The Eternal Need for Answers: Consult the Oracle!

For thousands of years, humans have had questions. What will the weather be like tomorrow? Will this years crops be plentiful or fail? Will my sick child be better soon? What does the future look like for me, my family, and my tribe?

Humans are constantly wondering because we can time travel in our heads; reflect on the past and imagine what might happen in the future while living in the present. But that process creates an ongoing stream of questions which often do not have easy answers.

When we don’t know the answers to our questions we often make them up to reduce our anxiety level, enabling us to focus on the needs of the present and not be distracted by worry over the future. The weather has been fine for the past few days so it will probably be fine tomorrow. The seasonal rains were plentiful last year so this year should also be good which means there will be food available. My friends child had the same illness and they got better.

Nowadays we can answer questions like that by analyzing past data and coming to conclusions based on facts, experience, and experiments conducted using the scientific process. That is a relatively recent development and is why much of humanity (but not all!) has clean water, plentiful food, electricity, computers, household appliances, speedy transportation, access to Chat GPT, and why some people have walked on the Moon.

I was thinking about this as I walked through the ruins of Delphi, which the ancient Greeks considered to be the center of the world (as marked by the omphalos stone), past the Temple of Apollo where for centuries the Pythia issued pronouncements in response to questions from supplicants.

Over two thousand years ago the Greeks took their gods very seriously, much more so than most of them take their current god. If at all possible, back then they consulted the Pythia, the oracle at Delphi who channeled the wisdom of Apollo, seeking guidance before making important decisions.

Of course we have no reliable records of how accurately those prophecies came true. Modern humans who make predictions about the future are happy to take credit when their guesses turn out to be accurate, and are quick to try to cover up their predictions when they turn out to be wrong. They do not claim to be channeling the wisdom of Apollo, since that god is now discredited, but they may claim to be supported by a more recently invented god or gods. In that sense, little has changed!

The Delphi complex is quite extensive and includes the ruins of treasuries used by different cities to store their wealth and offerings to the gods, a theater, a large gymnasium (building where exercise was taken), and a stadium (so many English words are derived from Greek!) where starting in the 6th century BC the Pythian Games were held, continuing for about 1,000 years. The stadium is a short walk up the hill at the top of the complex and is well worth the effort to visit.

Along the Via Sacra, the road leading to the temple, there are many marble blocks with writing that remains quite legible. The Greek alphabet is essentially unchanged today from what it was almost three thousand years ago, such that modern Greeks can read the writings of their distant ancestors! One cannot say the same about the English alphabet, which did not come into being until around the 7th century AD.

Theater at Delphi with a view of the mountains of the Desfina Peninsula

Greece: Changing Perspectives

Greece: Athens Can Delight the Eye and Be an Eyesore

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