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E + 24 : Delphi - Making Money When Stoned


The Sea of Olive Trees near the Town of Etea where we left the AFAET for the Day


It is quite hot this week in Greece. Temperatures are climbing above 43 C during the day and the sea is a comfortable 32 C. We need to start the day early. We arrived around midnight in Etea Port yesterday and plan to meet our guide at 08.30 h today. There is no wind, the sea is calm and flat. Gemma, our guide from a few months ago in Athens, impresses with her contextual knowledge. It is rare to find guides like her. Usually, one is showered with a torrent of details which are difficult to remember. But she tells the story in today’s language and provides context which we can understand. Thus, history becomes fascinating. A week ago, we were also very lucky in Apulia where Fabio, our guide for the week, showed us his country and brought this unknown part of Italy closer to us. We will definitely return.


The Site of Delphi in its Heydays - this Reconstruction was made by National Geographic

Whilst driving through a sea of olive trees – luckily all in good health – our van was climbing up the mountains to Delphi, 650 m above sea level. Gemma gave a brief introduction to Delphi’s geology which is closely linked to the tectonic trench of the Gulf of Corinth. The clash of the African with the European Plate produces weird geological features. Nothing is straight. Everything folded, bent, cracked. The Apennine is just one of these. To the north of the Gulf of Corinth, there are geological fissures – one of them runs straight below the temple of Apollo. All the mountains here are made from limestone. It is bitumen rich limestone. The Tethys Sea was a shallow see where decaying organic material was covered by silt and sand. The giant gas reserves off the coast of Calabria, Greece, Turkey, Israel and Cyprus, discovered 20 years ago are the result of the same process.


Michelangelo's Painting of the Delphica Sibyl, the first

High Priestess of Delphi who was called Pythia. She was

appointed for life like the Pople today


As luck has it, the hot water from the deep below dissolved some of the bitumen on the way up. Vapour was saturated with Ethylene, which was used in hospitals until very recently. It makes you dizzy, giddy and euphoric. Italian geologist found traces of Ethylene in nearby fissures and there is good reason to believe that ancient people just got high from inhaling these fumes. The ancient Greeks addiction to getting stoned is well documented. Their penchant for drinking massive amounts of wine, smoking pot and using opium is well documented. Wrote about this in my blog E – 8 (Sipping & Dancing into Civilisation) if you want to read it again. Gemma believes that people knew about Delphi already by 1’500 AD.


The Remains of the Temple of Apollo - the Column

remind me of the ones seen in Taranto


Of course, the Greek nobility discovered the usefulness of such a precious place and “captured” it for their own use. Priests (all of noble descent) were brought in to run the place, a high priestess called Pythia was appointed for life to inhale the fumes. Her euphoric stuttering was then interpreted and written down by the same priests who presented these prophesies as the words of Apollo. All men are equal but the nobility and their priests were definitely closer to the Gods. This trick was also used by the Pharaohs, the rulers of Sumer, Bablyon, the Persian Kings. Seems everybody was kind of a son of God – including the Emperor of China who called himself Son of Heaven.


Treasury of the Athenians where probably a lot of silver was stored before Sylla took it


The method worked. People pilgrimed to Delphi hoping to get a glimpse into their personal or political future. Would we not all like to have an Oracle of Delphi predicting future stock market prices or the success of start-ups? The line of people who queued grew longer and longer. Thousands of ancient Greek people pilgrimed to the site every day. Temples had to be enlarged, new shrines to be built to accommodate all of them. Let’s not forget the taverns and hostels for the visitors. The priest of Delphi – luckily Plato was one of them thus we know quite a lot – were good business men. Foreign nobility and political leaders would not want to queue. For a “little” gift this problem could be solved and privileged, instant access was granted. Reminds me of American Express’ Black Credit Card!


Delphi's Magnificent Theatre which offers splendid views


Whilst Delphi was a money-making machine and accumulated wealth beyond believe, it did not come without risk. When Pythia refused to make a prophecy for Alexandre the Great, he dragged her on her hair into the sanctuary. She screamed “you are invincible, my son”. Upon which he released her and went on his campaign. But Pythia refusal had its reason. The vapours need time to accumulate. Prophecies could only be made every seven days. Pythia who met Nero was less lucky. When she told him “Your presence here outrages the God you seek… The number 73 marks the hour of your downfall!” he killed her. Well, her prediction that his rule would be short lived became true. The murderous Emperor got assassinated at the age of 30.


Apollo's Golden Head Set - his Head was carved from Ivory


Delphi's wealth unfortunately attracted the attention of some bad people. It was sacked and plundered several times. When we talk about Rome’s sophisticated civilization, we should remember that it was primarily a war machine designed to conquer. The Roman General Sylla had no hesitation to plunder it in 89 BC in order to finance his siege of Athens. So much about culture and civilisation.


The marvellous Sphinx of Delphi - with the Head of a

Woman, the Wings of an Eagle and the Body of a Lion


Early Christians had no use for this pagan site. They chiseled crosses into many stones to neutralise the pagan demons, then abandoned the site and used it as a quarry. The speed with which Delphi was abandoned and the fact that no major town was nearby preserved quite a bit. Wonderful excavations were made which give us a good understanding of the ancient Greek culture. And the story of “how to make money when getting stoned”. :-)


Back in the Bay of Agios Isidorios after a hot day at Delphi

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