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Thursday, July 4, 2013

A Brief Stroll Through Ancient History with Sybil and Rose

Last night I was trying to come up with an entertaining post for this, my second on the RB4U. There's always the one man's ceiling is another man's floor factor that gets in the way. And being a writer, of course I had a dozen possibilities in my head! This morning I had one more about the 4th of July. Oh well maybe next year for that one.

Even as a child I could entertain myself. My imagination was always active -- I'd draw, sculpt, carve, color, and cut paper for hours. Because of that innate desire to create, my mother always harbored the wish I'd be an artist of some sort. Intent on helping me find my niche, she supplied me with all sorts of tools and materials. She also she loaded me up with books on famous paintings and the Chicago Art Institute was just minutes away. I never followed the tangible arts, I went in another direction entirely. I wonder what she'd think of this author business!

Anyway, I once had a marvelous book about Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel, and I spent hours poring over the details. The artist was a master at painting perspective and tromp l'oeil, Impressive considering he painted much of the whole enormous ceiling on his back. Of all the images from the Sistine Chapel, one in particular caught my eye and compelled me to learn more. It was the Delphic Sybil (Sibyl) better known as the Oracle At Delphi.

Just prior to the Sybil coming on the scene, a goatherd tending his flock on the slope of Mount Parnassus noticed his goats bleated strangely when grazing near a certain fissure in the mountainside. Drawing nearer, he was seized by what he referred to as divine presence. Unknown at the time, the mechanics of this presence involved plate tectonics, those mobile rocky plates forming the earth's surface. The two that came together there, the Eurasian Continental Plate and the Aegean Plate, created the fissure. It was here through the porous rock along the crevasse that methane and ethane, two toxic hydrocarbon gasses, were released into the air. 

This mountainside soon became one of the most important religious sites of the ancient world. A stone temple dedicated to the god Apollo was erected in a natural amphitheater. They had a feeling the airs of the temple had special properties so a small alcove was built to catch the fumes from the fissure and the CO2 from the rich waters of a sacred spring deliberately channeled through the temple. Inside the temple walls sat the Pythia -- specially trained women who dedicated themselves to Apollo. They became the Delphic Oracles.  

After preparing herself through fasting and cleansing, the Oracle sat on her special tripod stool and breathed it all in. Wracked with spasms, she fell into an exalted state of mind. From this toxic trance, she responded to questions and gave advice with prophetic wisdom directly inspired by Apollo himself. It was said at times she was spot on in her prophecy, but occasionally she babbled and didn't make sense. At times her answers were clear, but were beyond the understanding of the questioner.  It's curious to note she only divined on special days. To do otherwise would prove deadly. On at least one occasion the Pythia was forced from her divine schedule, and sure enough, she went into seizures and died a few days later. I've wondered about this for more than half of my life. There was significance to the schedule, but how was it one day was safer than the next? The oracles spoke at Delphi for a thousand years.

I hope you've enjoyed this little walk through ancient history. Sybil plays an important role in my work in progress. if you'd like to sample first chapters of my other books just ask and I'll send them on.

Speaking of art...Loving Leonardo, my unusual Victorian polyamorous love story with a touch of reader-interactive art history, won 2nd place in the International Digital Awards through the OKRWA (Oklahoma chapter of Romance Writers of America). I'm happy. Reader-interactive art history is as close as I get mom!


Rose is multi-published author and dilettante who loves great conversation and learning interesting things to weave into stories. She lives with her family and small menagerie amid oak groves and prairie in the rolling glacial hills of the upper mid-west.
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Jane Leopold Quinn said...

Hi Rose, congratulations on your 2nd place win for Loving Leonardo. Well deserved.

I'm not as well versed as you are in the ancient stories but they are so interesting. I'd read a lot as a child, but poured over them when writing my own Roman Britain novel. I've also read about the Sistine Chapel ceiling and Michaelangelo. Another fascinating work.

To anyone who hasn't read the Loving Leonardo books, you're missing out on a treasure!!

Rose Anderson said...

Thanks Jane. If you're referring to Ancient Ties, I love that time travel of yours. There's something about time travel that really tickles my fancy. Thanks for commenting and the congrats.


Cara Marsi said...

Rose, thanks for a very interesting blog. I didn't know any of that about the Oracle at Delphi. Amazing. Congratulations on your win!

Melissa Keir said...

Rose, Do you think that it wasn't about certain days but about not breathing that air too close together? Say it was she could report on only days but if she did it too early, she would get sick and die from the poisonous gasses. It was like she needed the days in between to reduce the build up in her system. Just a thought... so interesting if we could find out!

Sandy said...

A very interesting post, Rose. Congrats on your 2nd place win for Loving Leonardo.

J.D. Faver said...

Great post, Rose. You are always handing me interesting pieces of information I would never have ferreted out on my own.
Congratulations on LL.

Lindsay Townsend said...

Congrats Rose on your win! I love articles on ancient Delphi and thought the priests and oracle there were brilliant in their answers. Sorry to hear that at times the Pythia died. With those gases it was dangerous work.

Rose Anderson said...

Thank you Cara, Melissa, Sandy, and JD! Melissa, funny you should say that. I was just having this conversation with my daughter this morning. We had come to that very conclusion. The toxins must have needed time to clear from the Oracle's system. How they figured that out must have been through trial and error going back who knows how long. The long preparation must have given her just enough time between sessions.

I'd read one particular account where a chief from somewhere came determined to get a reading out of her on an off day. She told him she hadn't prepared and that it was against Apollo, he insisted anyway and dragged her to the tripod.

Everything she saw in her trance predicted misfortune coming from all fronts for the man. When she started foaming at the mouth and fell to the floor in convulsions, he ran from the temple terrified. The story goes.. that was just the first bit of his misfortune. Don't mess with the Oracles.

Rose Anderson said...

Thanks Lindsay. The Oracle of Apollo at Didyma (in ancient Constantinople) had it easier. She just dipped her toes in sacred water.

Debby said...

I had the pleasure of visiting Delphi once and it does have a special feel to it.
debby236 at gmail dot com

jean hart stewart said...

Thanks, I LOVE such interesting bits of history!!!!

Rose Anderson said...

Thanks Debby and Jean. Jean, I do too! Give me details of all sorts, my mind craves them.

Paris said...

Rose, thanks for the fascinating blog. Congratulations on your award for Loving Leonardo!

Rose Anderson said...

Thank you Paris!

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