Of course, of course I had to write about oracles! You saw this one coming (get it?).
Now, oracles are those individuals (for the Greeks, though, it was always a priestess) who act as mediums between the Gods and humanity; making prophecies and being frustratingly vague. I think oracles, as mythic as they may be, are actually pretty human. The future, like the great vastness of space, is so infinitely unknown, so exciting and frightening, so beautiful and chaotic all at once. It’s only human to wonder what lies ahead and beyond, to try and wrestle with the uncertain.
There’s no better place to start than at Delphi, Greece where the Temple of Apollo lies. The temple was erected to commemorate the God Apollo and his triumph over the serpent Python. Considering Apollo was the God of prophecy, among other things, everybody who was somebody came to the temple to consult with the oracle before making any big decisions; from heroes to philosophers, to kings and queens.
Pythia, the role of the high priestess, would descend into her subterranean chamber to breathe in the vapors of the dead Python. She would then slowly, with her mystic beauty, emerge in a trance and give her mysterious prophecies as the vapors climbed to the heavens.
On top of the mythological fascination, there are some geological interests as well. Geologists today have discovered tectonic plates, or fault lines, underneath the temple and these fault lines would emit, like the myth goes, vapors. The vapors, interestingly enough, would consist of certain narcotic chemicals like ethylene which is a hallucinogenic.
Now, whether Pythia received her powers from Python or ethylene, the predictions she would give were more often than not accurate. There’s the famed demise of Oedipus Rex, the murder of his father and the bedding of his mother. And there was the knowledge of the plotting of the Persian army against Athens. One of my favorite predictions was when Pythia claimed that there is no one wiser than the granddaddy of Western philosophy, Socrates. Pythia ended up being right because Socrates, after exhaustive research, found that he was the only one who knew he knew nothing.
This story connects wonderfully to one of the old maxims inscribed at the Delphi. Before Drake rapped about knowing yourself and your worth, the text “Know Thyself” was etched in Greek at the pediment of the temple. For myself, the phrase means knowing my limits, or my “measures” as the Greeks put it. Acknowledging the vastness of what I don’t know and the beautiful fragility of my life. It means knowing my place in the universe and being cognizant and humble in how I interact with the people and objects around me. Now I have no idea what the oracle meant by this if she penned it, maybe it means knowing how much water you need to drink everyday (did you drink enough water for today?).
Who truly knows, only you do.