ON THE PYTHIAN RESPONSES
“Why are the Pythian Responses no longer given in verse?”
I. Bas. “You have made it late in the evening, Philinus, by escorting your guest about amongst the dedicated things: I lost all patience in waiting for you both.”
Phil. “Yes, Basilocles, for we strolled along slowly—sowing as we went, and forthwith ‘reaping words with fighting,’ that sprung up and emerged along our path, like the crop of the Dragon’s Teeth, spiteful and contentious.”
Bas. “Will it then be necessary to appeal to one of those who were present at the time; or are you willing yourself to gratify us, and repeat what the talk was, and who were the talkers?”
Phil. “The task, as it seems, is mine, for none of the others will you easily find in the town, for I saw the most of them again going up in company with the visitor to the Corycium, and the Lycoreia.”
Bas. “How fond of sight-seeing, and extravagantly fond of hearing stories, our stranger is!”
Phil. “Nay, rather, fond of history, and fond of learning: and not so much to be admired for these two points, as for a gentleness combined with much elegance of manner, and an incredulity and fondness for disputation, the result of intelligence, that has nothing in it ill-tempered or stubborn in receiving one’s explanations: so that after being a little while in his company you exclaim, ‘The child of a good father!’ for you are acquainted with Diogenianus, that best of men?”
Bas. “I have not seen him personally; but have met with many of those who greatly approve of the conversation and the character of that man, and say just the same things of him as you do of the youth. But what starting point and pretext had this discussion of yours to begin?”
II. Phil. “The guides went through their appointed duties, paying no heed to our entreaties that they would cut short their long tales, and the reading the greatest part of the inscriptions. The sight and artistic merit of the statues did not so much attract the notice of the visitor, who had in all likelihood seen many fine things of the sort elsewhere; but he admired the color of the bronze, which was not like dirt or verdigris, but shone with a dark blue dye, so as to contribute considerably to the effect of the statues of the admirals (for he had begun his round with them), standing as they did, sea-like as it were in color, and truly men of ocean-deep. Had there been then, he asked, some mode of alloying and preparing the bronze, used by the ancient artificers, like the traditional tempering of swords, which process being lost, then bronze obtained exemption from all warlike employments? For it is known that the Corinthian metal acquired the beauty of its color not through art, but through accident, when a fire consumed a house containing a little gold and silver, but a great quantity of bronze there stored up; all which being mixed and melted together, the preponderating part, by reason of its largeness, originated the name of the bronze.”
Theon, taking him up, said: “We have heard another story, more clever than yours—that a man at Corinth, a brasier by trade, having found a hoard containing much gold, and being afraid of detection, broke up little by little and quietly mixed the gold with his bronze, which acquired thereby a wonderful quality, and sold his metal at a high price, as it was much sought after on account of its color and beauty. But both the one account and the other is a fable. It was, in all probability, a peculiar alloying and treatment of the metal—just as nowadays by alloying gold with silver they produce a peculiar and extraordinary pale color, that looks to me sickly, and a mere spoiling of its beauty.”
III. “What then,” asked Diogenianus, “do you say has been the cause of the peculiar color of the bronze in this place?” And Theon replied: “Inasmuch as of the greatest and most natural things that are and shall be—namely, Fire, Water, Earth, Air—there is not one that comes near to, or has to do with the bronze except Air, it is clear that the metal has been thus affected by this element, and has acquired the peculiarity which it possesses by reason of this being always about it, and pressing upon it: you know, surely, that this once took place in the case of Theognis, according to the comic poet? But what property the air has, and what influence it exerts in its contact with the bronze—these are the two things, Diogenianus, that you desire to learn?” and upon Diogenianus assenting: “so do I, my dear boy; therefore, if you please, let us investigate the matter in concert: and as a beginning—for what reason does oil, above all other liquids, coat bronze with verdigris, for it does not generate the verdigris simply by being rubbed over the metal, because it is pure and clear when applied to the surface.” “By no means,” replied the young man, “does this seem to me to be the reason: but because the oil being thin, pure, and transparent, the verdigris falling upon it, is very perceptible, whereas in other liquids, it becomes invisible.” “Well done, my dear boy,” said Theon, “. . . . but examine, if you please, the reason that is assigned by Aristotle.” “I wish to do so,” replied he. “Aristotle, therefore, asserts that verdigris, if put upon other liquids, runs through them and is dispersed, because they are porous and fluid; whereas it is arrested by the solidity or density of the oil, and remains collected in a mass. If, therefore, we can ourselves devise some hypothesis of the kind, we shall not be entirely at a loss for some charm or cure against the present difficulty.”
IV. “Thus then,” said he, “did we pronounce and agree, that the air at Delphi, being dense and compact, and receiving tension from the repercussion and resistance of the surrounding mountains, is at the same time biting and penetrating, as the facts about the digestion of food clearly evince: this air, then, by reason of its subtile quality enters into and cuts the bronze and so scrapes off verdigris in plenty, and that of an earthy nature, which again it holds suspended and compresses, because its own density does not allow of its unlimited diffusion . . . . [but, on the contrary] permits it to settle down by reason of its abundance, and to bloom, as it were, and get brilliancy and polish over the surface.” And upon our admitting this, the visitor said that the one supposition (of the density) was sufficient for the explanation. “The subtile quality,” said he, “would seem to contradict the asserted density of the air: and it is assumed without any necessity; for the bronze does of itself emit and discharge the verdigris, while the density of the air compresses and thickens it, and makes it visible in consequence of its abundance.” Then Theon, interrupting him, said: “What is there to prevent the same thing from being at once both fine and dense, like silken and linen tissues, touching which Homer hath said:—
“‘From the bright linen dropped the liquid oil:’
indicating the accuracy and the fineness of the weaving by the oil’s not adhering to it, but slipping off by reason of its closeness, does not penetrate the texture. And again one may bring into play not only for the abrasion of surface in the bronze, the subtility of the air, but the same cause is likely to render the color also more agreeable and bluer, because it mingles lustre with the azure atmosphere.”
