The Oracle of Delphi

The heat of the summer sun beat down on us as we climbed the steep winding path up the southern slope of Mount Parnassos. With my eyes burning from the brilliant glare of sunlight off of the cliff face of the Phaedriades I regretted not being able to bring my sunglasses. Perhaps that would have made a better gift for the Pythia, who most in my time know as the Oracle of Delphi. I now believe that I have made the best choice in gifts. In such sunlight, the solar-powered calculator should run for the next several hundred years. The sheer cliffs of the Phaedriades (meaning “shining ones”) rise 2000ft (700m) on either side of the path. The springs above will be a welcome sight when we finally arrive later in the afternoon.

Priestess of Delphi (1891) by John Collier

Priestess of Delphi (1891) by John Collier

How fortunate I am to make this ascent with Aeschylus and his companions. Perhaps when we arrive at the Castalian spring he will recite some verses from The Eumenides where the Furies drive Orestes from Argos where he then makes his way to the Temple of Apollo. It is the same Temple that we are climbing to, is it not? I am not sure. Oh, but then, perhaps Aeschylus has not yet written this tragedy. I have no idea of the timeline. Whatever verses he recites, I will be grateful. For that and the cool water of the springs to wash my feet and hair.

I have not yet shown my gift to Aeschylus. Of course, Aristotle thought the calculator to be a mystical wonder. But he was far more struck by the Furby, which is a little automated robotic toy that people fight over at Christmas time in Walmart. The particular one I had bought was in Voodoo Purple, which puzzles me since I am not quite sure what voodoo has to do with the color purple. I attributed Aristotle’s fascination with the Furby to the love of automata by the Greeks. They adore automata, especially on the Isle of Rhodes. Pindar described them in his seventh Olympic Ode as

The animated figures stand
Adorning every public street
And seem to breathe in stone, or
move their marble feet.

Perhaps the Furby would have been a better choice. Why did I leave it behind in Lykoreia with the pie pans? I had just imagined the calculator to be eminently more useful, first because it allowed you to easily perform calculations, which might be helpful to an Oracle, and second because it was solar-powered. The Furby would eventually run out of batteries, which I would imagine it to be then relegated to a dusty old shelf. But then again what need does an Oracle have of a calculator? Calculation is not the nature of prophesy.

As we hiked higher up through the Phaedriades, I recalled that I had once been skiing on a resort on this mountain. Its hard to imagine that there will be ski resorts here some day, especially in this summer heat. As we climb higher, I notice the rocks. I recognize this mineral, its bauxite. Aluminum! There’s irony! My third choice for a gift to the Oracle was a set of aluminum pie pans. I thought that the Oracle may treasure eating dinner from plates made from a metal that she has never seen; lighter than any other metal and so amazingly flexible. In this world these simple pie pans are far more valuable than gold. Yet here we are surrounded by bauxite, the mineral from which aluminum is derived.

We arrived at the Castalian spring about two hours before sundown. There we spent a wonderful evening of storytelling under the stars surrounded by the waters of the muses. I asked Aeschylus if he had a tale of Orestes, but he did not know what I was talking about. Perhaps I have unwittingly planted a seed.

The next day we made our way to Delphi. However today it is not at all ancient. Instead it is a resplendent sight full in its glory! I am reminded that ruins are mere shadows; two-dimensional in age.

The air here has a funny smell perhaps that of methane and hydrogen sulfide. It smells rather like a volcanic hot springs. Here and there I can see vapors coming up from cracks in the earth. Perhaps this is the pneuma that the Oracle breathes when she prophesies. I cannot imagine that breathing these vapors for any amount of time would be healthy, but they could perhaps induce visions. I myself am nearly seeing stars!

Here we stand at the Omphalos, or center of the Ancient World, with its former guardian Python upon whose grave Apollo’s Temple sits. Upon entering the Temple we are greeted and taken to a place where the gifts received by the Oracle are presented and displayed. Oh what an amazing array of artifacts—not old—but brand new. Shiny Macedonian shields with the image of Medusa, delicate vases depicting battles of old, and gold, gold, and more gold. It is an archeologist’s dream! There are objects here forgotten from history: clockwork mechanisms like that from Antikythera, a steam-powered bird, and a beautiful clear glass vase. And what is this furry little thing way back in the corner? Is it some strange taxidermy? It appears to be a little purplish rat of sorts. I move an automaton that looks like a spring-powered car to find…

On my God—it can’t be—its a Furby!

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