Pythia

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The Pythia (Greek: Πυθία), commonly known as the Oracle of Delphi, was the priestess at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, located on the slopes of Mount Parnassus. The Pythia was widely credited for her prophecies inspired by Apollo, giving her a prominence unusual for a woman in male-dominated ancient Greece. The Delphic oracle was established in the 8th century BC.[1] The last recorded response was given in 393 AD, when the emperor Theodosius I ordered pagan temples to cease operation. During this period the Delphic Oracle was the most prestigious and authoritative oracle in the Greek world. The oracle is one of the best-documented religious institutions of the classical Greek world. Writers who mention the oracle include Herodotus, Thucydides, Euripides, Sophocles, Plato, Aristotle, Pindar, Aeschylus, Xenophon, Diodorus, Diogenes, Strabo, Pausanias, Plutarch, Livy, Justin, Ovid, Lucan, Julian, and Clement of Alexandria.

The name 'Pythia' derived from Pytho, which in myth was the original name of Delphi. The Greeks derived this place-name from the verb pythein (πύθειν, "to rot"), used of the decomposition of the body of the monstrous serpent Python after she was slain by Apollo.[2] One common view has been that the Pythia delivered oracles in a frenzied state induced by vapors rising from a chasm in the rock, and that she spoke gibberish which priests reshaped into the enigmatic prophecies preserved in Greek literature.[3]

This picture has been challenged by scholars such as Joseph Fontenrose and Lisa Maurizio, who argue that the ancient sources uniformly represent the Pythia speaking intelligibly, and giving prophecies in her own voice.[4] Recent geological investigations have shown that gas emissions from a geologic chasm in the earth could have inspired the Delphic Oracle to "connect with the divine." Some researchers suggest the possibility that ethylene gas caused the Pythia's state of inspiration. However, Lehoux argues[5] that ethylene is "impossible" and benzene "crucially underdetermined". Others argue instead that methane might have been the gas emitted from the chasm, or CO2 and H2S, arguing that the chasm itself might have been a seismic ground rupture.[6][7]

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