V. After this silence followed, and the guides again set to work with their stories. And upon the recital of a certain oracle in verse (concerning, I believe, the reign of Aegon the Argive) Diogenianus observed that he had often wondered at the badness and vulgarity of the verse in which the responses were uttered: although the god is the “Leader of the Muses,” and the glory of the so-called oracle-making no less interests him, than that of tunes, songs, and auspicious words; and yet both Hesiod and Homer far excel him in utterance,—and the most part of his oracles we see are both as to the metre and as to the expressions a tissue of blunders and badness. Serapion, therefore, the poet from Athens, who was present, replied: “As we consider these verses to be the gods’ own, we ‘must sing this over again,’ as the saying is; and make no use of the beauties of Hesiod and Homer, but correct our taste by means of bad habit.” To this Boëthus the mathematician (you know the man who has lately gone over to the Epicureans), answered: “Did you ever hear the story about Pauson the painter?” “Not I ever,” replied Serapion. “This Pauson, having been commissioned to paint a horse rolling about, drew it as running. His customer being angry at this, Pauson, with a laugh, turned the picture about, so that it was upside down, when the horse was shown not galloping but rolling on its back. For the same reason some people will say not that the Oracles are well-made because they are the god’s, but that they are not the god’s, because they are badly made; because the first position is a matter of uncertainty, but the other, namely, that the verses containing the Oracles are not well-made is, to a critic like you, friend Serapion, a thing as clear as day. For you write poems yourself in a philosophic and serious style, which in force, elegance, and finish as to the diction, are inferior rather to Hesiod and to Homer, than to those uttered by the Pythian Virgin.”
VI. “Yes,” replied Serapion, “because we are diseased both in ears and eyes, through our luxury and effeminacy, so that we think pleasant things fine things, and declare them so. Perhaps we shall find fault with the Pythia for not declaiming more musically than Glauce, the lyrist nor using perfumes or clothing herself in purple robes when she goes down into the cave; nor burning on the altar cassia, or ladanum, or frankincense, but only bay-leaves and barley-meal. Do you not see,” replied he, “what grace the songs of Sappho possess, that soothe and enchant all hearers? But the Sibyl, according to Heraclitus, ‘uttering with raving mouth things without a smile, without embellishment, and without perfume, reaches down to a thousand years by means of the god.’ And Pindar says that Cadmus heard the god giving forth ‘a music that was neither correct, nor sweet, nor luxurious, nor yet broken and uneven in the tunes.’ For the Passionless and the Pure does not admit Pleasure, but she hath been thrown down here below together with Pain, and the far largest portion of her, as it seems, has flowed in a stream into the ears of men.”
VII. And upon Serapion’s saying this, Theon observed with a smile: “Serapion has given his customary scope to his feelings, by taking advantage of the conversations having turned upon the subject of pleasure; but we, Boëthus, even though these verses may be very much worse than those of Homer, let us not suppose that the god himself made them, but that while he supplied the origin with the inspiration, the verses are the productions of each of the prophetesses in her turn. For if she were obliged to write down, and not to utter, the responses, we should not, I suppose, believe the handwriting to be the god’s, and to find fault with it, because it is inferior in point of calligraphy to the imperial rescripts, for neither the old woman is the god’s, nor her voice, nor her diction, nor her metre; but it is the god alone that presents the visions to this woman, and kindles light in her soul as regards the Future: for the inspiration is this. And to speak generally, it is impossible to evade you disciples of Epicurus (for you manifest yourself carried away by him), for you accuse of badness both the ancient prophetesses because they made inferior verses, and also those of the present day because they speak in prose and in every-day language, in order that they may not be responsible for headless, broken-backed, and deficient lines.” Then Diogenianus: “Do not joke, for heaven’s sake, but solve the problem for us, as it is a fine one; besides, there is no one but is seeking after the cause and reason why the Oracle has given up employing the metre and expression of poetry.” But Theon in reply: “Nay, my dear boy, we already seem to have defrauded the guides of their proper business, by making experiments of our own: suffer them, therefore, to finish what they have to do, and then let us discuss this question at our leisure.”
VIII. And as we were now going forward and come opposite the statue of Hiero the tyrant: the visitor, although already knowing all about him, nevertheless out of good nature showed himself a patient listener to the guide’s tale. But on hearing that a bronze column, the gift of Hiero, standing further up, had fallen down of itself upon the very day on which Hiero’s death happened at Syracuse, he expressed his surprise, and at the same time reminded him (the guide) of other occurrences of like nature, for instance of Hiero the Spartan, how the eyes fell out of his statue at the moment of his death in the battle of Leuctra; and how the Twin Stars had vanished at the same time, which Lysander had dedicated after the sea-fight at Aigospotamoi; and the marble statue of Lysander himself shot forth wild briar and grass in such great quantity as to conceal his face; and how, on the other hand, in the Sicilian disasters of the Athenians, the golden dates dropped off the Palm-tree, and the shield of the little image of Pallas, ravens pecked all around. And the Crown of the Cnidians, which Philomelus, tyrant of the Phocians, had given to Pharsalia the ballet-girl, was the cause of her death after she had migrated from Greece into Italy, and was at Metapontum, disporting herself around the temple of Apollo. For the young men rushing to seize her crown, and quarrelling with each other for the gold, tore the poor creature into pieces.
Now Aristotle used to say that Homer alone made “words that walked,” on account of their vividness; but I say that of the statues standing here, very many walk and aid in foreshowing the fore-knowledge of the god; and of these no one part is void, or senseless, but all filled with the godhead. Then Boethus: “Nay, truly, is it not enough for us that the god is shut up once a month in a mortal body, but we must knead him up with every stone and piece of metal, just as though we had not a satisfactory explanation of all accidents of the sort you have mentioned, in Chance or in Nature?” “Then,” replied I, “does each one of such events seem to you to resemble mere accident and self-movement: and is it credible that your ‘atoms’ should slip off, be separated, and move obliquely, neither before nor after, but exactly at the moment when each one of the dedicators was about to come to a bad or good end? And Epicurus benefits you by what he said or wrote three hundred years ago, but the god, unless he brings and shuts himself up in everything, and is mingled up with all, is not thought by you to supply anything that exists, either with the final cause of motion, or the efficient cause of passion?”
