Foto Public Domain: Reconstruction sanctuary of Apóllôn at Dǽlphí by Albert Tournaire, 1894, École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris, France.


Dælphí - (Delphi; Gr. Δελφοί, ΔΕΛΦΟΙ)

The Religious Significance of Dælphí

Dælphí is, perhaps, the most important place on Earth, having enormous significance both in history and religion and for its very location. Dælphí is called the navel of the world. In ancient Greek the word for navel is omphalós (ὀμφαλός); this word refers to the umbilicus, or anything like the navel, something which is at the center. In this case, the Omphalós is the center of the Earth, the Axis mundi (Latin). The center of the Earth is marked by a sacred stone, the Vaitylos (Baetylus, Βαίτυλος). This stone, according to the mythology, is the rock which was wrapped in swaddling cloth to deceive Krónos (Cronus, Κρόνος) who was told it was his newborn son Zefs (Ζεύς). Krónos swallowed the stone and, according to Orphic Theogony, immediately threw it up, disgorging the Titanic children he had previously ingested. The stone was then installed at Dælphí and is known as the Omphalós and it marks the center of the Earth. The center of the Earth is located in the ruins of the great temple of Apóllôn and Diónysos (Dionysus; Gr. Διόνυσος) at Dælphí. This stone, or a copy of it, is extant in the archaeological museum there.

Pafsanías (Pausanias; Gr. Παυσανίας), the ancient geographer, remarks:

"What is called the Omphalus (Navel) by the Delphians is made of white marble, and is said by the Delphians to be the centre of all the earth." [1]

There is a story related to us by Strávohn (Strabo, Στράβων) which explains how Dælphí was found to be the center of the world:

"Now although the greatest share of honor was paid to this temple because of its oracle, since of all oracles in the world it had the repute of being the most truthful, yet the position of the place added something. For it is almost in the center of Greece taken as a whole, between the country inside the Isthmus and that outside it; and it was also believed to be in the center of the inhabited world, and people called it the navel of the earth, in addition fabricating a myth, which is told by Pindar, that the two eagles (some say crows) which had been set free by Zeus met there, one coming from the west and the other from the east. There is also a kind of navel to be seen in the temple; it is draped with fillets, and on it are the two likenesses of the birds of the myth." [2]

And in a poem of the poet Píndaros (Pindar, Πίνδαρος):

"Apollo to whom the son (ed. Zefs) of Cronus assigned the right to be known as the lord of oracular decrees for all mortal men, who full often come to the centre of the earth (ed. Dælphí) to consult the oracle and thus to find from Pytho a safeguard from their cares." [3]

It is from Dælphí that Apóllôn speaks the words of his Father

Dælphí is, perhaps, the holiest place in the world. Not only is it the physical location of the center of the Earth, but it was regarded in antiquity as the center of the religion. It is located on Mount Parnassós (Parnassus, Παρνασσός) and from there Yaia (Gaia or Earth, Γαῖα) gave oracles. Thus, the first Oracle at Dælphí was originally held by Yaia, the first Mántissa (Μάντισσα), the first prophetess. Yaia passed it down to Thǽmis (Themis, Θέμις), who gave it to the Titan Phívi (Phoebe, Φοίβη). Phívi gave the oracle to Apóllôn (Apollo, Ἀπόλλων) as a birthday present whereby he is now called Phívos (Phoebus, Φοίβος); Phívos is derived from the name of the Goddess, but it also means "the shining one," a most fitting epithet for Apóllôn.

The Pythia speaks:

"I give first place of honor in my prayer to her

who of the Gods first prophesied, the Earth; and next

to Themis, who succeeded to her mother's place

of prophecy; so runs the legend; and in third

succession, given by free consent, not won by force,

another Titan daughter of Earth was seated here.

This was Phoebe. She gave it as a birthday gift

to Phoebus (ed. Apóllôn), who is called still after Phoebe's name.

And he, leaving the pond of Delos and the reef,

grounded his ship at the roadstead of Pallas, then

made his way to this land and a Parnassian home.

Deep in respect for his degree Hephaestus' sons

conveyed him here, for these are builders of roads, and changed

the wilderness to a land that was no wilderness.

He came so, and the people highly honored him,

with Delphus, lord and helmsman of the country. Zeus

made his mind full with Godship and prophetic craft

and placed him, fourth in a line of seers, upon this throne.

