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(dĕl`fī), locality in Phocis, Greece, near the foot of the south slope of Mt. ParnassósParnassós
or Parnassus
, mountain, c.8,060 ft (2,460 m) high, Phocis, central Greece. In ancient Greece it was sacred to Apollo, Dionysus, and the Muses. The fountain of Castalia was on its slopes; at the foot of the mountain lay Delphi.
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, c.6 mi (10 km) northeast of the port of Cirrha. It was the seat of the Delphic oracleoracle,
in Greek religion, priest or priestess who imparted the response of a god to a human questioner. The word is also used to refer to the response itself and to the shrine of a god. Every oracular shrine had a fixed method of divination.
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, the most famous and most powerful of ancient Greece. The oracle originated in the worship of an earth-goddess, and later legend ascribed it to GaeaGaea
, in Greek religion and mythology, the earth, daughter of Chaos, both mother and wife of Uranus (the sky) and Pontus (the sea). Among Gaea's offspring by Uranus were the Cyclopes, the Hundred-handed Ones (the Hecatoncheires), and the Titans.
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. It passed to ApolloApollo
, in Greek religion and mythology, one of the most important Olympian gods, concerned especially with prophecy, medicine, music and poetry, archery, and various bucolic arts, particularly the care of flocks and herds.
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; some stories say he won it by killing the Python, others that it descended to him peacefully through Themis and Phoebe. The Delphic oracle was the preeminent shrine of Apollo, but in winter, when Apollo was absent among the Hyperboreans, it was sacred to DionysusDionysus
, in Greek religion and mythology, god of fertility and wine. Legends concerning him are profuse and contradictory. However, he was one of the most important gods of the Greeks and was associated with various religious cults. He was probably in origin a Thracian deity.
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, who was said to be buried there.

The oracle was housed in the great temple to Apollo, first built in the 6th cent. B.C. (it was destroyed and rebuilt at least twice). The oracular messages were spoken by a priestess seated on a golden tripod, who uttered sounds in a frenzied trance. The inspired trance was said by the ancient Greeks to be induced by vapors from beneath the temple's floor; these may have been ethylene or other petrochemical fumes rising through faults that ran beneath the temple. The priestess's utterances were interpreted to the questioner by a priest, who usually spoke in verse.

Delphi was unique in its universal position in the otherwise fragmented political and social life of Greece. It was the meeting place of the Amphictyonic league (see amphictyonyamphictyony
, in ancient Greece, a league connected with maintaining a temple or shrine. There were a number of these, but by far the most important was the Great, or Delphic, Amphictyony (or simply the Amphictyonic League), a league originally of 12 tribes.
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), the most important league of Greek city-states, and also the site of the Pythian gamesPythian games
, in ancient Greece, games held at Delphi every four years (the third of each Olympiad). They included musical, literary, and athletic contests. The games honored Apollo and took their name from Pythia, the priestess of the oracle at Delphi.
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. Persons seeking the help of the oracle brought rich gifts, and the shrine grew very wealthy. The prestige and influence of the Delphic oracle prevailed for centuries through all of Greece. During Hellenistic times, however, the importance of the oracle declined. Delphi was frequently pillaged from early Roman times, and the sanctuary fell into decay. One of the art works excavated there is the beautiful 5th-century bronze statue called the Delphic Charioteer (now at the Archaeological Mus., Delphi, Greece).


See study by F. Poulsen (1920).

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Delphi (Greece)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Delphi was the most important center for divination and the worship of Apollo in ancient Greece. The city of Delphi had been in existence for centuries when, in the seventh century BCE, it became the capital of the association of Greek states known as the Amphictyony. In the middle of the century, a temple to Apollo was erected at Delphi to celebrate the god’s victory over a large snake, the python. At the end of the century, the Amphictyony engaged in a war against a neighboring city state and, following victory, dedicated the newly acquired territory to Apollo. Soon afterward, Delphi became the center of the Pythian (Apollonian) festival, celebrated every four years.

Over the years, as the sanctuary grew in importance and fame, it was a target for hostile neighbors and invading armies. It was periodically destroyed or plundered, but it continued to function. Oversight of the complex of temples that arose at Delphi was in the hands of the priestess of Apollo, the Pythia, who offered oracles (and who was also known as “the oracle”). Once a year she sat on a chair in the temple of Apollo adjacent to an open earth fissure from which fumes emerged. Some believe the fumes had an intoxicating property, allowing the priestess to enter an altered state of consciousness from which the oracles were pronounced. Originally, the priestess operated as an oracle once a year, but over a period of time she acceded to many requests and would perform on demand. During much of the oracle’s existence, it was believed that in the fall Apollo departed the site for his winter quarters on Delos Island. The oracle of Apollo would reside in Delphi half the year and in Delos the other half.

Those requesting an oracle would first enact a ritual that included walking from the nearby community of Kirra (now known as Itea). Along the way they would pay a fee, take a ritual bath, and sacrifice an animal (usually a goat whose entrails would become an object of divination by the local priests). The visit culminated in their posing their question. The answer to the question would often be delivered in cryptic words that would require further interpretation by the priests.

Politicians, generals, and rulers consulted the oracle, often to obtain blessing on a decision that had already been made. Observers knowledgeable of Delphi were aware of the sensitive nature of any response to people in power and of the ambiguity that usually characterized the oracle’s response, which could be interpreted in many possible ways.