IX. In this way did I reply to Boethus, and much else to the same effect respecting the Sibylline oracles. For when we were arrived, and stopped opposite to the Rock, over against the Council-house, upon which they tell that the first Sibyl used to sit, having travelled thither from Helicon, where she had been brought up by the Muses (some say she came to Maleon, and was child of Lamia, daughter of Neptune), Boethus mentioned the Sibylline verses wherein she says, “That not even after death shall she cease from prophesying, but shall travel around in the Moon, and become what is called the Face in the Moon: her breath mingling with the Air is ever borne alone in rumors and airy tongues; out of her body, metamorphosed in Earth’s bosom, shall spring shrubs and grass on which shall browse sacred herds that carry on their entrails all kinds of colors, forms, and qualities, whence omens of the future come to men.” But Boethus laughed at these Oracles yet more openly than at the others. On which the visitor observed that even if these tales are much like fables, yet to the reality of these Oracles bear witness the uprootings and removals of many Greek cities, the sudden appearances of barbarian invasions, and the takings off of great personages. Again, these quite recent and new calamities at Cumae and Dicaearchia, hymned forth long ago and sung in the Sibylline verses, hath not Time made them good as though he were in debt for the same? “Burstings forth of mountain fire, boilings up of the sea, castings up by wind of rocks and fiery masses, destructions of so many and such great towns, so that with returning day all memory and trace was lost as to whereabouts they had stood, from the country being turned upside down.” That such things have happened it is hard even to believe now—far more to foretell, without divine assistance so many centuries ago.
X. Then Boethus: “What kind of calamity, my good sir, is not Time in debt to Nature for? What is there amongst things strange and improbable with respect to sea or land, cities or persons, that one can prophesy, and it not come true at last? And yet this is almost the same as not foretelling but telling, or rather casting out and scattering words that have no final cause into infinite space; which words as they wander about Chance encounters, and coincides with them of her own accord. For there is a great difference, I think, between a thing that has been said coming to pass, and a thing that is to come to pass being said; because the saying that foretells things that are not, keeps the failure in its own hands unfairly, and waits for its confirmation from accident; and does not adduce a real proof of its foretelling, when it knows the event that has happened after the prediction; because infinity of time offers all sorts of events (to fit the prophecy): ‘He that guesses well,’ whom the proverb has proclaimed ‘the best diviner,’ is like unto one that hunts for the footprints, and follows the track of the Future, through probabilities. The Sibyls and the Bacides flung aimlessly into all Time, as it were into an ocean, just as it chanced, the names and epithets of all sorts of calamities and accidents; amongst which number, though some few do come to pass through chance, nevertheless what is told by them to-day is a lie all the same, even though hereafter, by some chance or other, it may come to happen.”
XI. When Boethus had finished, Serapion said: “Boethus has well expressed his opinion with respect to predictions, made indefinitely and without foundation, like such as this, ‘If victory hath been foretold to a general, he hath conquered; if ruin to a city, it hath fallen;’ but in cases where the thing that is to happen is not only told, but where and when, and after what event, and through whose means, then it becomes not a guess at what may perhaps happen, but a foreshowing of things that certainly shall be. Take for instance this upon the lameness of Agesilaus:—
“‘Beware, O Sparta! tho’ thou be so vain,
And that again upon the island which the sea threw up off Thera and Therasia, and this upon the war between Philip and the Romans:—
“‘When Trojan race hath beat Phoenicians bold,
That is, that in a short time the Romans should overcome the Carthaginians by entirely defeating Hannibal, and that Philip, having engaged in war with the Aetolians and Romans, should be worsted in battle; and, lastly, that an island should rise up out of the deep, along with much fire and boiling waves. No one will say that all these things hit and coincided together by mere chance and spontaneously; but their succession proves manifestly the fore-knowledge of the prediction, and the fact that she (the Pythia) foretold to the Romans, about five hundred years beforehand, the time in which all the nations of the world together should war with them (that is they should war with the revolted slaves); in all this there is nought said at random, or blindfold, or where the explanation must be sought after in perplexity, and depend upon accident; but it presents many sureties derived from experience, and points out the path along which destiny walks. For I do not imagine anyone will say in this case that events turned out in the way they were predicted, by mere chance; else what hinders us, my dear Boethus, from saying that Epicurus did not write his established doctrines, but that from the letters impinging upon one another by chance and spontaneously the book was brought about?”
XII. Whilst this talk was going on, we continued to advance. And in the Hall of the Corinthians, when gazing at the Palm-tree in bronze, which is still remaining there of the offerings, the snakes and frogs in relief around the root of the tree occasioned surprise to Diogeneanus, and certainly to ourselves as well; because the palm is not like other trees, a native of marshes, nor is it a water-loving plant; neither have frogs anything to do with the Corinthians, so as to become a symbol or a badge of the city, in the same way that the people of Selinus are said to have once dedicated a parsley-plant in gold, and those of Tenedos an axe, from the crabs that are only found amongst them around the place called Asterion, because they are the only sort, it seems, that have the figure of an axe painted upon their upper shell. And, indeed, one would think ravens, and swans, and wolves, and hawks, and anything else than these reptiles would be agreeable to the god. And upon Serapion’s saying that the artist had intimated thus the nutrition of the Sun from moisture, and his origin and exhalation, whether that he had heard Homer’s—
“Hasten the Sun to quit the beauteous pond,”
or whether he had seen the Egyptians representing the beginning of sunrise as a new-born babe seated upon a lotus. Then I, laughingly, “Where, my good friend, are you pushing on the Porch, and still slipping into the story your ‘lightings up’ and your ‘exhalations;’ you certainly are not drawing down the moon and sun, like the Thessalian witches, because, according to you, they grow up and originate here below, out of earth and the waters. For Plato hath called Man ‘a celestial plant,’ because he is carried up from the head as from a root; but you laugh Empedocles to scorn for saying ‘that the sun when going round the earth breaks off fragments of heavenly light, but again shines against Olympus with undismayed countenance;’ whilst you yourselves make him out to be some earth-born animal or plant-lacustrine, and register him in the family of frogs or water serpents. But this sort of thing let us give up to stoical bombast; and the accessories of artists let us examine in a matter-of-fact sort of way; for in many cases they are ingenious enough, though they have not everywhere avoided the pedantic and over-refined. For example, he that placed the Cock upon the hand of Apollo, intimated thereby the morning tide and the hour of approaching sunrise; in the same way one may say the frogs here were made the symbol of the spring season, when the sun begins to get power over the air, and to loosen the bonds of winter; that is, if we must, like you, consider Apollo and the Sun, not as two different deities, but as one and the same.” “What!” asked Serapion, “do not you think it so? and do you hold that the Sun is different from Apollo ?“ “Yes,” replied I, “as much as the Moon differs from the Sun, but she hides the Sun not frequently nor from all men at once; whereas the Sun hath caused all people to forget Apollo, by diverting their attention, by the means of the sense, from the Real to the Apparent.”
