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Dílos - (Delos; Gr. Δήλος, ΔΗΛΟΣ, "manifest" or "famous")

Dílos is the island birthplace of Apóllôn (Apollo, Ἀπόλλων) and later became a great center of his worship, one of the holiest places of pilgrimage in antiquity. On account of the abundant worship of the God by the ancient people, the island has been called Astæríi thyóæssa (Asterie thuoessa, Αστερίη θυόεσσα): Αστερίη “starry” + θυόεσσα “fragrant with incense.” [1] Because of the mythology and the history associated with this place, the archaeological site retains great significance to the world in general and in particular to Ællînismόs (Hellenismos, Ἑλληνισμός), the ancient Greek religion.

Dílos is one of the Kykládæs (Cyclades, Κυκλάδες) and is located near its center (see map above). The Kykládæs are a group of some 200 islands in the Aegean Sea surrounding Dílos; they were given this name because they encircle (κυκλάς) the sacred island, indicating the great importance that the birthplace of Apóllôn held in the hearts of the ancient people. Dílos is a very small place; the island is only about five miles in circumference.

Dílos was originally called Astæría (Ἀστερία) because of the following mythology. [2] The Titan Goddess Astæría (daughter of Κοῖος and Φοίβη), in order to avoid the advances of Zefs (Ζεύς), transformed herself into a quail and plunged into the sea. When her sister Litóh (Leto, Λητώ) was searching for a place to give birth to her two children, Ártæmis (Artemis, Ἄρτεμις) and Apóllôn, every potential destination declined because they knew that Íra (Hera, Ήρα) was pursuing Litóh and was in a fury of revenge because Litóh had consorted with her husband Zefs. Nonetheless, Astæría, with great joy, agreed to the honor, and thus Poseidóhn (Poseidon, Ποσειδῶν) caused the island to rise with his trident (hence one meaning of the word Dílos, "manifest") and Zefs fastened it to the bottom of the sea with adamantine chains because the island was left free-floating. [3] Litóh was now able to give birth and the mighty God was born.

Dílos was in the possession of Poseidóhn but was given to Apóllôn in exchange for the island of Kalávreia (Calaureia, Καλαύρεια) where subsequently stood a temple to Poseidóhn in antiquity. This is related by Strávôn (Strabo, Στράβων); Pafsanías (Pausanias, Παυσανίας) tells the same story (10.5.6) but he differs stating that Apóllôn obtained Dælphí (Delphi, Δελφοί) in exchange for Kalávreia, not Dílos.

According to legend, Ártæmis hunted and gathered horns and Apóllôn built there an altar, the famous Horned Altar, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, having been viewed by Ploutarkhos (Plutarch, Πλούταρχος), who remarked that the altar was held together without any binding and was framed of horns that grew only on the right side of goats (Ἠθικὰ Πλουτάρχου· 66.35 Πότερα τῶν ζῴων φρονιμώτερα τὰ χερσαία ἢ τὰ ἔνυδρα).

At the conclusion of the second invasion of Greece by the Persians, a confederation of Greek city-states was formed in 477 BCE to counter any future attacks from the east; this is known as the Delian league, named after Dílos because the island was chosen to hold the treasury of the confederation of states, but later these funds were transferred to Athens. Later still, because the Apollonian festivals had deteriorated during the Persian wars, it was decided to purify the place and restore the proper worship of the God. The Athenians removed all dead bodies from the island in 426 BCE; this was performed for religious reasons, for it was believed in the ancient world that corpses are a pollution to Gods and temples. At this same time, a law was made that no person should be born or die on the island and thereby claim ownership or inheritance. Those who had been living there previously were coerced to move and were compensated; because of this there was no indigenous population; this was to have significant consequences in the future.

In 166 BCE, the Romans made Dílos a free port and traders desecrated the place by making it a center of the slave trade. When dramatic political and religious changes overwhelmed the island, it became uninhabited and the temple complexes fell into ruins, for, as stated above, there was no indigenous population to have an interest in restoration. Beginning in 1872, the École française d' Athènes excavated the site and it is now a great source of knowledge and wonder for those who study the ancient world.


