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Former good article Pythia was one of the Philosophy and religion good articles, but it has been removed from the list. There are suggestions below for improving the article to meet the good article criteria. Once these issues have been addressed, the article can be renominated. Editors may also seek a reassessment of the decision if they believe there was a mistake.
Article milestones
Date Process Result
October 1, 2006 Good article nominee Listed
March 8, 2007 Peer review Reviewed
May 29, 2009 Good article reassessment Delisted
Current status: Delisted good article


Previous discussion: Archive 1 (4/06-5/06; includes discussion of ethylene theory)

Corrections of anachronistic statements[edit]

The last oracle was reputed to occur after the closure of pagan temples had been ordered, and the temple was already a ruin. Secondly Fontenrose and Maurizio were witing before the modern ethylene theory had been suggested. The previous statement made it look as though they were commenting on the ethylene hypothesis. This is not true, they were reporting upon the so-called garbled nature of the prophecies. Regards John D. Croft (talk) 10:32, 5 September 2013 (UTC)

Incense, myrrh, and ethylene[edit]

(I moved the following comment down to facilitate discussion. --Akhilleus (talk) 06:02, 22 May 2006 (UTC))

Yes it appears that the early Greeks took the pneuma of Apollo for granted. We find the same thing with the mysteries of Eleusis too. The Roman era sources were much more explicit about what happened in the mysteries than were the Greek ones.
In Euripedes Ion it speaks of myrrh inhalations -
"breathing myrrh mount to the roof
Of Phoebus' fane; the Delphic priestess now
Assumes her seat, and from the hallow'd tripod
Pronounces to the Greeks the oracular strains
Which the god dictates."
The odiferous component of myrrh is an ethylene compound. Ion continues referring to the adyton
--Are you saying that they were burning enough myrtle to produce a sufficient quantity of ethylene to cause hallucinations? Seems pretty doubtful to me. --Akhilleus (talk) 06:02, 22 May 2006 (UTC)
Akhilleus, ethylene does not produce hallucinations. In small dosage it does produce a euphoric state, an exaggirated belief that one has been shown deep truths and one's own importance, and ambiguity in spoken communication. In severe dosages it produces anoxia, gasping for breath, and death.
"Cropp'd this temple's base beneath,
Where the immortal gardens breathe,
And eternal dews that round
Water the delicious ground,"

Xuthus later says

"breathe thy prayers ....,
that from Apollo's shrine
I may bring back the promise...

And later Ion states

Ye female train, that place yourselves around
This incense-breathing temple's base, your lord
Awaiting, hath he left the sacred tripod
And oracle, or stays he in the shrine,
Whether myrrh or incense or ethylene, there was certainly something that "inspired" Pythia. —The preceding unsigned comment was added by (talkcontribs) .

You're quoting Euripides' Ion, a late fifth-century source, which confirms my point--the Delphic Oracle is better documented than any other religious institution in the Greek world, from a very early point in Greek history. Given the amount of evidence and the high level of detail about the operations of the oracle, if it had been widely believed that the Pythia was inspired by vapors, we'd find this mentioned earlier than the 1st century AD. But we don't, and that suggests that the vapor theory is a later invention. And since the particular idea of pneuma-inspired prophecy we're talking about derives from Stoic philosophy and is also found in Cicero's writing (De Divinatione is the relevant work), we can be confident that we're dealing with a theory that was formed no earlier than the late 4th century BC, when the oracle had already been operating for centuries.

These quotes from the Ion are basically saying that the temple smells good. This is no surprise; temples burned incense and used expensive perfumes, and were usually surrounded by lush gardens. These facts are sufficient explanation for good smells, but we should also note that the gods are usually described as smelling really good. For instance, when Apollo is born, a wonderful smell accompanies him (Theognis 5-10):

Lord Phoebus, when the Lady goddess Leto gave birth to you,
while grasping a slender palm treen in her hands —
(you) the most beautiful of the immortals! — beside that round pool,
the whole of Delos was filled with a boundless,
ambrosial aroma, ...