XIII. After this, Serapion asked the guides, “Why do you name this Hall, not from Cypselus who first dedicated it, but from the Corinthians?” From their silence, there seems to me, at least, to be some uncertainty about the cause. “How, pray,” said I, laughing, “do you expect them either to know or to remember anything at all, scared out of their wits as they be by your subtle disquisitions? We have already heard them telling how the Corinthians, when the tyranny was put down, were wishing to inscribe both the gods’ statue that was at Pisa and the Treasury here with the name of the City: the Delphians granted the thing, as being just, and consented to it; but the Eleans refused it out of envy, whereupon the Corinthians passed a law that excluded them from the Isthmian Games; and from thenceforth no man of Elis has ever been a competitor at the Isthmian Games; but the slaughter of the Molionidae by Hercules, near Cleonae, is not the cause, as some think, why the Eleans are so excluded; for, on the contrary, it would have been natural to exclude them, had they quarrelled with the Corinthians on account of that slaughter, which they did not.” Thus farther spoke I.
XIV. And when the guide showed us the Hall of the Acanthians and Brasidas, the place where the iron spits of Rhodope the courtesan formerly lay, Diogenianus, being indignant, exclaimed, “’Twas surely right and proper for the same city to grant Rhodope a place wherein to deposit the tithes of her prostitution, and to put to death Aesop, her fellow in slavery.” Then Serapion: “Why are you angry, my fine fellow, at this? look up there above, and behold amongst captains and kings the Mnesarete in gold, which Crates said was dedicated as a trophy over the incontinence of Greece.” “But,” said the youth, “was not this said of Phryne by Crates?” “Yes, truly,” answered Serapion, “her real name was Mnesarete, but she got the nickname of Phryne by reason of her paleness; for the nicknames often obliterate the true names: for example, Alexander’s mother, Polyxena, they say, was afterwards called Myrtale, then Olympias and Stratonice; and the Corinthian Eumelis most people to the present day call Cleobule by her family name; also Herophile of Erythrae, a woman with the gift of prophesy, they entitle Sibylla; and you will hear the grammarians pretending that Leda was named Mnesinaea, and Orestes Achaeus. But how,” said he, looking towards Theon, “do you intend to refute this charge with respect to Phryne?”
XV. And he, with a smile: “In such a way that I in my turn accuse you of censuring the very smallest of all Grecian faults. For like as Socrates, in the case of Callias, quarrels only with his perfuming himself, and puts up with the sight of dances of boys, and tumblers, and kisses, and buffoons, in the same way you seem to me to be shutting out of the sacred ground a poor wench for making use of her personal beauty in no very respectable manner; but though you see the god here surrounded on all sides with the first-fruits and tithes of slaughter, wars, and plunderings, and his temple filled with Grecian spoils and trophies, you do not get angry, nor call the Greeks most disgraced on the score of their fine offerings of the sort, when you read such inscriptions as ‘Brasidas and the Acanthians, from the Athenians;’ and ‘The Athenians from the Corinthians;’ and ‘The Phocians from the Thessalians;’ and ‘The Orneatae from the Sicyonians;’ and ‘The Amphictyons from the Phocians.’ But Praxiteles offended Crates only with his mistress, and met with his reward of her in such a place; whereas Crates ought rather to have commended him because he set up amongst these golden kings a courtesan in gold, thereby casting reproach on gold, as possessing nought that is to be admired or venerated; seeing that it is becoming to lay before the god the offerings of virtue, or temperance, and of magnanimity, both for kings and rulers, not those of golden luxurious wealth wherein even the men of most infamous lives have their part.