The most famous of the priestess’s pronouncements was given to King Croesus of Lydia (r. 560–546 BCE), who inquired about an upcoming battle. The oracle noted that the king would cross the river Halys and destroy a great army. He believed that victory was his, but when he lost the battle, those at Delphi pointed out that he had, in fact, destroyed a great army—his own.

The oracle remained active until the emergence of the Emperor Constantine (r. 306–337 CE). His rule launched Delphi’s decline, which culminated in the prohibition of the worship of Apollo at Delphi and ordered the discontinuance of the Pythian games.

Today, tourists may visit Delphi, located on the side of Mount Parnassus across the Gulf of Corinth, north of the city of Corinth. Here, the ruins of a large complex of temples and related structures for the Pythian festival can be seen. After many years of abandonment, modern Neopagans have attempted to re-sacralize Delphi, but they have encountered a major problem in that Pagan worship is not allowed in Greece, where a strong establishment of the Orthodox Church exists. Several informal groups who wish to see a modern inauguration of the worship of the ancient Greek deities have begun a campaign to decriminalize such worship.


Fontenrose, Joseph. The Delphic Oracle. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978.
Parke, H. W. The Delphi Oracle, Vol. I: The History. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1956.
Temple, Robert K. G. Conversations with Eternity: Ancient Man’s Attempts to Know the Future. London: Rider, 1984.
The Encyclopedia of Religious Phenomena © 2008 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



an ancient Greek city situated at the foot of Mount Parnassus in southwestern Phocis. A major religious center with its temple and oracle of the god Apollo.

During the seventh and sixth centuries B.C., Delphi acquired the role of an all-Greek sanctuary. Beginning in the sixth century B.C., the all-Greek Pythian Games took place in the city, during which a sacred truce was observed throughout Greece. Pilgrims and traders flocked to Delphi, exchanging goods and news. Numerous gifts dedicated to Apollo accumulated at Delphi as well as enormous treasuries, which were under the protection of the Delphic Amphictyony, because of which the city became a major center for credit and loan transactions. Delphi’s role began to weaken at the end of the fifth century B.C. During the 80’s B.C., Delphi was plundered by the Thracians and other tribes. At the end of the first century A.D. the temple at Delphi was restored. The oracle’s activity revived somewhat during the second century A.D. (the last known appeals to the oracle date back to the third century). Officially the temple was closed down by the Roman emperor Theodosius I around 390. Excavations at Delphi have been under way since 1892. At present Delphi is a small village.

The monuments of Delphi fuse harmoniously with the mountainous terrain. Located in the Sanctuary of Apollo are the Temple of Apollo (sixth century B.C.), reconstructed by the architects Chendor and Agathon in the fourth century B.C.; treasuries dating from the sixth to the beginning of the fourth century B.C., including the Siphnian Treasury (c. 525 B.C.) and the Treasury of the Athenians (beginning of the fifth century B.C.), both famous for their sculptural decorations; the Athenian Stoa (475 B.C.); the foundations of the Cnidean Lesche (second quarter of the fifth century B.C.); and a theater dating from the second century B.C. In the so-called Marmaria (sanctuary of Athena) are the foundations of the old (end of the seventh century B.C.) and the new (end of the sixth century B.C.) temples of Athena Pronaia and the Tholos, dating from the beginning of the fourth century B.C. and designed by Theodorus of Phocis. Located outside the sanctuaries are a stadium (sixth century B.C.), a gymnasium (sixth-fifth centuries B.C.), and the pool of the Castalian Spring (dating from Roman times). There is also an archaeological museum at Delphi.


Gluskina, L. M. “Del’fy v period Pervoi sviashchennoi voiny.” Vestnik drevnei istorii, 1951, no. 2.
Gluskina, L. M. “Del’fy kak ekonomicheskii tsentr Drevnei Gretsii.” Uch. zap. Leningradskogo pedagogicheskogo instituta, 1956, vol. 13, issue 2.
Gluskina, L. M. “Iz novoi literatury o Del’fakh.” Vestnik drevnei. istorii, 1961, no. 4.
[La Coste-Messelière, P. de.] Delphes. Paris, 1957.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


ancient oracular center near Mt. Parnassus. [Gk. Myth.: Parrinder, 74; Jobes, 428]


shrine sacred to Apollo and site of temple and oracle. [Gk. Myth.: Brewer Dictionary, 274]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


an ancient Greek city on the S slopes of Mount Parnassus: site of the most famous oracle of Apollo
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


1. <company, communications> A US Internet service provider.

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(1) A multi-device development system from Embarcadero Technologies, Inc. that generates native apps for Windows, Mac and iOS. Introduced by Borland in 1995 and based on the object-oriented version of Pascal (Object Pascal), Delphi provides visual programming tools that generate executable programs. Delphi supports all the major databases.

(2) (Delphi Consulting Group, Boston, MA, The leading consulting organization in document management and workflow. Founded in 1987 by Thomas Koulopoulos, it provides consulting services, publications and in-house and public seminars on the subjects. In 2004, Delphi became a wholly-owned division of Perot Systems Corporation, Plano, TX, but was taken private once again by founder Koulopoulos in mid-2007.

(3) See also Delphi Forums.
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