Theognis is probably not saying that Apollo's birth was accompanied by ethylene. Here's a passage from the Homeric Hymn to Demeter where the goddess throws off her disguise as an old woman and reveals her true nature as a goddess. Her epiphany is accompanied by a wonderful aroma (Homeric Hymn to Demeter 275-279):

Akhilleus, you need to check up on the fact that it is ethylene that is the carrier chemical for the odours of flowers and ripening fruit.
Saying that, the goddess changed her stature and her form
and threw off old age, and her beauty blew around and about;
a desirable aroma arose from her incense-scented robe ...

Again, we're not dealing with ethylene here. Gods simply smell good, and their temples, which are thought of as their houses, also smell divine.

Not necessarily. Most temples, as sites of sacrifice smelt pretty bad. Apollo was specified as the sweet smelling God - most references I have found make no reference to the odour of the God or the temple.

Now here's an interesting passage from Plutarch's dialogue De defectu oraculorum, describing an encounter with an oracle, which mentions a sweet smell:

It was near the Persian Gulf that I found him, where he holds a meeting with human beings once every year;
and there I had an opportunity to talk with him and met with a kindly reception. The other days of his life,
according to his statement, he spends in association with roving nymphs and demigods. He was the handsomest
man I ever saw in personal appearance and he never suffered from any disease, inasmuch as once each month
he partook of the medicinal and bitter fruit of a certain herb...While he was speaking, a fragrance overspread
the place, as his mouth breathed forth a most pleasant perfume. (Plutarch Moralia 421b)

This is the very same work where Plutarch describes the sweet fragrance that sometimes comes from the Temple of Apollo, and the descriptions are very similar. However, with our prophet on the Persian Gulf there's no question of ethylene. Again, we have a case where the presence of divinity is accompanied by a sweet smell.

Yes, after have taken a specific drug based upon a herb. Are you saying that Apollo, or his priests were drugged in this way. Ethylene is supposed ton have a sweet smell and taste.

Now on your last point, this is really the heart of my objection to the vapors theory. I think we all accept that the Pythia was in some kind of inspired state when she gave prophecies. Many people believe that some external substance--an entheogenic drug, a toxic vapor, something--is the cause of this inspired state. The thinking seems to be that abnormal states of mind simply cannot happen without a chemical agent. But this is not true. There's lots of evidence that inspired states, including instances of spirit possession, can happen without any external influences. It's something that the human brain can do on its own--meditation, fasting, or intense concentration can produce states of altered consciousness.

Agreed, and I am not saying that these were not present too at different times. Jelle de Boer makes that exact comment at the completion of the book by Broad. But this does not mean that ethylene was not also present for many of the oracular utterances.

In fact, there is evidence that the Greeks thought that inspiration could occur without entheogenic substances. In two Platonic dialogues--the Ion and the Phaedrus--Plato talks about divine possession. The Ion is particularly relevant as it talks about artistic performances as instances of divine possession, where the inspired state comes upon the performer as he steps in front of the audience, without any drugs, gases, or any other physical influences involved. The state of the performer is very similar to the Pythia's state--Plato uses words like mania and enthousiasmos of Ion, which he also uses to describe the Pythia (see Phaedrus 244c especially). --Akhilleus (talk) 06:02, 22 May 2006 (UTC)

Thanks - I'll check it out John D. Croft 00:34, 28 May 2006 (UTC)

John, thanks for the responses. I'll just comment down here as it's easier than scattering things throughout the paragraphs. I think you're misunderstanding my argument a bit. The main thing I'm saying here is that good smells are associated with gods in Greek literature, in situations where there's no question of ethylene vapors coming from the ground. Since gods smell good, their temples--which are thought of as their houses--also smell good. The Greeks took steps to make temples smell good by planting gardens around them (or locating them in sacred groves), burning incense, using expensive perfumes, etc.

You say that temples smelled bad because they were places of sacrifice. This might be true for our noses, but I can't find any instance of the Greeks complaining about the smells of slaughtered animals. Remember, too, that sacrificial altars were outside the temples, which would have helped prevent any build-up of objectionable odors. Furthermore, the Greeks burned the sacrifices to send the smoke up to the gods--and this smoke is described as fragrant and pleasant to the gods. Also, the word for "incense-scented" in the quote from the Homeric Hymn to Demeter I gave above is thuēentōn--a word etymologically connected to thuō, "sacrifice". So there's plenty of evidence that the Greeks thought sacrifice was a process that generated good smells.