So, Loxias (ed. an epithet of Apóllôn) is the spokesman of his father, Zeus." [4]

In another myth, Apóllôn acquired the oracle by slaying the Pýthôn (Python, Πύθων), the guardian of the oracular power. Hence, the priestess who delivered the oracles, who spoke the words of Apóllôn, was known as the Pythía (Πυθία), from the name of the serpent. It was from the sanctuary at Dælphí that the Pythía spoke oracles for a great many years, and these oracles are the stuff of history and played a huge role in shaping temporal narrative in the western world. The story of the establishment of the sanctuary is recounted in the Homeric Pythian Hymn wherein it relates that not long after his birth, the God sought out a place to give oracles to men. He traveled from place to place until he met Tilphousa (Telphusa, Τιλφοῦσα) the Nýmphi (Nymph, Νύμφη) of a spring next to which Apóllôn wished to build his temple. But this idea was not welcome to the Nýmphi who then convinced the God to go further near Krísa (Crisa, Κρῖσα also Κρίσσα). He took her suggestion and when he found the place, he was very pleased, and with the help of the Íroæs (Heroes, Ἥρωες) Trophónios (Trophonius, Τροφώνιος) and Agamídis (Agamedes, Ἀγαμήδης) and many men, he built there a temple. Near to the structure was a stream and there he discovered Pýthôn, the great she-dragon who had under her control Typhon (Typhon, Τυφάων). Apóllôn slew the beast with an arrow, and because Tilphousa deceived him and led him into the snare of the serpent, he covered her spring with rocks. Apóllôn next found a group of Cretan men sailing the sea and, in the guise of a dolphin, led them to the place and made them his priests, that the temple would become a great boon to mankind, to enable men to know the plans of the Gods.

And Dælphí indeed became a powerful and a most sacred place. It was Pan-Hellenic in importance and its significance can hardly be exaggerated. The oracles obtained from Apóllôn through the priestess at Dælphí were viewed as authoritative and supreme among all the oracles of antiquity. They are the words of the God himself who proclaims the will of his father and in whom are united the oracular powers of both Zefs and the Goddess Yaia. The Oracle at Dælphí was consulted by the rulers of all countries in matters of great importance, in times of crises, and in the founding of colonies. The contents of these oracles punctuate some of the most important events of ancient history and many of them have been recorded.

Apóllôn shares the throne at Dælphí with Diónysos

Every year during the winter Apóllôn leaves Dælphí and travels to the land of the Ypærvóreiï (Hyperboreans, Υπερβόρειοι), a people greatly devoted to the God. At this time, Diónysos (Dionysus, Διόνυσος) takes the throne until his brother returns in the spring. This sharing of the throne of Dælphí is not arbitrary but it occurs because of the relationship these two deities have to their father Zefs. As Apóllôn is the voice of his father, Diónysos is the action of Zefs on Earth and he fulfills the providence of his father with his Mysteries (this can be seen in The Orphic Theogony: The Sixth King).

"...for laurelled Apollo had made common with his brother Dionysos two-peak Parnassos his domain; as the peoples gathered, the Pythian rock uttered the inspired voice of the God, and the tripod spoke of itself, and the babbling rill (ed. a small stream) of Castalia that never silent spring, bubbled with wisdom in its waters." [5]

Making a Pilgrimage to Dælphí Today

It is a tremendous blessing to make a pilgrimage to Dælphí, the most wonderful place on Earth. The site is one of breathtaking beauty, indeed, but it is the powerful atmosphere of majestic peace which will remain with you for the rest of your life. To think of Dælphí causes this author's eyes to swell up and tear and his heart to throb in his chest, my longing is so great to return. Dælphí is a great place of healing and the source of enormous strength of soul. Those in Greece who love the Gods go to Dælphí to restore themselves and find direction; and it is worthwhile to travel across the world for the opportunity to be there, if even once in one's life.

Below the archaeological site...for it is all up in the will find the great museum of Dælphí. Inside, there are amazing artifacts which you may have read about or have seen in pictures when you studied the history of ancient Greece. You will find the actual statues given to the sanctuary by the people of Árgos (Ἄργος), the statues of Klǽovis and Víton (Cleobis and Biton, Κλέοβις και Βίτων), the Kouri (Κούροι, plural of Κούρος) whose story is told in the history of Iródotos (Herodotus, Ἡρόδοτος). You will find in this marvelous museum The Charioteer, the Sphinx of Náxos (Νάξος), the famous chryselephantine (gold and ivory) images of Apóllôn and his sister Ártæmis (Artemis, Ἄρτεμις). Housed there is the Antinous of Dælphí, one of the most beautiful sculptures of the ancient world. And you will find there many other statues and wonderful things and you will be able to purchase a book describing the place and containing many pictures which you will treasure for the rest of your life.

