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The Delphic Oracle

Thu, 30 Sep 10

Duration: 43 mins

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Delphic Oracle. Between the 8th century BC and the 4th century AD, travellers flocked to Delphi to consult the Delphic Oracle, the most celebrated source of prophesies in ancient Greece. Melvyn is joined by Paul Cartledge, A G Leventis Professor of Greek Culture at Cambridge University; Edith Hall, Professor of Classics and Drama at Royal Holloway, University of London; and Nick Lowe, Reader in Classical Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London.

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Myths may seem unlikely sources of scientific revelation, but geologists are turning to ancient tales to discover new earthquake hotspots.

Apollo drew his bow and fired arrow after arrow into the deadly python-dragon guarding the sacred ground of Ge, the goddess of the earth. With his victory, Apollo gained the right to call the slopes of Delphi his earthly sanctuary.
It is a beautiful myth. Out of it grew the story of the Oracle of Delphi, a soothsayer who inhaled the breath of Apollo. The Pythia, the priestess who sat on a tripod inhaling fumes from the bowels of the earth, went into trances and muttered incomprehensible phrases, helpfully interpreted by her priestly assistants.
The Oracle at Delphi is one of several myths now being investigated by geologists to see whether such stories have any basis in fact. The relatively new science of geomythology could provide rational explanations for mythical events. But studying elements of a myth may also lead to new insights or discoveries in geology - a science that took its name from that same goddess, Ge.

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The Oracle of Delphi
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From Herodotus and Homer to the warriors of Ancient Greece the mystic utterances from the Oracle of Delphi were regarded as sacrosanct. But now the hugely influential pronouncements of the oracle are said by Greek and Italian archaeologists to have been the result of oxygen deficiencies in the priestesses’ brains.
Delphi, which draws tourists by the thousand each year, lies on the almost sheer side of Mount Parnassus in central Greece. Great fissures in the cliff overlooking the site mask deep geological faults through which toxic gases seep to the surface, reducing oxygen in the cave — the Navel of the Earth — where the priestess de- livered her often obscure political oracles.
The priestess, known to the ancients as Pythia, would thus be in a state of mild anoxia — a partial lack of oxygen in the brain — inducing the ecstatic trance that classical writers said brought forth the oracles. They, however, claimed that Pythia entered her trance by chewing laurel leaves while sniffing the vapours of hallucinogenic herbs.

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Latitude: 38.478869°N Longitude: 22.495447°E.

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