and thus deserving to be the location of the most important Greek god's oracle. The area had to be surrounded in myth and magic because Greeks believed it was located at the very navel of the world, and thus, knew all, told all, and should be worshipped by all.
The Festival or Ritual of Life at Delphi was complex and unique at the same time. It was the greatest of all the celebrations held at Delphi, and was also known as the Pythia, celebrated in honor of Apollo Pythios, and held every four years (Fontenrose 124), and it included the grand Pythian Games. The earliest contests were simply musical, and later they evolved into athletic games. The Festival is based on Apollo's slaying of the python at Delphi. Festivals and celebrations took place throughout the year; in fact author Fontenrose notes, "It almost seems that a Delphian could celebrate religious festivals all the year round if he had the time and inclination" (Fontenrose 124). Thus, the year contained a cycle of festivals and celebrations, which all led up to the one day the oracle could be visited by those who needed questions and decisions.
The early annual cycle at Delphi included Apollo's return to Delphi in the spring, when the oracle would give her readings during the 7th month. Thus, during the winter, Dionysus used Delphi, and this unique sharing was possible because Apollo left the area every winter. This cycle is unique, and thus represents Delphi quite well. Delphi was more than a home for Apollo; it held temples, treasuries, a gymnasium, stadium, and more. Thus, it was a unique and mythical location for an oracle, and it celebrated Apollo, a most unique and powerful Greek god. Delphi had to be unique because it represented Apollo, an extraordinary god. Delphi could not have survived if it had been an ordinary oracle, because it would not have represented the power or the potential of Apollo and his Pythias.
The Stepterion (also called the Festival of Wreaths) took place every eight years, and was a tribute to Apollo's slaying of the dragon or python at the spring. Celebrants build a mock cave, including an image of Rhea, the earth goddess, then led a boy to the cave, symbolizing Apollo, then set the cave on fire and let the boy wander about the countryside, symbolizing Apollo's wanderings for purification after he killed the python. He ended his wandering and was purified, then the celebrants created laurel wreaths out of the same tree Apollo used to make his own wreath. This represents the foundation of Delphi and how Apollo came to rule or watch over the area, and it relates to his title "God of Purity" because he purified himself here, and made his legend here, and others traveled to the area to be purified during the celebrations as well. All of the festivals tied in to the legend and myth surround Apollo and Delphi, and they fit his image as a unique, two-sided, powerful god as well.
In the beginning, oracular consultations only occurred at Delphi annually in the early spring, or the "7th month." They occurred on the seventh day of the month was celebrated as the birthday of the god, and "many utterances" occurred on that day in recognition and respect of the god. Much later, the consultations began to occur monthly, all on the seventh day of the month (Source Doc). Consultations required planning and preparation before they could occur. The most important aspect of this planning was the "Pro-Mantic" or the pre-consultation sacrifice performed by the Priests and Holy Men of the temple.
The Priests sacrificed a victim before consultations began to ensure the god was "present and willing" to participate in the coming consultations. The Holy Men would pour liquid over the sacrifice victim and watch his or…[continue]
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