Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Quiet Destiny: Delphi

At one point, humans saw this city, town, more village with accompanying attractions (these days), as the centre of the world.
A modern Delphic home.

Athens might have been the seat of power but Delphi predicted who would sit in it. Delphi predicted who would die, marry, prosper and plummet. Or rather, the Delphic oracle did.

According to mythology (and a bit of background for those unfamiliar with ancient Greek history), Zeus wanted to locate the exact centre of the world and to do this he released two eagles at opposite ends of the earth. Eventually the eagles met at Delphi and so it was here that Zeus marked the spot with a large, egg-shaped stone called the omphalos ("navel" or belly button). Additionally, the site of Delphi is said to have been the home of the oracle of the earth goddess Gaia who was guarded by a great serpent called Pythos. The god Apollo killed Pythos and forced Gaia to leave Delphi and ever after the temple of Delphi belonged to Apollo's oracle.

The omphalos.

I came to this particular site as part of an experiential course during my first degree (part of it being in Greek and Roman Studies). The morning had seen my group and I get drowned in rain only to have to stomp through the mushy mud of dirt and grass, out to an old archeological site, still containing bits of leftover ancient pottery deemed not necessary to take back for analysis and safe-keeping.

By the time we reached Delphi, a few hours later, my feet were mostly dry, my socks not and my rolled up jeans were simply damp, rather than heavy with water. Slipping on sandals in favour of drenched hiking boots I sat with my mouth dropped open (as it was wont to do for most of the months spent on the trip).

We were rolling around the edges and corners of the Parnassus mountains, milimeters from sheer dropping cliffs of grassland and forest as we delved into a valley where, on the mountain edges, glancing out toward an ocean bay and harbour, was the present day town of Delphi, with the ancient city still scattered about above it.

Delphi is best visited at the end of a journey, as coming around the sheer corners as the sun is heavy in the sky at four o'clock in the afternoon, the light strikes down between the high mountains, richocheting over the distant waters and lights softly upon the first evidence of ancient life. A plateau jutting out from the cliffs, just below the main road where a circular temple sits.

Then, as you arrive into the village, all is silent. It's siesta time for the locals. You might spot an orange cat or two though. Climb up and up stone steps in small alleys and you'll break out into glorious open fields which are reminiscent of that final scene in Sound of Music when the characters sing "The Hills are Alive." My classmates and I did exactly that when we found that spot.

Glorious open grasslands, bright sun and turn around for a stunning backdrop, valley view.
Then, pop back down to the center of the modern town and climb up more stairs and a long winding golden dirt path. You'll first come across a stadium where athletic competitions were held, then you'll set foot in a theatre, which honestly has the best view of any theatre, with a view of the whole valley falling down before their feet. You feel on top of the world.

Criss-cross stairs in the town.

Even more so when you finally reach the top of all the old ruins and set your hand on the omphalos stone. Smooth and warm, it certainly feels as if it could be an egg.

Now, go find yourself a spot to stand upon and shout your destiny to the world. If the oracle could make up whatever she felt fit, in complete metaphorical mumbo-jumbo too. So can you. Her words were taken to seriously and as a result, controlled not just private matters but matters of state, religion and economics. Plus she got rich off a lot of gifts.

If you are going to Greece, make Delphi part of your stop. It might be a quiet town nowadays but it holds great mystery and power. Power over ones destiny which can still be felt, whether you are standing before the omphalous of above the great expanse of the world below.

You are alive, on top, and at the centre of the world.

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