The work to understand Delphi, as we have seen, continues unabated. In many ways, as a result, this book can be little more than a snapshot of where we are right now in our comprehension of the number of complex roles it occupied in the ancient Mediterranean world. What I hope the book has done, however, is to open our eyes to the fascinating nature of this small town and sanctuary clinging to the Parnassian mountains of Greece; its extraordinary place in ancient history; and the incredibly complex way in which such a position was achieved.
Delphi was lucky enough to have been (portrayed as) born great, to have achieved, greatness, and to have had greatness thrust upon it. Its oracle, as a preeminent connection to the gods in the context of a society constantly humming with interaction between the human and divine worlds, was, without doubt, a crucial part of Delphi’s attraction and im portance for large parts of the ancient world, especially in the archaic and classical periods. But Delphi’s oracular reputation over a much lon ger period, and to an even wider Mediterranean world, owed as much to the ways in which the ancient writers chose to make use of the oracle as a device in their own narratives, as to the canny ways in which the stories of Delphi’s oracular responses (and the process by which the oracle gave her responses) were developed, altered, reframed, and occasionally fab ricated as part of the rich tapestry of literary, philosophical, theatrical, historical, religious, and polemical thought, argument, and writing that spanned the ancient world, and, as a result, ensured that the Delphic oracle became diffused, to various degrees at different times, into almost every branch of ancient life and understanding. In essence, the oracle at Delphi became for many a useful tool with which to think, argue, and explain, in the context of a constantly evolving world, and as such, its influence was always something more than the sum of the Pythia’s responses.
And fundamental to understanding Delphi’s story is the fact that the oracle was but one of a number of activities at the sanctuary, which, as a result, not only allowed Delphi to punch significantly above its weight in the ancient landscape, but also plugged Delphi into the ancient Mediterranean world in a bewildering number of ways. Fundamental to Delphi’s continuing importance was its unusual management struc ture, placed as it was under the auspices of both a city and the Amphic tyony. As a result, it was immune to domination by one city (well, at least some of the time), and was thus capable of acting as a resource for a wider congregation of cities and states. This meant it was also always a place of interest and importance to a wide community of Greeks who were in no small way responsible for it, and to whose authorities (and resources) Delphi could turn in times of need. Moreover, thanks to the intervention of the Amphictyony and the narratives of Sacred War, Delphi, despite being a city of little more than fifteen hundred citizens, controlled (to an unusually high degree) a vast swathe of sacred terri tory that, in later centuries, would evolve into being the property of the city rather than the god, thus turning Delphi into a place with fantas tic resources at its deposal in contrast to its size. Coupled with this, in later centuries, it was in part thanks to the Roman misunderstanding of what the Amphictyony was—for the Romans, a “general council of the Greeks”—that the Amphictyony and Delphi continued to enjoy such a high level of attention from the Roman authorities as they sought both to control, and to reshape Greece from the first century BC onward. As a result of all these opportunities, effects, and misunderstandings, Delphi remained an independent entity for most of its history, enjoying a level of freedom (especially in the Roman era) of which many other impor tant sanctuaries across Greece could only dream.
Yet Delphi also owed its preeminence to its own religious landscape. The worship of a plethora of divinities that continued to increase over time, coupled with multiple religious festivals at Delphi linked the wor ship conducted by Delphians of particular deities, particularly Apollo and Dionysus, not only to different physical parts of the ancient Med iterranean landscape, but also to the conduct of similar rites across Greece and the wider Mediterranean world. In turn, the flexible cre ation of festivals in response to investment by the leagues and powerful individuals of the Hellenistic and Roman periods meant Delphi’s ritual landscape continued changing to keep pace with the society around it. Tied into its constantly evolving religious program was Delphi’s ability to host (and reputation for hosting) athletic and musical games. Im portant from the sixth centuryBC, these competitions were, in a not in significant way, responsible for ensuring Delphi’s relevance throughout the Hellenistic and Roman periods, as they offered a forum for (at least some) monarchs, politicians, emperors, and philanthropists to engage with the competitive aspects of ancient Greek society that vast swathes of the Mediterranean society continued to find so enticing, and, at the same time, allowed Delphi to benefit by providing a convenient focus for financial investment in the sanctuary by those same groups.
In addition, Delphi’s large sacred area, carved out of, and terraced into, the Parnassian mountainside provided an arena for display and competition by honoring the gods with a bewildering variety of mon umental dedications, all of which, because they became the property of the god, had to remain in place. This was not unique to Delphi, as all sanctuaries received dedications in one form or another. But Delphi’s other activities—its oracle, festivals, and games—not only called for such monuments to be offered (to thank the gods for an oracular re sponse or celebrate victory in the games), but also ensured that a steady stream of people came to Delphi on a regular basis over the centuries. As a result, the value of a permanent monument at Delphi, in a world in which large gatherings of people from different cities and states were rare occasions, became an obvious choice for much of the Mediterra nean world. Moreover, as more and more dedications were set up in the sanctuary, its monumental landscape provided its own draw as a key space in which to be seen, to articulate identities and celebrate events, as well as the ideal space in which to oppose particular cities and individ uals that had themselves previously invested in the sanctuary. All of this often propelled Delphi into the front line of commemoration for events that were themselves frequently at the epicenter of the tectonic power shifts in ancient Mediterranean history. Such constant dedicatory ac tivity, combined with the difficulties (and opportunities) presented by the steep landscape and the seeming freedom dedicators had to design monuments in a vast array of architectural and artistic styles in response to their particular needs and the current vogues at Delphi, ensured that Delphi became a laboratory for the development of new styles (as well as a conservator of old ones), which, in turn, enabled the sanctuary to pro vide an even more attractive setting for dedicators looking to articulate their own identity and position in the ancient world.