XVI. “You do not mention the fact,” said the other of the two guides, “that Croesus caused to be made and dedicated here the golden statue of the woman, his baker . . . . not out of wanton insult to the holy place, but because he had an honorable and just cause for so doing. For the story goes that Algattes, father of Croesus, had taken a second wife, and had children by the same; this woman plotted against the life of Croesus, and gave poison to the baker, ordering her to knead it up in a loaf for Croesus; but the bakeress privately told Croesus, and set the bread before the children of his step-mother; in return for which Croesus, when he came to the throne, requited the woman’s kindness, taking, as it were, the god for witness of his gratitude, in which, truly, he did well. For which reason,” added he, out of many cities, “such an offering as this, one of the Opuntians is deserving to be admired and honored; for after the tyrants of the Phocians had melted down many of the gold and silver offerings and coined money therewith, and distributed it around different States, the Opuntians collected all that silver coin, and sent back a water-vessel to the god, which they dedicated to him. I commend the people of Myrina and of Apollonia for sending hither wheat-sheaves in gold, but yet more those of Eretria and of Magnesia who presented the god with the first-fruits of human beings, as the giver of fruits paternal, presiding over generation, and the friend of man. But I blame those of Megara, because they, almost alone of those in this place, set up the god with a spear in his hand, in memory of the fight in which, after the Persian War, they drove out the Athenians who had already got possession of their town; afterwards, however, they dedicated to the god a plectrum of gold, taking the hint, probably, from Scythinus saying of the lyre:—
“‘Which Apollo takes,
XVII. And when Serapion was attempting to make some remarks upon the subject, the visitor interrupted him with: “It is indeed pleasant, listening to tales of this kind; but I am under the necessity to demand the fulfillment of your promise about the cause that has made the Pythia desist from delivering oracles in epic verse, or in other metres. Wherefore, if you please, let us suspend the rest of the sightseeing; let us hear something upon that point, sitting down here, since that subject is the one that most nearly concerns the credit of the Oracle, because one of two things must be the case—either that the Pythia no longer approaches the place where the divine thing resides, or else that the exhalation is extinguished, and its power come to an end.” We therefore went round, and sat down upon the southern steps of the shrine, looking towards the Temple of the Earth and the Water; so that Boethus immediately observed that the place itself assisted the visitor in his inquiry, for there was a temple of the Muses by the pool of the Spring, which too they used for making libation as Stesichorus sings:—
“There, from above is drawn the pure water for the basins of the Muses with their beautiful locks.”
And again, somewhat more elaborately, Simonides addresses Clio as,—
“Chaste guardian of lustral basins, draw the far-famed water from the deep recesses—not cloaked in gold, but perfumed, undying, and much to be desired.”
Eudoxus, therefore, was wrong in believing those who make out that this was called the “Water of Styx.” They therefore set up the Muses for companions of Prophecy, and for guardians round about the stream itself, and also built the Temple of the Earth, to whom the Oracle is said to have first belonged. . . . The delivering of oracles in epic verse and poetry. But others assert that the heroic measure was heard here for the first time:—
“Collect your feathers, birds; your wax, ye bees”—
. . . . [On its] becoming necessary to the god. . . . . to cast away his gravity.
XVIII. Then Serapion: “This language is more gentle and more civil than what you used before; for we must not quarrel with Theon, and abolish along with the prophetic Power, Providence, and the Divinity as well; but rather seek for explanations of the facts that appear to run counter to these ideas; and not to cast away the pious faith of our fathers.” “You say rightly, my excellent Serapion,” replied I, “for neither do we despair of Philosophy as entirely destroyed and ruined, because in old times philosophers used to publish their dogmas and their arguments in the shape of poems, as for instance, Orpheus, Hesiod, Parmenides, Xenophanes, and Empedocles, and Thales—but afterwards they gave it up, and ceased making use of verses—all but yourself; for by your means Poetry doth once more descend into Philosophy, exhorting youth in martial and noble tone: nor has Astronomy been shorn of her glory by the schools of Aristarchus, Timocharis, Aristyllus, and Hipparchus writing in prose, whereas Eudoxus, Hesiod, and Thales formerly wrote in verse; if, indeed, Thales really did compose the ‘Astronomy’ attributed to him. And Pindar confesses that he himself is quite at a loss about the neglect of the use of verse, and is astonished . . . . It is neither wicked nor absurd for people to inquire into the causes of changes of the sort; but to do away with the sciences themselves if anything belonging to them be meddled with or changed, is very unfair.”
XIX. Then Theon taking up the conversation: “These sciences have indeed undergone many changes and innovations: but as for things here, we know that many predictions in those old times were uttered in plain prose, and those too about matters of no ordinary kind. For when the Lacedaemonians consulted the Oracle concerning their war with the Athenians it predicted to them victory and success, and also that it would help them, asked or unasked; and that if they did not restore Pausanias, they would have to plough with a silver ploughshare. To the Athenians also, when consulting the Oracle about their expedition into Sicily, it advised them to bring up from Erythrae the priestess of Minerva. Now the wench was called ‘Quiet’ by name. And when Dinomenes the Sicilian consulted the Oracle about his sons, it responded that all three should be tyrants. That is, with a mischief to them—‘is it not so, my Lord Apollo?’ asked Dinomenes. ‘This, too, I make you a present of, and give into the bargain as response,’ it was the reply. You all know that Gelon reigned with the dropsy, Hieron with the stone, and Thrasybulus after passing a short time in the midst of war and seditions was driven out of his power. Procus, tyrant of Epidaurus, had destroyed many people cruelly and unjustly, and when Timarchus had come to him from Athens with money in his possession, after receiving him with great show of friendship, he murdered him secretly, put the body into a hamper, and sank it in the sea. This he did by the hand of Cleander of Aegina, unknown to all the rest. But afterwards, when his affairs were growing troubled, he despatched hither his brother Cleotimus, to consult in private the best means for escape and emigration. But the god responded ‘that he granted Procus escape and emigration to where he had bidden his Aeginetan friend to deposit the hamper; or else where the stag puts down his horn.’ The tyrant, therefore, understanding that the god bade him either drown or bury himself (because stags bury and hide in the earth their antlers when shed), waited a little while, and then his affairs being utterly ruined, was driven into exile. But the friends of Timarchus got hold of him, and having put him to death, flung his dead body into the sea. And, what is the greatest fact of all, the laws by which Lycurgus regulated the Lacedaemonian constitution were given to him word for word at this place. Now, though Alyrius, Herodotus, Philochorus, and Istrus, the persons most zealous in collecting oracles in verse, have also recorded responses not in metre, Theopompus, who has been as careful as any man in the matter of the Oracle, has sharply rebuked such as believed at that time that the Pythia no longer delivered metrical responses; and then, wishing to give proof of his assertion, found he had but a very scanty supply, inasmuch as even then the responses were usually delivered in prose.
