APPENDIX II

THE ORACLE OF DELPHI1

'The Oracles are dumm,
No voice or hideous humm
Runs through the arched roof in words deceiving.
Apollo from his shrine
Can no more divine
With hollow shreik the steep of Delphos leaving.'

DELPHI lies at the heart of Greece. Indeed ancient legend put it at the navel of the earth itself -- so Zeus had found, by releasing simultaneously from the eastern and western verges of the world two eagles which met at Delphi. Even to-day its landscape remains typically Greek in beauty of colour and splendour of form. In the words of the 'Homeric Hymn' to Apollo:

Towards the West wind its face is turned; above it lean The mountain-crags; and beneath it there runs a rough ravine.

Northward rises the 8,000-foot wall of Parnassus; southward, Mount Kirphis; west and south-west the valley opens to reveal the snow-crowned peaks of Aetōlia and the Peloponnese. Delphi itself clings perched on a mountain-ledge; overhead tower the red-brown and slate-green of the Phaedriad crags; beneath, the grey-green olives of the Pleistus gorge tumble steeply towards the vaster olive-groves of the Vale of Sálona, flanked on their left by the blue Bay of Itéa, 2,000 feet below. As Flaubert says, it was a stroke of genius to choose such a site for Apollo's oracle. That choice seems to have been already made in Minoan days (c. 1500 B.C.).

Naturally (like most religious centres) Delphi became the seat of imposture as well as faith; but though its priests were often cunning, often corrupt, in the earlier centuries of Greek history they did their part to civilize their world. Less idealistic than the prophets of Israel, they were also less ferocious. The maxims they carved upon their shrine -- 'Nothing too much,' 'Know thyself' -- may not seem highly inspired or inspiring: but they expressed a fundamental sanity that can outlast much inspiration. And so it has seemed worth giving here, as epilogue, a brief selection from the hexameters into which the Delphic prophets were wont to turn the incoherent utterances of their priestesses, intoxicated by the vapours of the sacred chasm -- a typical example of the Greek way of imposing conscious

____________________
1
See H. W. Parke, History of the Delphic Oracle, 1939; and, for further details, the chapter on Delphi in my From Olympus to the Styx.

-405-

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Greek Poetry for Everyman
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents ix
  • Preface xiii
  • Introduction xxv
  • Part One - Epic Period 1
  • Homer - Iliad 3
  • Notes 180
  • Hesiod of Ascra - (c. 800 B.C.?) 195
  • The Homeric Hymns 207
  • Hesiod and Hymns - Notes 224
  • Part Two - From Archilochus to Alexander 231
  • Archilochus of Paros 233
  • Part Three - Alexandrian Period 295
  • Philetas of Cos 297
  • Part Four - Roman and Early Byzantine Period 349
  • MeleĀger of Gadara 351
  • Appendix I 397
  • Appendix II 405
  • Index of Poets 413
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