Mystery Of The Delphi Oracle Prophecies: Was Pythia On Drugs While Guiding Ancient Greek Civilization For Thousands Of Years? – There are many beautiful and important ancient ruins we can admire in Greece, a country that is rich in history and culture. Among them are the so-called oracles where priests and priestesses were believed to have received guidance from Gods in form of signs or messages that served as prophecies.

When ancient Greeks and Romans had to make decisions, they consulted the gods. This could be done by drawing lots, casting dice, interpreting dreams and analyzing such signs as sneezes, thunderbolts and flying birds. However, when dealing with matters of the utmost importance, they sought to hear the words of the gods in the mouths of oracles.

Temple of Delphi
Ruins of the Temple of Delphi

As in many other ancient civilizations priests and priestesses played an important role in ancient Greece.

Great oracles and with their priests became hugely became hugely important centers, visited by both individuals and city-states whenever there was a wish to acquire a divine connection

One of the most famous oracles is that of Apollo at Delphi and Zeus at Dodona.

At the Oracle of Deplhi, Pythia, the sanctuary’s priestess was seated in a state of trance, speaking on the behalf of the gods delivering her prophecies and advised rulers, citizens and philosophers on everything from their sex lives to affairs of state.

One aspect of the ancient Oracle at Delphi which has fascinated scholars, scientists and laymen alike, is the nature and cause of the trance state attained by Pythia.

Temple of Apollo
Temple of Apollo – Image credit:

Numerous classical authors report that natural phenomena played an essential part in one of their most sacred religious rituals: the oracle at Delphi. Early ancient writers said it was believed that hundreds of years prior to the Temple, there was a crevice at Delphi that lead into the underworld that was first discovered by goat herders. Goat herders observed that their goats were acting crazy at this spot and when they themselves were there they had visions and premonitions.

Modern scientists were skeptical to the accounts and dismissed the explanation that the ancient Greeks gave for the oracle’s inspiration, vapors rising from the temple’s floor. Scholars rejected this explanation because archaeologists at the site of the temple could not locate a chasm or detect gaseous emissions.

However, a group of scientists, archeologists and a science historian discovered that the ancients were correct. In his book titled The Oracle science historian William Broad and his scientist team prove the existence of the crossed fault lines and the presence of an intoxicating gas called ethylene in the rocks below the ancient temple.

The Oracle: Ancient Delphi and the Science Behind Its Lost Secrets

A gripping modern-day detective story about the scientific quest to understand the Oracle of Delphi

Like Walking the Bible, this fascinating book turns a modern eye on an enduring legend. The Oracle of Delphi was one of the most influential figures in ancient Greece. Human mistress of the god Apollo, she had the power to enter into ecstatic communion with him and deliver his prophesies to men. Thousands of years later, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist William J. Broad follows a crew of enterprising researchers as they sift through the evidence of history, geology, and archaeology to reveal—as far as science is able—the source of her visions.  Read more

The team discovered that the oracle probably came under the influence of ethylene which is a sweet-smelling gas once used as an anesthetic. In light doses, it produces feelings of aloof euphoria.

See also:

What Was The Role Of The Priests And Priestesses In Ancient Greece?

Oldest Greek Oracle At Dodona And Zeus Sacred Oak Tree

1,800-Year-Old Oracle Dedicated To God Apollo Discovered In Athens

The presence of hydrocarbon gases can induce a narcotic state similar to that recorded from the trance state of Pythia.

So basically it would mean Pythia was on drugs when she delivered the messages from the gods.

There are some researchers who are not convinced intoxicating gas rising from below the ancient temple answers all questions.

he Pythia, oracle from Delphi Painting by Camilo Miola
he Pythia, oracle from Delphi Painting by Camilo Miola

The main objection against the ethylene theory is that it does not answer why only the priestess was affected by these toxic gases. Another point is that the quest to find what exactly put the priestess of Apollo at Delphi into a trance ignores the fact that her altered state may well have been self-induced, perhaps to give the impression of objectivity when answering enquiries.

It has been repeatedly stated that Pythia rambled incoherent gibberish when in her trance, which had to be interpreted and reshaped into prophecies by the priests. However, American classical scholar Joseph Fontenrose (1903-1986) who spent many years researching the ancient mystery of Pythia, writes in his book The Delphic Oracle, Its Responses and Operations that Pythia’s replies were no ramblings at all. According to Fontenrose, who examined several ancient texts, Pythia spoke with a clear voice and gave perfectly understandable replies. Fontenrose came to the conclusion there is a misconception about how the prophecies were delivered.

So, it seems we still have not entirely solved the ancient mystery of the Oracle at Deplhi and we do not know if Pythi was on drugs when she guided the ancient Greek civilizations for thousand of yeers. Further scientific studies of the ancient site might bring us closer to the truth.

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