XX. “Even at the present day some Oracles run out in metre, of which I cite an example that has made a great noise in the world. There is in Phocis a temple of Hercules the Misogynist, where it is the law that the appointed priest shall not have to do with women during his year of office; for which reason they elect for priests men tolerably advanced in years. Not long ago, a young man, not a bad one, but ambitious, having an amour with a servant-girl, obtained the appointment, and at first was continent, and kept out of the way of the wench; but as he lay asleep after drinking and dancing, she fell upon him and he did her business for her. Being terrified and troubled in mind at what he had done he had recourse to the Oracle and inquired of the god about his sin, if there were any remedy or expiation for it; and he received this response—
“‘God pardons everything that can’t be helped.’
“Not but that even if you grant that no response is delivered without metre in our days, will you be any the more perplexed with respect to the ancient Oracles delivering their answers sometimes in metre, sometimes without it. For neither the one nor the other, my dear boy, is contrary to reason, if only we entertain correct and unprejudiced notions about the deity, and do not suppose it was himself that composed the verses in former times, or that now prompts the Pythia and speaks through her as though through a mask.
XXI. “But it is worth while to say something more at length, and to inquire about these points, and as we have taken a brief view of the present one, let us bear in mind that the body employs many organs, the soul employs the body and the members of the body, the soul itself is the organ of the god. Now, the goodness of an instrument lies in imitating that which employs its natural power, and in its producing the object of the design involved in its construction; though it is not competent to exhibit what that design was in its Maker, unmixed, impassive, and without error, but produces it mingled with much that is extraneous; for by itself it is senseless to us, but when made to appear another thing, and worked by the agency of another, it is then filled with its proper nature. And I pass over wax, and gold, and silver, and bronze, and whatever other sorts of plastic materials receive one form of resemblance modelled out of them, but yet each adds from itself a different variation to the copy. And the innumerable distortions of the appearances and images from one object in mirrors flat, or convex, or concave: for they are . . . . But there is nothing so like in form, or organ created for the use of Nature, that can afford us a more convincing proof, than does the Moon. For, though she receives from the Sun both that which is shining and that which is fiery, she does not send it back to us the same as it was, but when mingled with herself it both changes its color, and acquires a different quality: its heat is entirely gone, and its light is also deficient by reason of its weakness. And I fancy you know the saying in Heraclitus, ‘that the sovereign, whose Oracle is at Delphi, neither hides nor reveals the future, but hints at it.’ Make an addition, therefore, to this, so well said, and conceive the god here as employing the Pythia for hearing [being heard] in the same way as the Sun employs the Moon for seeing [being seen], she shows his thoughts aloud, but she exhibits them mixed with something else, by the agency of a mortal body, and a soul that is not able to keep quiet. Unable to present herself, standing by herself, unmoved to the moving power, but as it were in a state of agitation, feeling about and entangled with the emotions in herself, and the passions that trouble her. For just as the whirlpools do not entirely master the bodies that are carried around with them, but as partly they be carried round in spite of themselves, partly tend to the bottom by their own nature, of both which forces the result is a confused and irregular circumvolution—in like manner the so-called inspiration is probably the mixture of two impulses, the one of the soul moved by external impressions; the other, as it is moved by its own nature. For since it is not easy to use inanimate and motionless objects for a purpose to which they are [not] naturally adapted, by using force to them, as for instance, to treat a cylinder as a sphere or as a cube, or a lyre in the manner of a flute, or a trumpet in the way of a guitar. But if, as is reasonable, the using each object according to the rules of art is no other than the using it for the purpose for which it is made: surely, then, it is impossible to say how anyone can handle that which is animated and self-impelled, and endowed with appetite and reason, otherwise than consistently with its constitution; . . . . one attempting to move by musical means one ignorant of music, or by grammatical, one who knows no grammar, or by logic, one who has neither the theory nor the practice of logic.
XXII. “Homer himself bears me out, by representing nothing at all, so to speak, as coming to pass without the intervention of a god: not, indeed, that he makes the god use all means indiscriminately to all purposes, but each one according to its respective talent or force. Do you not see (said I), my dear Diogenianus, Minerva when she wants to persuade the Greeks to anything, incites Ulysses to speak; when she wishes to break the treaty she looks out for Pandarus; when the Trojans are to be routed she has recourse to Diomede: because one is robust and valiant; another an archer and thoughtless; another eloquent and wise. For Homer did not hold the same belief with Pindar, if indeed it were Pindar that wrote, ‘If God pleases, you may go to sea upon a hurdle.’ But he knew that different faculties and natures are made for different ends; each one of which is moved in a different manner, and [by that cause] in which resides that which moves all collectively: as, for instance, that which moves the pedestrian has no power in the way of flying, or that moving the stammerer in the way of distinct utterance, or the man with squeaking voice in that of a fine voice; although Battus, I ween, for this very cause, when he came to his full stature, did his friends send out as colonist to Libya, because he was a stammerer and had a squeaking voice, but possessed the qualities of a king, a statesman, and a philosopher—in the same way he is incompetent to discourse poetically who is unlettered, and has never listened to verses. For just as she who at present is servant to the god at this place was born legitimately and honorably, and has spent her life in a virtuous manner; but having been bred up in the house of poor country folks has acquired nothing from education or from practice or help of other sort, when she goes down into the oracular cave; but just as Xenophon recommends that the bride should come to her husband, having seen as little as possible, having heard as little as possible, so doth she hold converse with the god, without experience, all but without hearing of anything, and truly a virgin in her soul. But we believe that the god, to signify his will, makes use of crying herons, wrens, and ravens; and we do not demand, in case they be the messengers and envoys of the gods, that they shall speak everything plainly and rationally. But the voice and language of the Pythia we demand to be presented to us as though from off the stage, not unadorned and plain, but in verse, bombast, and affectation, with metaphors of names, and declaimed to the accompaniment of the flute.
