Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Greece: A Day at Delphi

"Speechless" is clichéd and also not at all what keeps a writer in beer and shoe leather. The film industry has come to know the slack-jawed, wide-eyed and air sucking facial expression as "the Spielberg Effect" as the director has used this prelude to a major "reveal" most famously in his own films as dinosaurs and massive alien space ships have presented themselves to thunderstruck characters and audiences alike. We were one busload of slack-jawed, wide-eyed, air-sucking and thunderstruck tourists when Delphi came in to view ahead of us after a three hour drive over the lower flatlands and mountain approaches of Greece. We were transported.

Into another world and another time. Off to the left sat the exquisite round Tholos temple but we would get back to that. After a sharp left turn and sprawling from the road up the hill off our right shoulder was the heart of a layered complex of temples, statues, treasuries and votives of every conceivable kind. My friends and I felt, knew, that we had arrived at the heart of everything - the mythical, architectural, spiritual and also sensual - that ancient Greece was all about. Delphi, more than the Acropolis itself, held every city, island and region in its power with each wanting to outdo its rivals in the opulence of its offerings.

Our tour guide led us off of the bus with the first of many admonitions to stay together and not wander off on our own. We wanted both to stretch and attack this wonderful world at the same time. Leading us up the zig-zagging "Sacred Way" to the heart of the complex we passed through the main entrance which was as grand as you please thanks to the half-moons of the Argos Monument. The entire complex was built to intimidate the weak and celebrate the glory of the faithful as well as the power of Apollo to whom all of this opulence was dedicated.

Only one votive treasury building has been restored at the first hairpin turn of the path. Imagine a large garden shed in classic stone architecture and you get the idea. This one, the Treasury of Athens, now represents all of the treasuries that once lined the path and once held all the tribute to the famous oracle for her favors over the years. Not much farther up the hill stood a tall column of unadorned rock, the "Sybil rock" on top of which sat the "Delphi Sybil," who foretold the future. She, an older woman of pure living, was only the first, and not connected with the more famous Oracle within the Temple of Apollo itself.

All around us were the foundations of ruined treasuries and an interesting rock carved in the shape of a navel. Zeus launched two eagles to the east and west and marked this spot with his navel where they met again as the center of the Earth - so goes the legend. So we continued up the hill, our necks craning over our left shoulders at the collection of columns at the southeast corner of what was once the Temple of Apollo, the core motivator for anyone bold and rich enough to make the journey to Delphi.

Inside the Temple sat the priestess Pythia, the Oracle of Delphi who either did or did not need, depending on whom you talk to, gaseous emissions from beneath the temple and swirling around her high tripod seat to offer her answers to carefully framed questions, again either in plain speech or delirious tongues thanks to the holy ether. Her answers were famously noncommittal; whether or not she favored the supplicant was the result of his own interpretation. From the display of riches around us many gambled on the answer they wanted to hear and it paid off for them and the oracle in wealth, prosperity and tribute.

I didn't need to smoke anything to see the past and it was beautiful so far, only halfway through the delights of Delphi. At the top of the hill was something quite unexpected indeed.

Gotta go.

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