In your responses you seem to be saying that ethylene is responsible for all sweet smells, or at least all sweet plant-derived smells. But this simply isn't the case; flowers, for instance, smell good because a complicated mix of chemicals--this article says that "There could be up to 50, maybe 100, chemicals involved in a particular scent." In the quotes from the Homeric Hymn to Demeter and Theognis there are no plants involved at all--a pleasant aroma is simply the natural accompaniment of the gods. In the Plutarch quote, the fruit that the sage is clearly magical, but if you can read the full quote you'll see that it has nothing to do with the smell that comes from his mouth--he eats the fruit once a month to guarantee his health and longevity.

Dear Akhilleus, I like your edits of the articles. Your references to specfic texts within Plutarchs Moralia and elsewhere I fee we have made this into a very good article. Just a point regarding the presence of ethylene in perfumes of flowers, you are right - up to 100 specfic chemicals are involved, but in every case, there is a volatile base that carries many non-volatile elements in the flower's odour - and that volatile base (which also lends its sweetness to the eventual odour) is ethylene. Many plants, particularly in their flowering and fruiting stage spend up to 20% of their total energy budget on production of this gas. I believe my 1st reference to this was The Secret Life of Plants by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird. Unfortunately I am in Southern Germany at the moment and don't have much of my Library on this matter with me. But Google scholar produces 830 entries on ethylene in relation to plant perfumes that basically confirm what I am saying here.
Warm regards John D. Croft 19:41, 31 May 2006 (UTC)

This description really is quite remarkable--the prophet's breath smells so good that it makes the entire place smell pleasant. That doesn't have anything to do with ethylene from a plant or vapors from the ground--it's saying that his divinely-inspired speech actually creates a good scent. --Akhilleus (talk) 17:30, 30 May 2006 (UTC)

Science and the Pythia[edit]

The section "Science and the Pythia" has a couple of issues with original research and citations.

The following passages look like original research to me:

1) "These statements would appear in part to be based upon a misreporting of the French results. A French photo of the south west corner of the temple, taken at the time where the team had excavated down to the bedrock, not only clearly demonstrated the presence of a water filled pit beneath the temple, but also numerous fissures, suggesting numerous pathways by which any intoxicating vapours present could enter the base of the temple." Is this based on someone else's published work, or is this an editor's evaluation of the photo? If it's based on published work, a citation is needed, otherwise it should be removed.

Akhilleus, it is from Broad, William J, The Oracle: the lost secrets and hidden message of ancient Delphi, Penguin Press 2006, and he shows it was a re-examination of the French photos that led Jelle de Boer to re-examine the theory of the vapours. The photo in question is published in the book and is clearly present. I'll dig out the page numbers appropriate for you.

2) "It seems that the Pythia herself could possibly monitor the dosage to a degree." This appears to be an original attempt to explain the exceptional occurence that Plutarch describes. If this is based on published work, again a citation is needed.

3) "Plutarch himself stated that in the material world, the God, in communicating with mortals, made use of the pneuma of the Earth as a route to enter and possess the Pythia, so he could speak through her. Although many still claim that the 'pneuma' referred to a 'spiritual' or 'non-material' essence, and while there certainly are many cases of divine intoxication and possession which do not require entheogen substances. it appears from these modern scientific studies that the belief in a physical basis to the pneuma, has been confirmed." This is an original synthesis and evaluation of others' work, and Wikipedia guidelines state clearly that articles should not contain "any new analysis or synthesis of published data, statements, concepts, arguments, or ideas that serves to advance a position."

Feel free to modify this as you see fit.

Citations are needed for the following information:

1) "It is currently unknown the degree to which ethylene or other gases would be produced at the temple should these waters be allowed to run free, as they did in the ancient world." Where does this statement come from?

Again it comes from Broad (op cit).

2) "It has been disputed as to how the adyton was organised, but it appears clear that the Apollo temple was unlike any other in Ancient Greece, in that the supplicant descended a short flight of stairs below the general floor of the temple to enter the Sanctuary of the Oracle." It's very important to have a citation for this one, as it contradicts what I've read about the temple in archaeological/architectural sources.