XXIII. “What then shall we say about the Oracles of old? Not one thing, I fancy, but many. In the first place, they also generally declared themselves in prose. Secondly, those old times produced temperaments and constitutions of body that had quite a different tendency to poetry than ours, upon which immediately grew up desires, inclinations, and proclivities of soul, that required but a small hint or impulse from without, and made them very ready to be drawn along to what was congenial to their nature. As Philinus observes, we have known, not merely astrologers and philosophers, but persons under the influence of wine, or some powerful passion, either of overwhelming sorrow, or of sudden joy, sliding involuntarily into poetical language . . . . have filled feasts with amatory verses and songs, and books with compositions of the same kind. For Euripides hath said,—
“‘Love makes a poet of a clown before”—
not that Love puts in him the poetical and musical faculty, but only stirs up, and excites what before was concealed and dormant. Or must we say, Mr. Stranger, that nobody falls in love nowadays, and that Cupid is gone and vanished, because no one now, as Pindar hath it, ‘In verses or songs swiftly shoots at youths his sweet-voiced strains?’ Absurd this—for hosts of Loves drive man about, and consort with souls not indeed disposed by nature, or fitted for poetry—Loves, truly, that be unprovided with flute, unarmed with lyre, yet no less loquacious and fervent than those of old. For it is not allowable so much as to say that the Academy was loveless, nor Socrates and the school of Plato; since you may meet with their amatory treatises, and their amatory poems are not yet obsolete. For what difference is there in saying that Sappho was the only woman that ever was in love, and in asserting that the only prophetess was the Sibyl, or Aristonica, or all such as delivered oracles in verse. For wine, as Chaeremon says, mixes itself up with the tempers of such as drink it; whilst the prophetic inspiration, like the amatory, acts upon the subject faculty, and moves each one of those who take it in according to the way in which each is constituted by nature.
XXIV. “Not but that if we consider the question of the god and his foreknowledge, we shall find the change made for the better. For the use of language is like the exchange of coin that acquires a different value at different times [and of it what is familiar and well-known passes current]. There was a time when people used for the currency of speech, verses and tunes and songs, converting into music and poetry, all history, all philosophy, every passion, and to speak generally, every circumstance that required more dignified utterance. For things that nowadays few people listen to, everybody then used to hear, and took pleasure in their being sung; ‘ploughmen and fowlers too,’ as Pindar hath it. Nay, through this aptitude for poetry most persons admonished others by means of the lyre and song: they spoke their minds, they comforted others, they did their business with fables and with songs; furthermore they caused to be made in verse and songs the hymns of the gods, prayers, and thanksgivings; partly from natural aptitude that way, partly from old custom. For which reason, the god did not begrudge decoration and grace to the oracular power either, nor did he drive away from hence the honored Muse from the Tripod; on the contrary, he invited her hither, by stirring up and welcoming poetic temperaments and himself inspiring their imaginations, whilst he helped to promote the high-flown and verbose style in the responses, as appropriate and admired. But when, from the world’s suffering change along with its vicissitudes and its tempers, Custom cast off everything superfluous, and removed the golden top-knots [of the god] and divested him of his soft gown, and perhaps cropped his too luxuriant locks, and unstrung his lyre; at which time we accustomed ourselves, not wrongly, to oppose the charms of economy to extravagant expense, and to hold in honor that which is simple and neat rather than what is ostentatious and over-refined. In the same way, from language changing together with the times, and similarly stripping itself bare, History descended out of verse, as it were out of a chariot, and the true was distinguished from the fabulous chiefly by the use of prose. Philosophy also, having embraced the clear and instructive in preference to the sensational style, pursued her investigations in ordinary language. The god too made the Pythia cease from calling her fellow-citizens “firebrands,” the Spartans, “serpent-eaters,” men “seers,” and rivers “mountaindrinkers.” He took away from his responses their heroic verses, glosses, circumlocutions, and obscurity; he presented them, so to speak, to such as consult him in the same form as laws speak to citizens, kings reply to their subjects, and scholars hear their teachers speak, and adapted himself to what is intelligible and persuasive.
XXV. “For you ought to know that the god is, according to Sophocles,
“‘To wise men, an oracular riddle-maker,
And together with intelligibility thus introduced, Faith also took a turn, sharing in the change of all the rest; for whereas of old time, whatever was unusual and not public, but obscure and regularly veiled, the vulgar construed into something hallowed, and were astounded thereby and revered the same; but afterwards being content with the learning things plainly and easily, and without bombast or fiction, they found fault with the poetry that enveloped the responses, as being an obstacle to understanding them in their true sense, because it mixed up obscurity and shade with the thing revealed. Nay, already had they viewed with suspicion all circumlocutions, enigmas, and double-senses, as contrived for loopholes and refuges for the blunders of prophecy. And one might hear many asserting that certain men of poetical faculty were ever sitting round about the Oracle, receiving and catching up all sounds, and weaving heroic verses, metres, and rhythms, like so many envelopes wrapped all about the responses, out of their own heads. And persons like Onomacritus and Prodotes and Cinesion—what blame did they not get on the score of their Oracles, for having added tragic phrases and bombast to what was in no need thereof—I omit to mention, or to join in the cry against them. The greatest discredit, however, of all, was brought upon poetry by the set of mountebanks, and market-haunters that roam about, and play off their buffoonery round the temples of the Great Mother, and those of Serapis: and who manufacture Oracles, some out of their own head, some according to lot from certain books, for the benefit of servants and poor wenches, who are led away more by the metre than by the poetical merit of the words. For which reason most of all, Poetry being seen to prostitute herself to cheats, jugglers, and false prophets, hath been expelled from the domains of Truth, and the oracular tripod.
XXVI. “I shall not, therefore, be surprised if some of the ancient responses required a double, involved language, and obscurity. For in those times such and such a one did not go to consult the Oracle about the purchase of a slave, or another about the success of his speculations in trade, but mighty republics, and kings, and tyrants extravagantly proud, conferred with the god about their own affairs, whom to vex, and excite to hostility by their hearing before-hand many things contrary to their wishes, was by no means to the advantage of the keepers of the Oracle. For the god doth not obey Euripides when he, as it were, lays down the law and says:
“‘Phoebus alone must prophesy to men;’
but inasmuch as he employs mortal servants and mouthpieces, whom he is bound to care for and protect, that they be not annoyed by bad men when ministering to the god—he chooses not to obliterate the truth, but he deflects the manifestation thereof, like a sunbeam, in poetry, where it suffers many refractions, and is dispersed and scattered about in many directions, and thereby got rid of its offensiveness and harshness. The point was that tyrants should not be ignorant of what was coming, and that their enemies should not perceive the same beforehand. Wherefore he [Apollo] wrapped up all this in hints and double meanings, that concealed from the rest of the world what was meant, yet did not escape nor disappoint the persons themselves who requested his counsel and gave their minds to understand it. Hence the man is a great simpleton who now that the state of things is entirely changed, finds fault and cavils because the god thinks proper to help us in a different way from before.
