Sunday, June 19, 2011

Demonstrate Need at Delphi

"Demonstrated need."

That's basically a writing prompt for one of the four essays you need to compose when you apply for a Fulbright Hays Seminar Abroad Program.

When I was in the throes of penning my essays last fall, I would moan to Hugh, "How in the world can anyone possibly answer this question.  I mean, really.  I'm just a sixth grade teacher, and I can get any information I could possibly want about anything from the Internet."

Today we visited Delphi.  You know; the place with the Oracle.  There are about three pages in our social studies text book about Delphi.  And there is a two-page spread about Delphi in one of the large, photo-laden  Usborne books on Greece that sits perched in a stand atop my classroom library.  I already know everything there is to know about Delphi.


One of those pages in our social studies textbook contains a map of Delphi showing the Temple of Apollo, the Sacred Way, the Theater, the Gymnasium and Stadium.   The map sits within a rectangle about two inches tall and three inches wide.  Let me be the first to tell you that printing such an infinitesimally small map of a temple to Greek god would be enough to make that god inflict a famine on your family for generations.   Or worse.

Photos can't capture the majesty of even the ruined skeletal remains of Delphi.  And words can just begin to capture the importance this place, this god and the associated myths hold for the ancient Greeks.  For starters, Delphi is nestled into the southern slopes of Mt. Parnassos, which, at its highest point, reaches 2400 meters.  The mountain simply soars into the sky.  Not far from the road (was this the same access road that the Greeks used to reach the temple in ancient times?  I don't know...) are the remains of the wall that surrounded the temple.  Such a wall was commonly used; it was called the "temenos."  In Greek this word means "to sect" or "to cut."  In other words, the purpose of the wall is to "cut" or separate the godly from the human.  Makes sense.

Before passing through one of the eight gates visitors might stop at a marketplace stall located just outside the wall, perhaps to buy something for an offering.  A courtyard with peristyles served this function.  Upon entering the main gate, visitors would find themselves climbing, "snaking" their way up the winding "Sacred Way," the pathway from the main gate up to the Temple of Apollo.

The Sacred Way did not function simply as a connecting mechanism between two points.  Not at all!  The Sacred Way was a strange cross between "Trophy Alley" and "Ambassador Row."  On either side of the Sacred Way stood "treasuries," small buildings that exist today only as ruins.  What was put in treasuries?  Treasures, of course!  But what kind of treasures, you ask.  Well, here is the perfect example of treasure.  We stopped and studied the location of the Treasury of the Argives (that would be the people from Argos).  There is a large, theater-like display area at this treasury.  This is where the Argives proudly displayed large bronze statues of their kings, flaunting Argos's glorious victory over the Spartans in a war during the 6th century B.C.  To make matters worse, the Spartan Treasury is located downhill from the Argive Treasury, so, essentially, those Argive kings had a perpetual view looking "down" upon the Spartans.  As you can see, the Sacred Way was really a place for each city-state to show off to its polis neighbors.

The Athenian Treasury has been rebuilt to display its ancient splendor.  It looks like a temple with columns and artwork on top.  The building is made of Pentellian (? need to double check this) marble that, due to its iron content, takes on a rich honey color as it ages.  The Treasury of Athens is located near the top of the Sacred Way, right next door to the building that housed the Counsel of the Amphyction, which was just next to the Rock of the Sybil.  (Right around the corner from this: the Temple of Apollo itself; in other words, the Athenians had the best location, location, location.)  On some of the stones of the Athenian Treasury are inscriptions about their victory at Marathon.  Elsewhere on the edifice appear etched laurel wreaths inscribed with the names of the Athenian winnners of the Pythian Games, which, like the Olympic Games, were held every four years.

So, there were a lot of buildings along the Sacred Way....and we haven't even gotten to the temple yet!  This oracle "stuff" was huge business, back in the day, and the Oracle at Delpi was the best and most accurate of the oracles around Greece.  Her advice was highly valued, and as a result, city states clambered to Delphi and the Pythia there.  But the Pythia didn't just hand out advice any old time.  The most important oracle was delivered on the first day of spring each year, and this was the meeting that city states longed for.  How did the oracle decide whose question to answer?  Duh!  The next one in line!  Yes, city states sent representatives to Delphi who often had to wait for years before their number came up!  Perhaps not surprisingly, because they had so long to wait, these representative became something like ambassadors; they created the Council of Amphyction.  Remember?  They had an "office" right next to the Athenian Treasury, near the top of the Sacred Way. location for one-on-one meetings between Athens and members of the Council.  Does this help explain Athens's supreme position of power among city states at the time?

Wow, I've droned on and on about The Sacred Way, which was just a squiggle on that 2 x 3" map that appeared in my social studies text book.  Did I really say I knew everything about Delphi before coming to Greece?  Do you have time for the stories about  Giah (sp?), the snake, Apollo, Crete, Daphne,............

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