As you leave the museum and approach the historical site, walking towards the entry-road and before you make the climb up to the temple, you will pass through the Laurel-Groves of Dælphí, thousands of trees sacred to Apóllôn and all the Gods; these trees flourish in such abundance that it seems as though they desire to be there, as though they love to be there, as though their presence itself expresses their affection and adoration for the God.

You climb up the road and will find there ruins of treasuries, great gifts to Apóllôn in ancient times of which you have read in the histories. These are small buildings dedicated to the God in gratitude for the help which an oracle had given the people of a city. They were at one time filled with gold and precious things.

You will behold the great temple of Apóllôn, with some pillars yet still standing. It is quite large and takes considerable time to circumambulate. This author visited in the autumn of 2008, in October. If you walk counterclockwise around the fane and return to the front of the temple, along the foundation-wall to the left of its entrance, there are great vines which buzz with the sound of so many bees that many people commented on their music and the bustling activity of the sacred insects.

Foto Autumn 2008 by the author of this essay, who releases it to the Public Domain: The Temple of Apóllohn at Dǽlphí.

Above the temple is the Theater and up further still is the Stadium, where were held the Pythian Games, a great gift to the God. These games had tremendous renown and were Pan-Hellenic, on a par with the Olympic Games.

Foto Autumn 2008 by the author of this essay, who releases it to the Public Domain: The Theater at Dǽlphí.

Along the highway in front of the site, follow the sidewalk walking to your right as you face the temple. Continue walking a long while until you hear water. From a spout along this road you can still drink from the Castalian Spring, said to be a very wholesome water. There is a saying in Greece that if you drink from a stream you will return some day. Just a little further in an unmarked spot there is a very large area cut into the stone where you can hear more water. It is a fairly spacious place, like a very large bath. Here the priests purified themselves in the water from the spring before consulting the Oracle. As you observe this place, consider that Ploutarkhos (Plutarch, Πλούταρχος), high priest of Apóllôn at Dælphí and the author of so many books on Virtue and on the lives of great men, must have bathed here many times.


[1] Ἑλλάδος Περιήγησις Παυσανίου, Book 10 Φωκίς 16.3, trans. W. H. S. Jones, 1918-1935. We are using the 1961 Loeb-Heinemann (London, England)-Harvard edition (Cambridge, MA USA) entitled Pausanias: Description of Greece Vol. 4, where this quotation may be found on p. 455.

[2] Γεωγραφικὰ Στράβωνος 9.3.6, ed. H. L. Jones, We are using the 1924 edition entitled The Geography of Strabo, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA USA) and William Heinemann (London, England, UK).

[3] Παιάν Πινδάρου VI, restoration suggested by Sitzler, trans. Sir John Sandys, 1915.

[4] Ὀρέστεια Εὐμενίδες Αἰσχύλου 1-19, trans. Richard Lattimore, 1953 as can be found in the volume entitled The Complete Greek Tragedies Vol. 1: Aeschylus, on p. 135. Univ. of Chicago Press (Chicago IL USA) 1959, the individual plays have various original copyright dates.

[5] Διονυσιακὰ Νόννου 13.129-134, trans. W. H. D. Rouse, 1940. We are using the 1962 edition entitled Nonnos Dionysiaca Vol. 1, Harvard Univ. Press (Cambridge, MA) and William Heineman (London), where this quotation may be found on p. 439.

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

PHOTO COPYRIGHT INFORMATION: The many pages of this website incorporate images, some created by the author, but many obtained from outside sources. To find out more information about these images and why this website can use them, visit this link: Photo Copyright Information

DISCLAIMER: The inclusion of images, quotations, and links from outside sources does not in any way imply agreement (or disagreement), approval (or disapproval) with the views of by the external sources from which they were obtained.

Further, the inclusion of images, quotations, and links from outside sources does not in any way imply agreement (or disagreement), approval (or disapproval) by of the contents or views of any external sources from which they were obtained.

For more information:

For answers to many questions: Hellenismos FAQ

© 2010 by All Rights Reserved.


hit counter