I'll get the page number reference for you. There are also reconstructive drawings from the french expedition which show that the adyton was below the level of the temple floor, unlike other doric temples.

3) "Excessive dosage of ethylene, as this episode shows can be fatal." This statement is poorly reasoned, as it uses the assumption that the Pythia was affected by ethylene to reach the conclusion that she was affected by ethylene. Does it come from published work?

I'm wondering if perhaps some of these changes were made to reflect concerns I've raised on this talk page. If so, I appreciate the additions, but I don't consider myself an appropriate source for Wikipedia. In any case, I don't mean to insult the hard work that has been put into this page--I am simply trying to improve it further.

Point taken

I intend to rewrite this section when I have some time, and I plan to make it more concise, and provide all necessary citations. If other editors would prefer that I post my proposed changes on the talk page first, I'll do so. --Akhilleus (talk) 19:34, 26 May 2006 (UTC)

I look forward to your changes. You may also like to check out Wikipedia on ethylene, it makes for some interesting reading and I wonder whether a link should be made to that page.
John D. Croft 00:20, 28 May 2006 (UTC)

As far as I can see Broad does not provide support for the idea that the adyton was sunken. On p. 37 he gives a reconstruction of the temple (with sunken adyton) which he calls "modern guesswork". Most of what I've read says that the layout of the temple's interior is unclear--some endorse the notion of a lowered adyton, others don't. I'm trying to get the French excavation reports, but it will take some time before they arrive. Regardless of what the excavators and Broad say, however, there is no scholarly consensus on the layout of the adyton. This means that there's also no scholarly consensus that consultants were screened off from the Pythia. In fact, Oppé, Fontenrose, and Broad (2005), among others, argue that descriptions in Herodotus and other authors show consultants entering the adyton along with the priests and speaking with the Pythia face-to-face, and this is probably the prevalent view in scholarship on Delphi.

On other issues regarding the interior of the temple, like the function of that odd block from the temple's floor and the omphalos, there is again little consensus, so anything that the article says about these matters has to be stated in a way that makes it clear that nothing has been absolutely proven. --Akhilleus (talk) 17:46, 30 May 2006 (UTC)

Also, the article already has wiki links to ethylene, but if you think there are more links to be made, go ahead. However, the ethylene article needs some help. I found this statement interesting: "In air, ethylene acts primarily as an asphyxiant. Concentrations of ethylene required to produce any marked physiological effect will reduce the oxygen content to such a low level that life cannot be supported. For example, air containing 50% of ethylene will contain only about 10% oxygen." This appears to contradict the stuff we've been reading in Hale et al., and I suspect that the Wikipedia article is in error here, or at least needs more explanation. Unfortunately I have no expertise in chemistry or toxicology, so I can't edit the ethylene article beyond some light copyediting. --Akhilleus (talk) 17:52, 30 May 2006 (UTC)

This whole ethylene business is a lot of nonsense that is not accepted by any Classicists who are specialsits in Delphi. I rewrote the section the other day (not that well, I'm afraid), to reflect a more critical attitude of those claims, along the same lines mentioned earlier in the discussion section as I now see, and when I came back just now to work to improve the section, I see the text has been changed back to the nonsense that was there before, I suppose by hale or one of his colleagues or lackeys whose egos and livlihoods depend on it. I suppsoe there is no way to put a stop to this? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 17:34, 19 January 2008 (UTC)

From the first citation under modern sources (de Boer, 2001, p707), quoting from the last ancient citation (Plutarch, 1936):

"Plutarch (1936) noted that in his day (end of the first century A.D.) the gaseous emission in the adyton was weak and unpredictable, but it had a sweet smell like perfume. Plutarch was aware that the vapors could reach the surface either as a free gas or in combination with spring water. In an attempt to account for a decline in the oracle’s power over the 500 years before his own time, Plutarch theorized that the underlying rock might have run out of the vital essence that produced the gas. Alternatively, he suggested that the great earthquake of 373 B.C. (epicenter below the Gulf of Corinth, south of Delphi) had disrupted the flow of gas by closing the vents in the rock."

