'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____________________