Sunday, July 8, 2012

Delphic Oracle - Greek Gods

During the peak period of Greek colonization (late 8th-7th century B.C.), Greek cities that had resolved to establish a colony to some distant land first consulted the oracle as to where they should go and who should become the oikistes, the leader and founder of the future colony. Syracuse, Kroton, Kyrene, Thasos are among the better-known of many colonies that owed their very existence to the wise counsel of Phoibos. Several other colonies chose to name themselves after the god: Apollonia.
All these cities honored Apollo with the surname of Archegetes, meaning first leader. Thus the prestige and fame of the god and his oracle spread East and West, far beyond the bounds of metropolitan Greece. As early as the 7th century B.C., Midas, the legendary king of Phrygia, sent his own royal throne to the Pythian Apollo as a token of his veneration. At about the same time, another legendary king, Gyges (675 B.C.), founder of the Mermnad dynasty and ancestor of Croesus, dedicated magnificent votive offerings of pure gold to the Delphic god. Kypselos, the renowned wealthy tyrant of Corinth, built in the Delphic sanctuary the first "treasury", i.e. a small building in the shape of a temple, which had the double function of serving as a votive offering and sheltering the smaller, precious offerings dedicated by each city to the sanctuary.
The glory, power and wealth of the Delphic oracle grew steadily. However, it appears that the Phokians of Krisa decided to exploit their position as neighbours to Delphi, and levied heavy dues on the faithful who disembarked at the port of Kirrha, in Phokian territory, on their way to the oracle. Delphi then appealed to the Amphiktyony for help and the First Sacred War was declared. It was to last ten years, ending in 591 B.C. with the annihilation of the Krisaians. Kirrha and Krisa were destroyed and their territory was dedicated to the Delphic deities.
The Amphiktyons then proceeded to reorganize the Pythian festival, which took place every 8 years to commemorate Apollo's return from his voluntary exile after the slaying of Python. From 582 B.C. this festival was celebrated every four years; gymnastic and equestrian contests were added to the earlier musical competition.
The sanctuary's fame spread across the world, and the offerings it received were beyond anything the boldest imagination might conceive. Croesus, the king of Lydia, famous for his wealth, sent all kinds of offerings, the most sumptuous being a lion of solid gold weighing about 250 kgs., set upon a pyramid made of 117 bricks of "white gold" (a mixture of gold and silver); in addition to that, two large kraters, one gold and the other silver, which were placed to the right and left of the temple entrance. When Apollo's poros temple was destroyed by fire in 548 B.C., not only the Greeks, but foreign sovereigns, such as Croesus of Lydia and Amasis of Egypt, made generous donations for the construction of a new temple, which cost 300 talents, the equivalent of several billions of present-day drachmae. The Alkmeonidai, the noble Athenian family exiled by Peisistratos and his sons, undertook the construction project; in excess of what was stipulated in the contract, they used marble for the facade instead of poros.
During the critical years of the Persian Wars, the oracle was considerably shaken by the power of the invaders; its prophecies and advice did not reflect that high moral character so representative of the Greeks who fought "in defense of all". The sanctuary itself escaped Persian plundering through the God's miraculous intervention: enormous rocks rolled down the cliffs of the Phaidriades and caused the enemy to disperse in panic. The oracle may have shown a slight weakening in the moment of crisis, but the faith of the Greeks in Phoibos remained steadfast; with the ever-burning flame of the temple they rekindled the desecrated altars of the sanctuaries and sent him magnificent votive offerings, among which the famous gold tripod, set upon a bronze pedestal 6 metres high, consisting of three intertwined snakes, engraved with the names of the 31 cities that fought against the Persians in Plataia.
About the middle of the 5th century B.C., the Phokians once again gained political power over Delphi; this led to the declaration of the Second Sacred War (447 B.C.), to restore the sanctuary's independence. In 373 B.C., a terrible earthquake uprooted huge pieces of rock and flung them on the temple of Apollo. Reconstruction started immediately, thanks to pan-Hellenic contributions, but it was interrupted in 356 B.C. by a Third Sacred War. The Phokians occupied the sanctuary for a period of ten years and confiscated not only sanctuary funds, but also a large number of valuable votive offerings. The Greeks felt highly indignant at this sacrilege.
Following the intervention of Philip, king of Macedonia, the Phokians were routed, excluded from the Amphyktyony and obliged to pay a colossal indemnity (420 talents). Finally, the Fourth Sacred War broke out in 339 B.C., against the Lokrians this time. Once again, Philip assumed leadership; after defeating the Lokrians, he proceeded to Chaironeia, where he fought the famous battle (338 B.C.), which made him master of Greece.
A Greece Guide is always useful when you are visiting the country along with an Athens Travel Guide if you are planning on visiting the capital and a List of Greek Islands to choose from.
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