DELPHI, the seat of the most famous oracle of ancient Greece, was situated in Phocis, on the southern side of Parnassus. Apollo, ac cording to fable, having killed the serpent Python, and determining to build his sanctuary here, perceived a merchant vessel from Crete sailing by. He immediately leaped into the sea in the form of an immense dolphin (Greek, delphis), took possession of the vessel, and forced it to pass by Pylos, and to enter the harbor of Crissa, not far from Delphi. After the Cretans had landed he assumed the figure of a beautiful youth, and told them that they must not return to their country, but should serve as priests in his temple. Inspired, and singing hymns, the Cretans followed the god to his sanctuary on the rocky declivity of Parnas sus; but, discouraged by the sterility of the country, they implored Apollo to save them from famine and poverty. The god, smiling, declared to them the advantage which they would derive from serving as his priests. They then built Delphi, calling the city at first Pytho, from the serpent which Apollo had killed at this place. The oracles were delivered from a cave called Pythium. Tradition ascribes its discovery to a shepherd who pastured his flocks at the foot of Parnassus, and was filled with prophetic inspiration by the intoxicating vapor which arose from it. Over the cave, which was contained in a temple, was placed the holy tri pod, upon which the priestess called Pythia, by whose mouth Apollo was to speak, received the vapors ascending from beneath, and with them the inspiration Of the Delphian god, and proclaimed the oracles (hence the proverb, to speak es tripode, used of obscure sentences, dogmatically pronounced). After having first bathed herself, and particularly her hair, in the neighboring fountain of Castalia, and crowned her head with laurel, she seated herself on the tripod, which was also crowned with a wreath of the same, then, shaking the laurel tree and eating perhaps some leaves of it, she was seized with a fit of enthusiasm. Her face changed color, a shudder ran through her limbs, and cries and long protracted groans issued from her mouth. This excitement soon increased to
fury. Her eyes sparkled, her mouth foamed, her hair stood on end, and almost suffocated by the ascending vapor, the priests were obliged to retain the struggling priestess on her seat by force; then she began, with dreadful howlings, to pour forth detached words, which the priests collected with care, arranged them, and de livered them in writing to the inquirer. At first the answers were given in verse, or were put into hexameters by priests of the temple who were poets, but in later times, the authority of the oracle being diminished, they contented themselves with delivering them in prose. This oracle was always obscure and equivocal; yet it served, in earlier times, in the hands of the priests, to regulate and uphold the polit ical, civil and religious relations of Greece. It enjoyed the reputation of infallibility for a long time; for the Dorians, the first inhabitants of the place, who soon settled in all parts of Greece, spread an unbounded reverence for it. At first only one month in the year was assigned for the delivery of oracles; afterward, one day in each month; but none who asked the god for counsel dared approach him without gifts. Hence the splendid temple possessed immense treasures, and the city was adorned with nu merous statues and other works of art, the offerings of gratitude. Delphi was at the same time the bank in which the rich deposited their treasures, under the protection of Apollo, though this did not prevent it from being re peatedly plundered by the Greeks and bar barians. Although the sanctuary and its treas ures had been almost miraculously preserved from the Persians and Gauls, they were forced by Sulla to contribute to the payment of his soldiers, and Nero removed 500 brazen images from the sacred precincts. Constantine the Great enriched his new city by the sacred tri pods, the statues of the Heliconian Muses, the Apollo, and the celebrated Pan dedicated by the Greek cities after the conclusion of the war with the Medes.