Priestess of the Oracle at Delphi - Artist: John Collier (1850–1934). Title: Priestess of Delphi. Description: The priestess of the oracle at ancient Delphi Greece. Date: 1891. Medium: oil on canvas. Dimensions: 160 × 80 cm (63 × 31.5 in). Current location: Art Gallery of South Australia. Accession number: 0.108. Object history: 1893: ceded to the Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, by the Earl of Kintore, Credit line: Gift of the Rt. Honourable, the Earl of Kintore 1893.
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This image is also in the public domain in countries that figure copyright from the date of death of the artist (post mortem auctoris), in this case, John Collier (1850–1934), and that most commonly runs for a period of 50 to 70 years from the last day of that year.
The most important oracles were those of Apollo at Delphi and of Zeus at Dodona. The former was by far the more celebrated and influential. In the centre of the temple at Delphi, there was a deep cavity with a narrow aperture, from which, we are told, there escaped a vapour that was regarded as the spirit of inspiration. Over the aperture a high tripod was placed, and on this the Pythia, or priestess, was seated. Delirious intoxication, induced by the vapour, ensued, and the Pythia uttered incoherent words which the Prophetes noted down, and communicated as the revelation of Apollo to those who came to consult the god. The Pythia was always a native of Delphi, and after entering the service of the god was never allowed to marry. The extant answers of the Oracle are mostly in Ionic Greek, and take the form of hexameter verse.
No religious institution in the ancient world obtained an influence comparable with that exercised by the Oracle of Delphi. Venerated as the revelation of the divine wisdom, the Oracle was the moral centre of Greece; it reminded men of the existence of a superior power from whom nothing was hidden and who, sooner or later, punished transgression.
The Oracle also encouraged the preservation and promotion of religion and religious institutions, and thus used its vast influence in favour of religion.
The answer of the Pythia, moreover, decided the internal and external policy of the Greeks. Wars were neither undertaken nor suspended without an order or a counsel from the Pythia. Colonies were founded only after obtaining the consent and directions of the Oracle at Delphi. It was, of course, very difficult for the Oracle to satisfy all those who consulted it, and therefore ambiguous answers were very common.
The great and useful influence of the Delphic Oracle on the early Greeks, especially the prudent worldly advice it gave, chiefly in the matter of colonization, can hardly be overestimated.*
TEXT CREDIT: Title The history of ancient civilization: a handbook. Author Gustave Ducoudray. Editor John Stuart Verschoyle. Publisher Appleton, 1889. Original from Harvard University, the New York Public Library. Digitized Nov 28, 2007. Length 295 pages. Subjects Civilization, Ancient.