Fate and the Oracle at Delphi

The ancient Greeks believed that they could consult with the Oracle at Delphi about the future of their fate.

The Oracle at Delphi was established at the latest in the 8th century BC and located in the temple of Apollo. The oracle was a woman, chosen by priests, who was given the name Pythia and the title High Priestess. Pythia would sit on a stool over a fissure in the earth. From this fissure vapours arose and put Pythia in a hypnotic trance.

Communicating With the Gods

Whilst in this trance, Pythia was able to ‘communicate’ with the god, Apollo, and therefore become his mouthpiece.

When people came to Delphi they had to present their question to the priests of the oracle, who passed it on to Pythia. Her answer would be so obscure or ambiguous that the priests would have to interpret it.

In this way, the people got the benefit of Apollo’s wisdom, believing that he knew everything, even about the future. There were many heads of state who dared not go to war or take other decisive steps until they had consulted the Oracle at Delphi.

The priests of Apollo thus functioned more or less as diplomats, or advisers. They were experts with an intimate knowledge of the people and the country. Over the entrance to the temple at Delphi was a famous inscription:


It reminded visitors that humans must never believe themselves to be more than mortal – and that no person can escape their destiny.

The Greeks had many stories of people whose destiny catches up with them. As time went by, a number of tragedy plays were written about these ‘tragic’ people, such as the story of King Oedipus.

Until the rise of the Natural Philosophers, the Greeks had believed in the power of the Oracle at Delphi to show them their fate. Now, however, belief in reason was growing ever stronger and fate itself could be reasoned with.

This would sharply be shown in the area of medicine with one of the most enigmatic philosophers in history, Hippocrates.

Image from www.ancient-origins.net

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