Questioning the Delphic Oracle; August 2003; Scientific American Magazine; by John R. Hale, Jelle Zeilinga de Boer, Jeffrey P. Chanton and Henry A. Spiller; 8 Page(s)
The temple of Apollo,cradled in the spectacular mountainscape at Delphi, was the most important religious site of the ancient Greek world, for it housed the powerful oracle. Generals sought the oracle's advice on strategy. Colonists asked for guidance before they set sail for Italy, Spain and Africa. Private citizens inquired about health problems and investments. The oracle's advice figures prominently in the myths. When Orestes asked whether he should seek vengeance on his mother for murdering his father, the oracle encouraged him. Oedipus, warned by the oracle that he would murder his father and marry his mother, strove, with famous lack of success, to avoid his fate.
The oracle of Delphi functioned in a specific place, the adyton, or "no entry" area of the temple's core, and through a specific person, the Pythia, who was chosen to speak, as a possessed medium, for Apollo, the god of prophecy. Extraordinarily for misogynist Greece, the Pythia was a woman. And unlike most Greek priests and priestesses, the Pythia did not inherit her office through noble family connections. Although the Pythia had to be from Delphi, she could be old or young, rich or poor, well educated or illiterate. She went through a long and intense period of conditioning, supported by a sisterhood of Delphic women who tended the eternal sacred fire in the temple.