If this is a correct summary of Plutarch, some of these ideas about the decline of the oracle deserve mention in this section (slow decline in the geothermal gas production over time to its very low contemporary levels). The same modern references mentions on page 709 a statement by the Pythia (referenced to Parke, H.W. and Womell, De.E.W, 1956, The Delphic Oracle, V II, Oxford, UK, Blackwell), that the spring had dried up so she could not give oracles. A reference to this Pythia's statement could be important evidence for the ethylene theory.

(Skepticism on the part of classicists deserves mention, but they are not geologists, nor archeologists, no anesthesiologists, nor eye witnesses like Plutarch or the Pythia of AD 361. So the conclusions of these perhaps more relevantly qualified experts deserves serious consideration. The correspondence between the ancient testimonies and modern science is particularly persuasive.) —Preceding unsigned comment added by RiceMilk (talkcontribs) 08:41, 3 March 2010 (UTC)

Removed text from caption[edit]

I removed this text: ", gazing at a cauldron of water. Note the low ceiling, hollow floor and barrier between the Pythia and the supplicant."

Whatever Themis is looking at, it's not a "cauldron", which would be much larger. The painting doesn't give us any evidence for what would be inside the vessel she's looking at.

The low ceiling and floor are not terribly meaningful, since this is a vase-painting. Space isn't represented realistically in vase painting, we're dealing with symbolic representations instead. What we can tell from the image is that we're inside the temple of Apollo (or, at least, a Doric temple)--as Maurizio says (p. 48), "The central Doric column and hints of entablature above indicate that we are looking within the temple of Apollo at Delphi."

Notice that this image is also not evidence that consultants were separated from the Pythia by a barrier: "The column between them is clearly not dividing them, as both figures have their feet in front of it." (Bowden 2005, p. 27) A column would make a fairly poor barrier anyway. --Akhilleus (talk) 07:29, 3 June 2006 (UTC)

helpful link[edit]

any new info here?:

BC/BCE; AD/CE[edit]

There was a recent change of dates from BCE to BC and CE to AD. The first time a date was mentioned with a notion of era, BCE was used: see [1]]. Per WP:DATE we stick with the system that was first used. --Akhilleus (talk) 15:47, 1 November 2006 (UTC)

A Suggested Addition[edit]

I have been thinking about a possible improvement to the article. We have the discussion on how the Pythia was selected. We have how the oracle was prepared for each period, and how taxing the experience was for the oracle and her shortened life expectancy. But what I see missing is the nature of the experience for the supplicant. It would appear that the supplicant would undergo a four stage process.

Step 1: The Journey to Delphi - Supplicants were motivated by some need to undertake the long and sometimes arduous journey to come to Delphi in order to consult the oracle. This journey was motivated by an awareness of the existence of the oracle, the growing motivation on the part of the individual or group to undertake the journey, and the gathering of information about the oracle as providing answers to important questions.

Step 2: The Preparation of the Supplicant - Supplicants were interviewed in preparation of their presentation to the Oracle, by the priests in attendance. The genuine cases were sorted and the supplicant had to go through rituals involving the framing of their questions, the presentation of gifts to the Oracle and a procession along the Sacred Way carrying laurel leaves to visit the temple, symboli of the journey they had made.

Step 3: The Visit to the Oracle - The supplicant would then be led into the temple to visit the adyton, put his question to the Pythia, receive his answer and depart. The degree of preparation already undergone would mean that the supplicant was already in a highly aroused and meditative state, similar to the shamanic journey spoken of in the article.

Step 4: The Return Home - Oracles were meant to give advice to shape future action, that was meant to be implemented by the supplicant, or by those that had sponsored the supplicant to visit the Oracle. The validity of the Oracular utterance was confirmed by the consequences of the application of the oracle to the lives of those people who sought Oracular guidance.

I feel that an addition of these steps to the article, involving a partial re-write of the section, would help readers understand something more of the nature of the oracle at Delphi.

What do you others think?

