The Oracle of Delphi, the most powerful woman in ancient Greece

Women rarely held power positions in the society of ancient Greece. Indeed, in many Greek-speaking countries, women were considered to be second-class citizens who were not allowed to participate in political life, possess land or inherit property.

Although we know the story of women who have managed to exceed the limits imposed by Greek society, they generally had very few rights. But there was a person who became the most powerful woman in ancient Greece: the Delphi Oracle.

The Oracle of Delphi, the most powerful woman


When the Oracle spoke, all the men in Greece kept silent, and for a moment, this woman had the power to change the course of history with one word. According to historian Michael Scott , the traditions of the Delphi Oracle have continued for over 1,000 years.

During this time, the famous Oracle and its temples were at the center of the ancient world, and they were a very important economic, religious and political knot.


The strongest woman in ancient Greece had a hard word to say

People in the entire Mediterranean area and beyond came to Oracle for guidance and advice. Greek mythology The legend says that Delphi was the site of an important event in  .Here, Apollo’s god-child killed a giant snake with a single arrow.

When the beast collapsed to the ground, it created a giant gulf, out of which smoke and poisonous gases emerged as the serpent’s corpse decomposed. This gas gave the Oracle its legendary power.

The Oracle of Delphi, the most powerful woman

Modern photo of the ruins of the Temple of Apollo in Delphi

By inhaling smoke, the Oracle could act as a link between the world of the gods and the world of men. When she was in trance, the strongest woman in ancient Greece received divine powers and communicated to the people the messages of the gods and vice versa.

Historians believe that there is an altar in Delphi since about 1,400 BC but it seems that the altar was devoted exclusively to Apollo in the 8th century. According to Scott, the earliest narrative about Oracol dates back to the middle of the sixth century BC and can be found in a Homeric hymn, but it is possible that the Oracle’s tradition dates back to a much earlier period.

Called “Pythia,” after the mythical serpent’s body that provided access to the gods, the Delphi Oracle was always a woman.

Initially, young virgins were chosen to act as a means of divine communication, but when they began to give rise to men’s love intentions, they were replaced by older women, chosen from among the local population. They were asking to abandon their worldly lives and devote themselves entirely to the temple and the gods.

The oracle was consulted once a month on the seventh day of each of the hottest nine months of the year. It was believed that Apollo left the altar during the winter, so he could not communicate with the gods at this time.

The Oracle of Delphi, the most powerful woman

Apollo sat down with a pound in his hands. Porphyry and marble, second century. Farnese Collection, Naples, Italy

Pythia was fasting and was ritually bathed before the consultation. Then he sat on a three-legged chair over the cliffside, holding laurel leaves and a bowl of spring water in his hands.

inhaling the smoke coming out of the earthThen,  , the most powerful woman in ancient Greece entered the trance and began to make prophecies. In many cases, her words could not be heard or had no meaning, in which case some “special” consultants interpreted the prophecies of the one who had come to the altar.

Archaeologists now believe that the vapors described by the legends associated with Delphi were not entirely mythological.

The Delphi oracle and the gas that gives you the power to see in the future

According to the New York Times, excavations have shown that there are cracks in the earth beneath Delphi’s sanctuary, where gases such as methane, ethane, and ethylene could flow out of which the Oracle began to hallucinate. It is unclear what power these women have.

Perhaps they were under the strict control of the priests in the temple, interpreting their visions as they wished, not allowing the Oracle to comment on the content of his visions.But many historians believe that Pythia has a considerable political and social power.

The Priest of Delphi (1891) by John Collier depicts Pythia on a tripod while the vapor rises from a crack in the ground beneath it

For hundreds of years, no major political decision was taken in Greece without the Oracle being first consulted, which means that these women had a great opportunity to dictate the future of the world in which they lived.

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