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Delphi Part II: The Other God

Charles Seltman analyses the role of the darker deity in Ancient Greece. Second of a two part series. The first part can be read here.

The great reputation which Delphi enjoyed throughout the whole classical period of history was the result of three sets of circumstances. Firstly, in the age of Greek colonization no other place disposed of so much general knowledge about the whole Mediterranean littoral. Secondly, from the beginning of the seventh to the middle of the sixth century B.C. Delphi enjoyed the patronage and enthusiastic approval of the fabulously rich kings of Lydia. Thirdly, when this precious support suddenly failed, the Sanctuary became deeply indebted and deeply committed to an unusually wealthy Athenian clan, the Alcmaeonids, some members of which were among the cleverest statesmen in history. But subsequently, when the Persian threat turned into the reality of the great invasion, Delphi had shown signs of “Medizing”, the Greek name for “Collaboration”, and this was temporarily harmful to the repute of the priesthood. Nevertheless, for a brief spell the flush of victories over Persians at home and over Carthaginians in the West brought gratitude and glory to Pythian Apollo. That which the god especially prefigured—law and order, balance, moderation, self-knowledge and self-control—had so manifestly triumphed. The Greeks therefore set up splendid monuments at Delphi; the most celebrated being offerings from Gelon, ruler of Syracuse, in thanks for his victory over the western barbarians, and the great bronze serpent-column topped by a golden tripod, an offering from the allied Hellenes who had conquered the Persian barbarians. From this time on the oracle seems to have been consulted rather less frequently than in former days, partly because its reliability had more than once been under suspicion, partly because among very many of the Greeks a respect for human reason was overshadowing superstitious practices.

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