Friday, July 29, 2016

Greece Trip, Wednesday, 7/20/16

 Today we headed to Delphi, the seat of the famous temple and oracle of Pythian Apollo, named for his slaying there of the snake-monster, Python. His priestess, Pythia, gave forth oracles that were interpreted by his priests. These were famous for always being right, because Apollo was not only the Sun, but also all-seeing Truth (and Medicine and Music and other things). Of course, the ever-correct oracles, like modern horoscopes, could be quite vague, as proven by the example of Themistocles' famous prophecy about Athens' wooden walls. Pythian games, like the Olympics but more cerebral due to the addition of poetry and music competitions, were celebrated in his honor there. Delphi was amazingly wealthy at its height, a repository not only for votive offerings but  the treasuries of various Greek city-states.

Altar and temple of Pythian Apollo in the background; the bronze spiral in the foreground is a copy of one relocated to Constantinople by the Roman Emperor Constantine

The restored "Treasury of the Athenians," for example, commemorated Athens' victory over the Persians at the Battle of Marathon, the same event from which the racing-term "marathon" comes. Hopefully modern marathoners don't drop dead like the original runner did. Near the treasury grows some laurel, a tree sacred to Apollo. The leaves of the laurel are the familiar bay leaves found in many kitchens. Pythia may have chewed its leaves as part of the process of getting high to produce her prophecies. The metopes of this treasury featured the exploits of the famous Athenian hero, Theseus.

Restored Treasury of the Athenians at Delphi; the metope on the right shows Theseus killing the Minotaur

Laurel trees (left) grow near the Sanctuary of Apollo in Delphi, Greece

Until this visit I never knew that Delphi closed down for three months in the winter time, at least as far as Apollo was concerned. Instead, worshipers took to the local wilderness to worship Bacchus or Dionysus, the god of grapes, wine, liquid nourishment, wild animals, etc. An important relationship between the two gods is implied by Praxiteles' statue in my previous post. Our guide says their complementary worship shows the Greek love for balance between mind and body, with Apollo representing the needs of the mind, and Dionysus, those of the body. It's an interesting idea. The region today is thickly dotted by olive trees, sacred to Athena, the remains of whose temple is visible near them. It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Remains of the Temple of Athena near her sacred olive trees in Delphi, Greece

Under the sacred road leading to Apollo's temple, a burial site was found. Hidden inside were treasures that corroborate ancient tales of Delphi's treasures and wealth. We found them displayed in the splendid little museum nearby. We also found a reproduction of the omphalos there, the famous bronze charioteer, and, of course, the original kylix cup, a reproduction of which I bought yesterday.

Gold burial-offerings from Delphi, Greece

Griffin gold burial-offering from Delphi, Greece

Famous bronze charioteer at Delphi

Kylix cup at Delphi illustrates the pouring of a libation (liquid offering)

Roman reproduction of the omphalos or navel-stone found at Delphi, Olympia, considered the center of the universe

On our way to Delphi we stopped at the Rion-Antirion Bridge, an engineering achievement of which the Greeks are very proud. Officially known as the Charilaos Trikoupis Bridge after the statesman who advocated for its construction, it is the world's longest cable-stayed bridge. They completed it ahead of schedule and in time for the 2004 Olympics. We saw video about the effort it took to build this bridge and were rightly impressed. The fireworks the Greeks celebrated its completion with were more impressive than anything I've ever seen. Joanna told us she knows the man in charge of those fireworks, the same man who supervised the fireworks at the Olympic Games. As Joanna says, the Greeks know how to celebrate. Opa!

Rion-Antirion or Charilaos Trikoupis Bridge, the longest cable-stay bridge in the world, is in Greece

I am organizing an Italy tour in the summer of 2018.

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