Reagrds John D. Croft 03:51, 6 February 2007 (UTC)

John, I think that this is an essential addition to the article. The only thing I'd be worried about is making the text too long, but that can be dealt with after the text has been added. --Akhilleus (talk) 06:25, 6 February 2007 (UTC)

On the introductory paragraph[edit]

"The Pythia was widely credited with giving prophecies inspired by Apollo, giving her a prominence unusual for a woman in male-dominated ancient Greece, but given the probability that she was first an oracle for the goddess, Gaia, who was the Great Goddess, Earth, the presence of priestesses at the oracle of the goddess would have been typical in archaic times." It's not major, but I found this to be more than a little misleading. The majority of oracles in Greek mythology were indubitably women. It's not exactly a "prominence unusual for a woman". I quoted the entire sentence here so that it would be easier to undo my edit if you found it objectionable. Edometheus 06:51, 2 March 2007 (UTC)

Actually, I don't think it's true that the majority of oracles were women, either in mythology or practice. You've got the Pythia and Cassandra, but you also have Calchas, Teiresias, and other males who tell the future. (Not sure how we're defining oracle, by the way.) There are plenty of oracles, such as those of Asclepius and Amphiareus, where the consultant slept overnight in the temple and had a prophetic dream, which was then interpreted by priests.
At any rate, the reason the intro said "prominence unusual for a woman" was not because it was unusual for oracles to be women, but because it was unusual for a woman to have any prominence at all in public affairs. This is something that many (modern) writers comment upon; unfortunately I don't have a citation handy at the moment. --Akhilleus (talk) 15:46, 2 March 2007 (UTC)

Request for Peer Review[edit]

Pythia has been placed on the list for Peer reviewed status, as I think it is of FA status now. Would like others to make a comment on how it could be possibly improved. John D. Croft 15:40, 5 March 2007 (UTC)

I agree that this article needs accurate peer review for the section "Scientific explainations", as it presents only one of the different scientific theories explaining the nature of the ancient oracle and gas exhaling from the chasm. Moreover, Piccardi (2000), Etiope (2006) and Piccardi et al. (2008) evidenciated that the claimed Kerna fault does not exists as described by the team of De Boer et al. (2001). Also the existence of ethylene emission has been demonstrated impossible by works of Etiope (2006), Lehoux (2007) and Piccardi et al. (2008). 3 October 2012 — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 11:53, 3 October 2012 (UTC)

The intro and Robert Graves[edit]

I've reverted back to an earlier version of the intro, because the article was stating a couple of things which are no longer the consensus in scholarship. For instance:

  • "however, there is a high probability that she was first an oracle for the goddess, Gaia, who was the Great Goddess, Earth,..." Some myths say this, yes, but the oracle was established in the 8th century BCE, and "that the neighbouring precinct of the Earth is older, is something known only to mythology." (Burkert, Greek Religion, p. 144.) In other words, this myth doesn't reflect the actual history of the oracle.
  • "Mythographers such as Robert Graves relate that the new myths are used to account for the transition from an earlier religious tradition involving mostly goddesses, to the mixed pantheon of classical Greek mythology, with the roles of many goddesses often changing to those of gods or consorts." Any time we find ourselves citing Robert Graves for an interpretation of myth, we should probably take a step back...see the very negative evaluation of his work by classical scholars at The Greek Myths.
  • "Records exist that the Delphic oracle was established as early as the 8th century BCE." We don't have "records" of its establishment in the sense that ancient texts give us help with this question; what we've got is archaeology, and the archaeological record tells us that the Apollo sanctuary was established in the 8th century. There is some evidence for continuity of cult from the Mycenaean area in the sanctuary of Athena, but that's a separate area 1-2km away from the Apollo sanctuary. --Akhilleus (talk) 15:27, 15 March 2007 (UTC)

Worth looking into?[edit]

I heard about a theory of the Oracle being a facade or part of the framework of, basically, an intelligence community of Antiquity. The Jackal God 23:10, 29 March 2007 (UTC)

Prediction of the future a misconception?[edit]

I removed the following claim and reference from Delphi because it appears to contradict Famous oracular statements from Delphi. More scholarly context would be needed to support the claim. A quote from a scholarly source which claims that the Oracle did not predict the future would be a good start; the quote given does not really do that. Certainly most questioners seemed to want to know the future. -- Beland 00:02, 23 September 2007 (UTC)

It is a popular misconception that the oracle predicted the future, based on the lapping water and leaves rustling in the trees; the oracle of Delphi never predicted the future, but gave guarded advice on how impiety might be cleansed and incumbent disaster avoided.*
* "Apollo's proper domain is cultic questions — innovations, restorations and purifications in the cultic sphere." (Burkert 1985:116, section II.8.5 "Oracles"). When famine struck Tegea, in the origin myth of Telephus, the oracle alluded to a desecration in the temple of Artemis, and the infant Telephus was thereby discovered hidden there. Examples could be indefinitely multiplied.