It was the cumulative impact and the continued opportunities pro vided by this combined package of oracle, management, festivals, games and dedications that ensured Delphi was propelled to such prominence in the ancient world, and, in turn, changed Delphi into a place that con tinued to exert influence and hold symbolic importance long after some of those activities had waned (particularly its oracle).1 In achieving the status of one of those rare sanctuaries that hosted periodos games and a number of other international festivals, a renowned oracle, and vast communities of dedications from around the Mediterranean world, Delphi became an important and useful place about which to talk, in which to be seen, through which to act, and often over which to hold sway, simply because it was Delphi. And as the Hellenistic world gave way to the might of Rome, Delphi’s track record was good enough to ensure that the Delphians could capture the attention of Rome’s poli ticians, emperors, and philanthropists, draw them into interacting with the sanctuary in a variety of ways, and put Delphi high on the list of places in which to invest as successive waves of interest toward Greece were generated within Roman Mediterranean society. And at the same time, because of its by now long and complex history, Delphi continued to be an attractive place for the great thinkers of the age, whose interest in, and attention to, Delphi once again ensured that the sanctuary was at the center of key debates, intellectual development, and changing world outlooks. As we saw at the beginning of this book, all this ensured that Delphi was still well known enough to be the appropriate setting for fic tional novels in the third or fourth centuries AD; still important enough to be graced with expensive new structures in the early fourth century AD; and still so entrenched as to continue to be an important part of the developing Christian world of Greece in the fifth and sixth centuries AD.
This juggernaut of interacting activities, religious prominence, and unusual management structure of course gave Delphi not only a contin ually increasing social, political, economic, religious, and philosophical capital that ensured its survival and importance throughout the ancient world, but it also, in turn, made it a crucial sanctuary in the story of the modern rediscovery of Greece. For much of this time, the physical re ality of Delphi has struggled to meet the expectations of its reputation. Slowly but surely, however, the ancient remains of Delphi have been resurrected so that, once again, in combination with Delphi’s extraordi nary reputation, they offer a continuing value to the modern world not totally unlike what Delphi offered in ancient times. Delphi is, for exam ple, still a buzzword for modern notions of communication and access to knowledge, as well as for philosophical thought.2 Its reputation as a place of international cooperation (however much we may want to nu ance the reality of that reputation in the ancient Greek world and point instead to its origins in the Roman misinterpretation of Delphi and its Amphictyony) has ensured Delphi remains an ancient example for, and even yardstick of, our own modern attempts at international diplomacy and cooperation.3 In 1995, the Hellenic Postal Service, for example, issued a commemorative set of stamps with the inscription: “Amphic tyony, precursor of the United Nations.” In 1977 the European Cultural Centre was opened at Delphi with support from the Council of Europe, for the main purpose of reviving and continuing Delphi as a cultural and intellectual center of Europe and of the world, and it continues to host conferences on topics ranging from, for example, “Assessing Multilater alism in the Security Domain” (2005) to, in the same year, “Democracy, Ancient Drama and Contemporary Tragedy.”4 As part of the European Union border agreements in the 1990s, a series of walking routes was laid out that crisscrossed international borders to symbolize the new freedoms of the European Union. One of these, E4, was designed to go through Delphi.5 And when you visit Delphi today, you cannot but be struck by the plethora of national flags standing prominently outside the site, or but be intrigued by the fact that modern Delphi is twinned with a town in Japan. What Delphi was, what it still is and will continue to be in the future, matters because we still value the ideas Delphi has come, over time, to embody.
Ultimately, it is in large part because Delphi continues to matter today that it is so important for us to continue to engage with the re ality of ancient Delphi and attempt to understand how it came to have the reputation it does, a process I hope this book has contributed to, but which is by no means yet complete. And, in doing so, for me, what Delphi offers is, as a result, more than just an extraordinary story of suc cess and survival. Scholars have argued that because Greece was never a dominant influence in the way Rome and Christianity have been, it has instead always been available to be used as a means of questioning the current values of society.6 For me, there is no more perfect example than Delphi of Greece’s role in keeping the ground insecure beneath our feet. It was a place in the ancient world that forced much of Mediterranean society to question its assumptions, interpretations, and identities (as the chapter epigraph from Xenophon’s writings epitomizes). Just so, in the modern world, the unraveling story of Delphi’s ancient reality forces us to question continually our own current position, progress, and ex pectations. The advice “know thyself” still rings true: Delphi, has, in many ways, never fallen silent.