Nearly a year ago Mark & I were visiting friends in Chicago. While waiting to see an old colleague at his job in Greek Town, we went to lunch, sat down in a Greek restaurant, and said “We should go to Greece next summer.” Not long after we were visiting with our friends Dan & Laura who were talking about taking a 2015 summer trip with their kids Charlie & Elizabeth to see Rome. “No,” we insisted, “Come to Greece with us instead.”Here it is now, summer of 2015, and the six of us are in Greece for two weeks. Due to the challenges of traveling at high season with six people, these two weeks are more far planned than most two-week periods in the last two years. Two days in Delphi, two in Nafplion, four in Crete, three in Santorini, and three in Athens. We’re starting our Greek adventure on the slopes of Mount Parnassus in hot, dusty, dry Delphi.
For centuries, Delphi was the religious and spiritual center of the ancient Greek world. Though Greece then consisted of a large number of independent city-states, often highly competitive or even at war with each other, Apollo’s sanctuary here was considered sacred and thus protected by and accessible to all Greeks. It was, in fact, considered the center of the universe, the omphalos or navel of the world. Every four years the site also hosted the Pythian games, second only to the contests at Olympus in terms of prestige. Unlike the Olympian games, though, the Pythian games also included the mousikos agon or musical contests as well.
Of central importance to the sanctuary of Apollo here was the Oracle of Delphi, a priestess who offered prophecies based on her communication with Apollo. Selected at the death of a current priestess, she was available to answer questions from as relatively trivial as to if or when a couple should marry to whether a Greek state should go to war. It was said that the Oracle would go into a trance – thought by many, including the historian Plutarch, to have been caused by vapors escaping through the center of the universe. Her answers were often notoriously ambiguous.
My favorite story about the Oracle of Delphi is from the legendary Croesus, king of the Ionian state of Lydia and thought by the Greeks at least to be the world’s richest man. He was preparing to attack the far more powerful kingdom of Persia and went to the Oracle to ask for advice. She responded that if he attacked the Persians he would destroy a great kingdom. Of course, he forgot to ask which kingdom would be destroyed and lost everything when Cyrus the Great of Persia wiped out his army.
Delphi was a great start to the Greek expedition, a nice little jolt of ancient history in a cute town with fantastic views over the valley and classic Greek food. Next we move south for a couple days on the Peloponnese Peninsula.