The Oracle of Delphi (Pythia)

The Oracle of Delphi was one of the most important religious and cultural sites in the ancient world. Located on the slopes of Mount Parnassus in central Greece, Delphi was home to a temple dedicated to Apollo, the god of music, poetry, and prophecy. The oracle at Delphi was consulted by kings, queens, and commoners alike, and her prophecies were said to have shaped the course of history.

The origins of the oracle at Delphi are shrouded in mystery. According to one myth, the site was originally home to a giant serpent known as the Python. Apollo killed the Python and claimed the site for himself, establishing the temple and oracle in his honor. Another myth tells that the oracle was founded by Gaia, the Earth goddess.

Whatever its origins, the oracle at Delphi was certainly in operation by the 8th century BC. The earliest known reference to the oracle is in a poem by Hesiod, who wrote that the Pythia, the priestess who delivered the oracles, was inspired by Apollo.

The Pythia was a woman of high social status who was chosen for her piety and wisdom. She was said to enter a trance state when she delivered the oracles, and her words were interpreted by priests. The oracles were often ambiguous and open to interpretation, and it was up to the listener to decide what they meant.

The oracle at Delphi was consulted on a wide range of matters, from personal questions to political decisions. The oracle’s advice was sought by kings and queens, generals and politicians, and ordinary people alike. Some of the most famous people who consulted the oracle at Delphi include Croesus, the king of Lydia; Alexander the Great; and Julius Caesar.

The oracle at Delphi reached its peak of influence in the 5th and 4th centuries BC. During this time, Delphi was a major center of pilgrimage and religious activity. The oracle’s advice was sought by people from all over the Greek world, and her prophecies were often seen as having divine authority.

The oracle’s influence began to decline in the 3rd century BC, as the Greek world came under the control of the Roman Empire. The Romans respected the oracle and continued to consult her, but her advice was no longer seen as having the same authority as it had in the past.

The oracle at Delphi was finally closed in the 4th century AD, by order of the Christian emperor Theodosius I. The temple was destroyed, and the site was abandoned. Today, the ruins of Delphi are a popular tourist destination, and the oracle is still remembered as one of the most important religious and cultural institutions of the ancient world.


  • Burkert, W. (1985). Greek religion: Archaic and classical. Harvard University Press.
  • Fontenrose, J. (1978). The Delphic oracle: Its history and influence. Princeton University Press.
  • Parke, H. W. (1967). The Delphic oracle: A history. University of California Press.
  • Scodel, R. (2002). Apollo’s oracle: Delphi in the classical world. Princeton University Press.

Listen to our episode on The Oracle of Delphi

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