[1] εις Δῆλον 4.300 Καλλιμάχου.

[2] Dílos has been called various other names, most notably Ortyyía (Ortygia, Ορτυγία. Pronounced or-tee-YEE-ah.). In the Homeric hymn to Dilian Apóllôn, an island called Ortyyía is described as the birthplace of Ártæmis (Artemis, Ἄρτεμις). The idea is that Ortyyía is a different island from Dílos and that Litóh (Leto, Λητώ) stopped there first to give birth to the Goddess before going to Dílos to give birth to Apóllôn. But the mythology may be confused because there were several places with the name of Ortyyía in antiquity. The familiar mythology of Astæría, the Titan Goddess, transforming herself into a quail (ὄρτυξ) and diving into the sea is also told of the island of Ortyyía; but it is said that Ortyyía is a more ancient name for Dílos, making the story told as being about the island of Dílos. It is likely impossible to sort out the story but one thing is certain: in antiquity, Dílos was regarded as the unquestioned birthplace of Apóllôn, whether his sister was also born there is another issue.

[3] In antiquity, many people literally believed that the island had been chained to the bottom of the sea by Zefs and that, therefore, Dílos was immune to earthquakes. This idea seemed to be confirmed, because the surrounding islands were assailed by many earthquakes, while Dílos remained free from them. Consequently, when an earthquake did occur on the island, it was viewed as a terrible omen. There are two such earthquakes recorded in antiquity, one just before the Persian invasion (Ἱστορίαι Ἡροδότου 6.98.1-3) and the second just before the onset of the Peloponnesian war (Ἱστορίαι Θουκυδίδου 2.8.3).

The story of the birth of the Gods: Orphic Theogony.

We know the various qualities and characteristics of the Gods based on metaphorical stories: Mythology.

Dictionary of terms related to ancient Greek mythology: Glossary of Hellenic Mythology.

Introduction to the Thæí (the Gods): The Nature of the Gods.

This logo is the principal symbol of this website. It is called the CESS logo, i.e. the Children of the Earth and the Starry Sky. The Pætilía (Petelia, Πετηλία) and other golden tablets having this phrase are the inspiration for the symbol. The image represents this idea: Earth (divisible substance) and the Sky (continuous substance) are the two kozmogonic substances. The twelve stars represent the Natural Laws, the dominions of the Olympian Gods. In front of these symbols is the seven-stringed kithára (cithara, κιθάρα), the lyre of Apóllôn (Apollo, Ἀπόλλων). It (here) represents the bond between Gods and mortals and is representative that we are the children of Orphéfs (Orpheus, Ὀρφεύς).

PLEASE NOTE: Throughout the pages of this website, you will find fascinating stories about our Gods. These narratives are known as mythology, the traditional stories of the Gods and Heroes. While these tales are great mystical vehicles containing transcendent truth, they are symbolic and should not be taken literally. A literal reading will frequently yield an erroneous result. The meaning of the myths is concealed in code. To understand them requires a key. For instance, when a God kills someone, this usually means a transformation of the soul to a higher level. Similarly, sexual union with a God is a transformation.

The story of the birth of the Gods: Orphic Theogony.

We know the various qualities and characteristics of the Gods based on metaphorical stories: Mythology.

Dictionary of terms related to ancient Greek mythology: Glossary of Hellenic Mythology.

SPELLING: uses the Reuchlinian method of pronouncing ancient Greek, the system preferred by scholars from Greece itself. An approach was developed to enable the student to easily approximate the Greek words. Consequently, the way we spell words is unique, as this method of transliteration is exclusive to this website. For more information, visit these three pages:

Pronunciation of Ancient Greek

Transliteration of Ancient Greek

Pronouncing the Names of the Gods in Hellenismos

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