According to Europe: A History by Norman Davies, the Delphic Oracle continued to operate only until a barbarian invasion in 267 AD, completely destroying the temple. In the article it is listed as being in operation until 393 AD, when it ceased operation by emperor Theodosius I shutting down Pagan temples. How could of it continued operation if it was destroyed? Was a new site built? JanderVK (talk) 17:21, 30 January 2008 (UTC)

Davies is probably wrong, but the way to determine this is to look at more sources. The Oracle apparently functioned during periods when the temple had been destroyed by earthquake, e.g. after 373BC, so it doesn't seem as if a fully intact structure was necessary. Although a building can be "destroyed" and yet have significant portions still standing. --Akhilleus (talk) 17:24, 30 January 2008 (UTC)

Source not found[edit]

Farrell 1907 isn't in the bibliography. Shoemaker's Holiday (talk) 02:49, 6 October 2008 (UTC)

FarNell (1896) 1907.--Wetman (talk) 05:52, 6 October 2008 (UTC)

On a related note, the references at the bottom are not very useful. Using footnotes to cite research is only helpful if there is a bibliography at the end. For example, I only discovered that the footnote of "Broad pp.67-" referred to [Broad, William J, The Oracle: the lost secrets and hidden message of ancient Delphi, Penguin Press 2006] by consulting this Discussion page. A bibliography needs to be set up at the end. I would do this, but again, I do not know what all the sources for the references are. Some of the histories cited are fine, but the actual scientific articles need to have an entire bibliographical citation. Plasticflasks (talk) 16:11, 21 November 2008 (UTC)

Delphian Sibyl[edit]

What differentiates the Pythia from the Delphian Sibyl? Lily20 (talk) 21:12, 13 January 2010 (UTC)

See Sibyl.-The Gnome (talk) 05:20, 17 September 2011 (UTC)

New section[edit]

What about where an oracle told a king to attack I think the Persian Empire and that "a great empire will fall." His own empire fell when he was captured. This could be in a section about where the oracle was wrong and right and/or how the oracle made prophecies that could be interpreted either way. (The source for this quote is my history textbook so I can cite it.) UNIT A4B1 (talk) 01:19, 23 April 2010 (UTC)

Scientific explanations[edit]

This section seems to be beside the point, probably fringe, and given undue weight. I might trim down. Ceoil 13:32, 3 April 2011 (UTC)

The scientific conjectures and theories about the phenomenon of the Delphic Oracle would seem to be, in fact, equally important to the history of Pythia.-The Gnome (talk) 05:20, 17 September 2011 (UTC)

This section needs substantial rewriting, as it presents only one of the different scientific theories explaining the nature of the ancient oracle and gas exhaling from the chasm. Moreover, Piccardi (2000), Etiope (2006) and Piccardi et al. (2008) evidenciated that the claimed Kerna fault does not exists as described by the team of De Boer et al. (2001). Also the existence of ethylene emission has been demonstrated impossible by works of Etiope (2006), Lehoux (2007) and Piccardi et al. (2008). 3 October 2012

What if she was just a liar? Shouldn't more mundane possibilities be considered? — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 03:46, 23 December 2012 (UTC)


There are some references like the first cited one ("Morgan 1990, p. 148") that don't say what the reference is. Am I missing something? Wawawemn (talk) 11:22, 22 May 2011 (UTC)

The references in this article are somewhat scattered. There's a "Notes" section for the in-text citations, and a separate "References" section for the bibliography. I'm not sure why it was set up this way, but it looks like it works. Feezo (send a signal | watch the sky) 11:28, 22 May 2011 (UTC)
General re-write, mostly on style confortmity; sources expanded, alphabetized; clean-up. Hope it's better. -The Gnome (talk) 12:13, 25 September 2011 (UTC)

Notable Visiters to Pythia[edit]