XXVII. “Besides, there is nothing in poetry more useful than in prose, beyond the fact that things told when bound in the fetters of metre and strung together, are better remembered and retained. Men of those times were far from possessing good memory, ‘for of old the descriptions of places, the proper seasons for divers occupations, the festivals of the gods, the secret sepulchres of heroes, so hard to be discovered beyond seas, were all told in verse in the far-distant parts of Greece.’ For you know the Chian, and the Cretan history—about Nesichus and Phalanthus, and all the other founders of colonies, how they by the aid of all necessary indications (from the Oracle) discovered the seat assigned and best suited for each of them. Of whom, some made a mistake, as did Battus; for he thought he had missed the sense of the Oracle, because he had not got possession of the place to which he had been despatched: he, therefore, came a second time to consult; the god replying, said: ‘To Libya, nurse of sheep, udder of earth, thou hast not gone. I greatly admire thy wisdom in coming here,’ and so sent him out again, and Lysander being entirely ignorant that a hill was called Archelades, and also Allopaeus, and a river Hoplites, and ‘Earth’s crafty son, the dragon, from behind approaching’—being beaten in a fight, he fell in the places so named by the people by whom the district [was so called, and by the hand of], a man of Haliartus, carrying a shield which had for device a serpent. But to enumerate more of these ancient examples, hard of interpretation, hard to recollect as they are, to you who know them already, is superfluous for me.
XXVIII. “The now established state of things as concerns inquiries of the god, I for my part am content with and embrace. Profound peace and tranquillity prevail, war has ceased, so have migrations and factions, no more tyrannies or other distempers and evils of Greece, that stood in need, as it were, of variously remedial and extraordinary powers. For where there is nothing complicated, nor to be kept secret, nor dangerous, but all inquiries turn upon small and domestic affairs, like themes in a school, such as: Should one marry? should one make a voyage? should one lend money? and the most important matters belonging to States that are referred to the Oracle are the yield of corn, the produce of grapes, or the health of the public—in such cases to put forward verses, to invent metaphors, to stick epithets upon questions that require only a simple and brief answer, is the part of an ostentatious pedant, decorating the response for the sake of show; and the Pythia is by disposition high-minded, and when she descends into the cave, and is in company with the god, more . . . cares not for fame, or whether men praise, or find fault with her words.
XXIX. “We, perhaps, should behave in the same way. But as it is, as though we were struggling and fearful lest the place should lose its three thousand years’ old reputation, and some should despise and go away from it, like a Sophist’s school, we make excuses and invent causes and reasons for things that we neither know, nor is it fitting for us to know; whereby we encourage the faultfinder, and argue with him, instead of bidding him go his way:—
“‘For he will be the first to feel the smart,’
for entertaining such an opinion of the god as to accept and admire those maxims of the Wise Men, the ‘Know thyself,’ and the ‘Nothing in excess,’ no less on account of their brevity, as containing in itself condensed and closehammered sense, in small compass—and yet finding fault with Oracles because they tell most things briefly, plainly, and in a straightforward manner; and these maxims of the Wise Men are in the same condition as streams pent up in narrow space, for they have no transparency or lucidity of meaning, yet if you examine what has been written and talked about them by such as wish to discover their full sense you will not easily find other treatises more lengthy than theirs. And the language of the Pythia, just as mathematicians define a straight line as ‘the least one of those having the same extremities,’ so it makes neither curve, circle, double, or zig-zag, but goes straight to the truth, and though liable to be overthrown by facts, and subject to the test of experience, it has never, to the present day, suffered any impeachment of its veracity, but has crowded the Oracle with the offerings and presents of both barbarians and Greeks, and with all the beauties and decorations of buildings erected by the Amphictyons. For you see, I suppose, many additions of buildings not previously existing, and many restorations of such as were dilapidated and tumbled down. For as with thriving trees, others spring up by their side; so doth the Pylaea renew its youth together with Delphi, and fattens in her company by reason of the opulence flowing from this source; and receives a beauty, shape, and decoration of temples, public offices, and fountains, such as it never had for the thousand years preceding. Now they that dwell round about the “dairy” of Boeotia were made sensible of the manifestation of the god in the flesh, by the abundance and excess of the milk: ‘From all the flocks flowed down, as the best water from the rocks, nourishing milk, and they hastened to fill their pitchers; not one wine-skin or pitcher remained idle in the houses, pails and wooden casks were all filled to the brim.’ But to us, better, more brilliant, and clearer signs than these, promise to restore to us, as it were after the drought of our former desolation and poverty, both opulence, honor, and splendor, and yet I congratulate myself on having been zealous and useful in these affairs, in concert with Polycrates and Piraeus. I likewise congratulate him that was governor of the State at the time, and who planned and provided for most of these works. . . . But it is not possible that such and so great a change should take place in a short time, but for the god being present here, and inspiring the Oracle to that purpose.
XXX. “But just as in those old times there were people that found fault with the obliquity and obscurity of the responses, so nowadays some censure their too great plainness—whose conduct is equally unfair and silly. For little children take greater pleasure and delight in looking at rainbows, halos, and comets, than at the sun and moon; so do they these cavillers regret the riddles, allegories, and metaphors, that are the reflections of the prophetic power upon the mortal and imaginative subject: and if they cannot find out the cause of the change to their own satisfaction, they immediately blame the gods; and not us, or themselves, as being unable to arrive by reasoning at the gods’ intention.”