Fri, 19 Mar 2004

Was the Pythia Sniffing Gas?

From rogueclassicism comes this link to an article in Labyrinth, proposing a solution to the question of exactly what went on at the Oracle of Delphi. Here's the teaser:

The oracle of Apollo at Delphi was the most famous and reliable place of prophecy in the ancient world. Seated on a tripod in the god's temple, the priestess or Pythia uttered her predictions in a sort of inspired trance. Where did this inspiration come from? Ancient writers agree that there was a chasm under the temple that emitted intoxicating vapours. Diodorus of Sicily records that the site was first discovered by a goatherd, who noticed his animals jumping and shrieking when they looked into this opening in the ground. Upon investigating, the goatherd also began to leap about and to predict the future, and the people of Delphi built a temple to the god of prophecy on the spot. According to Strabo, the Pythia sits directly above the hole and is possessed by a gas that rises from it. Plutarch adds that the gas has a sweet odour which is sometimes strong enough to be smelled by people in the waiting room outside the adyton, the Pythia's holy chamber.

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