The Oracle

Trip Start Mar 21, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Greece  , Central Greece,
Friday, May 23, 2008

First there was wilderness, with tall Mediterranean mountain forests on the slopes of Mt. Parnassos, the navel of the Greek world.  Zeus sent two eagles from the corners of the earth, and they met  here.   During this time, Gaia, the mother goddess ruled these mountains and forests, and the local people worshipped her.  

But then Apollo came from his abode at Delos, in the form of a dolphin:
And thence Apollo came unto this land of Parnassus, and at his side, with awe revering him, were the children of Hephaesteus, preparing the way and taming the land that was once wilderness.  And he was received with honor by all the people and Delphos, their king. 
--Aesch. Eumenides 12-16

The sun god was also the god of civilization and the earth goddess was no longer worshipped, except in the form of Apollo's sister Artemis

Carolyn and I arrived here in the afternoon after a long bus ride from Athens, only to learn that the site was closed at 2:45, even though the guidebook said it was open much later.  Still, we walked around some of the other sites--the gymnasium and tholos, as painters painted under old olive trees and tawny snakes slithered in the tawny grass.  The change in timing was no big deal, as it made our time more relaxed and we had a good dinner overlooking the Port of Itea and Corinth at Gargantua Restaurant.

In the morning, we walked back to the site, climbing the Sacred Way just like millenia ago, passing treasuries from the Greek city states and even Italian Etruscans.  Each place brought their treasures to Apollo and the oracle, hoping for good council from her wise shamanistic ways.  As the Pythia, she would tell her prophesies sitting on her tripod, among them foretelling fates of war, creation of cities, and that Socrates was the wisest man of them all.

Socrates humbly replied that either everyone was equally ignorant or that he was wiser only because he alone was aware of his own ignorance.  Inscribed on the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo was "know thyself" which Socrates embodied along with "nothing in excess," which turns out logically to be more accurate than the commonly-said everything in moderation. These quotes and the oracle herself has inspired poets and script writers alike.

Much of the site was well preserved, allowing the eye to imagine the scene as kings and pilgrims walked up to meet the oracle and offer their gifts.  Inside the museum, however, the imagination was unfurled a little more, with artists' renditions of the site, treasures, and remarkable sculptures, along with remains from the Apollo temples.

After Greek salads for lunch at Gargantua, we boarded a bus, having imagined the oracle of the past.  The oracle remains such a potent symbol even today, as we all have inner urges to know the future, to look behind the veil and see what is behind the curtain.  She is the key and she says "know thyself."
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