Knowing When to Consult the Oracle at Delphi

Knowing When to Consult the Oracle at Delphi

By Alun Salt and Efrosyni Boutsikas

Antiquity, Vol. 79, No.305 (2005)

Abstract: The cities of Greece had their own calendars, so how did they all know when the god Apollo had returned from the northern realms and it was time to consult the oracle at Delphi? The authors show that the heliacal rising of the constellation Delphinus probably provided the annual marker, and that because of the mountains it appeared to rise a month later at Delphi than elsewhere, giving would-be visitors time to travel. The landscape of Delphi was itself instrumental in creating or enhancing the cosmology of Apollo.

Introduction: Each city in Classical Greece had its own calendar governing ritual observance, and each calendar had a local political significance that was certainly exploited. But there is no evidence of an accurate concordance of calendars between states. So how could pan-Hellenic events be coordinated in a politically neutral and accurate manner? The famous oracle at Delphi was originally only consulted on one particular day in one particular month of the year. So how did the different cities of Greece know when this was? We have found a correlation between festivals devoted to Apollo Delphinios,the major god of Delphi, and the movement of the constellation Delphinus. With so many stars in the sky this is perhaps not surprising. However, we also believe that we can show that this correlation is meaningful in explaining the timing of the consultation of the Oracle at Delphi.

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