Even Alexader the Great once visited Pythia just to ask about his destiny. The pythia replied, that he'd be conquering wast lands & many battles but, he'd die at a very young age far from his home.Tushar Doshi (talk) 19:14, 22 January 2012 (UTC)


Surely this article should be re-named Delphic Oracle (or Oracle of Delphi) per WP:COMMONNAME. DeCausa (talk) 15:21, 10 September 2012 (UTC)

I'm not too sure about that. A Google Books search gives "Pythia" at c. 423,000 hits, "Delphic Oracle" at 176,000, "Oracle at Delphi" at 57,800, and "Oracle of Delphi" at 38,600. That's not the most scientific of investigations, to be sure, but "Pythia" has been the most common term that I've encountered in my studies.  davidiad.: 16:34, 10 September 2012 (UTC)
Interesting. I was prompted by the opening of the lead "...commonly known as the Oracle of Delphi", which reflects what I thought was the case. I would have said that "Delphic Oracle" was the popular term and Pythia was primarily academic/specialist. But your Google books results suggests not. Perhaps the lead opening should change to reflect that! DeCausa (talk) 20:28, 10 September 2012 (UTC)
It's hard to say. I'm mostly used to specialist sources and I just looked at an undergraduate Greek history textbook in which Delphic Oracle was the preferred form, so there's a chance that GBooks is misleading about what's used for general audiences.  davidiad.: 00:11, 11 September 2012 (UTC)

The Pythia is not quite the same thing as the Delphic Oracle—the priestess (the Pythia) is an important part of a larger institution (the oracle). I've wondered if there would be some way to have both a Pythia article and also a Delphic oracle article, but I've always had trouble deciding how to split the material between the two articles. --Akhilleus (talk) 01:09, 11 September 2012 (UTC)

Perhaps I'm actually discussing what I've heard in conversation—in which Pythia = oracle has a ring—than what I've read. The mass-metonymy of the priestess = the Pythia = the oracle might complicate having two articles since the terms are treated as synonymous (or at least Pythia with the oracle) and there will be considerably overlap. I bet there are some interesting discussions of the Pythia as a literary construct, so that might be one angle to guide an article on the office.  davidiad.: 01:24, 11 September 2012 (UTC)

Theatre & Spy Network[edit]

The book;The Mystery of The Oracles by Philipp Vandenberg ISBN 0-02-621590-x seems to indicate that during at least part of the oracle's existence there was an elaborate spy network dedicated to finding out well in advance of the supplicant's arrival just what the question would be. Also in the book I believe there is mention of an elaborate "Theatre" at or under the temple grounds with cubicles where supplicants were subjected to sensory deprivation & possibly opiates before being presented with a 'Show". Unless the book is totally fabricated or discredited at least some reference should be made. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 00:16, 1 January 2013 (UTC)

H2S & Ethylene[edit]

I have personally worked around Hydrogen Sulfide gas & while it is common in oil fields & geothermal gasses it is also extraordinarily dangerous. Overdose is sudden & at very low concentrations. Deaths are common. It also has a characteristic "Rotten Egg" smell; certainly not a sweet perfume. It is a major hazard in geothermal gasses. I know based on personal experience that many deaths would have taken place among the priestesses if H2S was the intoxicant gas. Ethylene is a very rare component of geothermal gasses. I will suggest that pouring lots of alcohol into the fissures could generate Ethylene gas. Libation with oil & wine was common in association with the Pagan religions. It would take greater knowledge of chemistry than I have to verify if this is possible so I only advance it as an idea. Could be tried by experiment. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 01:03, 1 January 2013 (UTC)

Why was John Collier's Priestess of Delphi image removed?[edit]

This used to be the original image used. However, it was changed to an image that is not as good (in my opinion). Why was it changed? Collier's image is much better. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Esotericpig (talkcontribs) 20:10, 1 March 2015 (UTC)

Assessment comment[edit]

The comment(s) below were originally left at Talk:Pythia/Comments, and are posted here for posterity. Following several discussions in past years, these subpages are now deprecated. The comments may be irrelevant or outdated; if so, please feel free to remove this section.

Last edited at 18:24, 15 December 2008 (UTC). Substituted at 03:35, 30 April 2016 (UTC)