Friday, March 15, 2019

National Geographic piece about Delphi

Pythia - The Delphic Oracle with laurel leaf

Nat Geo has a fine story this month about Delphi, the navel of the Earth -- worth a look given that The Eumenides, when we get to it, opens with a long speech of the Pythia, followed by the appearance of Apollo. The article echoes the opening of that play, though it has a variant on the genealogy of the presiding deities of the site:
. . . this impressive spot in central Greece (about 100 miles northwest of Athens) was originally sacred to Gaea, mother goddess of the earth, who placed her son Python, a serpent, as a guard for Delphi and its oracle. Apollo, god of light and music, slew the serpent and took over the site for himself. Priestesses who served Apollo there were called the “Pythia,” named in honor of Gaea’s vanquished son. Throughout the classical world spread the belief that these priestesses channeled prophecies from Apollo himself. (Read about the science behind the Delphic Oracle's prophetic powers.)  NatGeo

The opening of The Eumenides offers its own genealogy of the site, beginning with the striking description of the Earth as πρωτόμαντιν - the first prophet:

πρῶτον μὲν εὐχῇ τῇδε πρεσβεύω θεῶν 
τὴν πρωτόμαντιν Γαῖανἐκ δὲ τῆς Θέμιν
 δὴ τὸ μητρὸς δευτέρα τόδ᾽ ἕζετο 
μαντεῖονὡς λόγος τιςἐν δὲ τῷ τρίτῳ 
5λάχειθελούσηςοὐδὲ πρὸς βίαν τινός
Τιτανὶς ἄλλη παῖς Χθονὸς καθέζετο
Φοίβηδίδωσι δ᾽  γενέθλιον δόσιν 
Φοίβῳτὸ Φοίβης δ᾽ ὄνομ᾽ ἔχει παρώνυμον
λιπὼν δὲ λίμνην Δηλίαν τε χοιράδα
10κέλσας ἐπ᾽ ἀκτὰς ναυπόρους τὰς Παλλάδος
ἐς τήνδε γαῖαν ἦλθε Παρνησοῦ θ᾽ ἕδρας
πέμπουσι δ᾽ αὐτὸν καὶ σεβίζουσιν μέγα 
κελευθοποιοὶ παῖδες Ἡφαίστουχθόνα 
ἀνήμερον τιθέντες ἡμερωμένην
15μολόντα δ᾽ αὐτὸν κάρτα τιμαλφεῖ λεώς
Δελφός τε χώρας τῆσδε πρυμνήτης ἄναξ
τέχνης δέ νιν Ζεὺς ἔνθεον κτίσας φρένα 
ἵζει τέταρτον τοῖσδε μάντιν ἐν θρόνοις
Διὸς προφήτης δ᾽ ἐστὶ Λοξίας πατρός

The Priestess of Pythian Apollo

First, in this prayer of mine, I give the place of highest honor among the gods to the first prophet, Earth; and after her to Themis, for she was the second to take this oracular seat of her mother, as legend tells. And in the third allotment, with Themis' consent and not by force, [5] another Titan, child of Earth, Phoebe, took her seat here. She gave it as a birthday gift to Phoebus, who has his name from Phoebe. Leaving the lake1and ridge of Delos, he landed on Pallas' ship-frequented shores, [10] and came to this region and the dwelling places on Parnassus. The children of Hephaistos,2road-builders taming the wildness of the untamed land, escorted him with mighty reverence. And at his arrival, the people [15] and Delphus, helmsman and lord of this land, made a great celebration for him. Zeus inspired his heart with prophetic skill and established him as the fourth prophet on this throne; but Loxias is the spokesman of Zeus, his father.

Another article offers Some prophecies of the oracle

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

What did Helen look like?

The splendid Sententiae Antiquae blog tackles the almost eternal question of Helen's appearance:
What Helen actually looks like is never stated in HomerWhen the Trojans look at her, they say she has the “terrible appearance of goddesses” (αἰνῶς ἀθανάτῃσι θεῇς εἰς ὦπα ἔοικεν). This, of course, is not terribly specific.. . . 
To stay with the ancient world, think of that seminal first stanza in Sappho fr. 16: 
Some say a force of horsemen, some say infantry
and others say a fleet of ships is the loveliest
thing on the dark earth, but I say it is
[whatever] you love 
Οἰ μὲν ἰππήων στρότον, οἰ δὲ πέσδων,
οἰ δὲ νάων φαῖσ’ ἐπὶ γᾶν μέλαιναν
ἔμμεναι κάλλιστον, ἐγὼ δὲ κῆν’ ὄτ-
τω τις ἔραται 
As long as beauty is relative and in the eye of the beholder any time we disambiguate it by saying that it is one thing and not another we depart from an abstract timeless idea and create something more bounded and less open to audience engagement. I think that part of what makes Homeric poetry work so well is that it combines a maximum amount of specificity within a maximized amount of ambiguity. 
Paris and Helen