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The Oracle: Lost Secrets and Hidden Message of Ancient Delphi Hardcover – February 16, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
The oracle at Delphi influenced politicians and slaves with her prophecies, yet her life and practices are shrouded in mystery. In a fascinating story that is part detective tale and part science report, Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times writer Broad unveils the oracle. In order to prepare for her encounter with Apollo, the oracle descended into a chasm near the temple, where she would breathe the holy pneuma. She would then deliver her prophecies in a trance, sometimes foaming at the mouth and sometimes in a frenzy. When the temple was unearthed in the 19th century, archeologists and geologists searched for the mysterious chasm. Broad traces the history of these efforts and the conflicts they produced. By the mid–20th century, many scientists argued that the chasm never existed. He follows two modern-day Indiana Joneses, geologist Jelle de Boer and archeologist John Hale, as they refute those conclusions by uncovering the chasm and the geological faults that produced hallucinogenic vapors. Broad's lively prose and fast-paced storytelling conduct us on a breathless adventure of religious mystery and scientific discovery—and ends with a surprising consideration of the meaning of the oracle's powers and the existence of "shadowy worlds... beyond the ken" of science. B&w illus. (Feb. 20)
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From Scientific American
The Oracle of Delphi, human mistress of the god Apollo, had the power to communicate his prophecies and advice. Accounts from the time describe how she breathed in vapors rising from the temple floor before communing with the god. But modern scholars have long discounted these reports. Broad, a writer at the New York Times, tells the story of scientists who worked from subtle clues scattered through the ancient literature and the landforms near Delphi to uncover evidence that explains the oracle's powers. They discovered that the vapors actually existed--they were petrochemical fumes that contained a hallucinogenic gas, which rose through cracks in the earth into the oracle's chamber. A fascinating account in its own right, the story also allows Broad to weave in the modern debate between science and religion.
Editors of Scientific American
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Having been to Delphi this past week, this book did a great job of putting me in the frame of mind to appreciate the archaeological site and to imagine what it might have been like. There's still a lot we don't know. 4th century Christians have done their best to eliminate any trace of our "pagan" pasts. But damn. Delphi is still a deep spiritual place that might be the center of the universe.
I expected this book to tell the same story in detail, which it does, but it also provides interesting historical context, and has a well-written chapter that considers relevant epistemological issues (philosophical issues about knowledge, how it is gained, what counts as legitimate knowledge, etc.).
I gave it four stars because I wished it were longer, and just provided more of the same kinds of content.
Here is the historical, archaeological, metaphysical, and scientific study of one of ancient histories greatest mysteries...the "Oracle of Delphi". The Oracle's prophesy affected not just such great men as Socrates, Plato, and Alexander the Great but, entire nations of the known world. Their divinations helped to change history.
Were these "Sybil's" real, or were they merely... fraudulent charlatans?
From ancient texts to historical archaeological digs, modern geological sciences, and then back to the realm of the ancients...author William J. Broad gives a superb accounting of the "Pythia" and "her" history. What was the means of the Oracle's great prophetic abilities? Was it merely the mysterious mist of intoxicating fumes that put her into euphoric trance like states, or... was there more to the story?
Several great scientists help to unravel this great mystery of time, including geologist, Jelle Zeilinga DE Boer (a Dutch citizen, and former WWII Japanese prisoner of war), and ironically, author... John R. Hale author of; "Lords of the Sea" (the book I just finished reading!).
The investigation into Delphi, its surrounding geological structures, and affect upon the ancient Oracle is unique and mind-boggling. However, despite some of the modern findings, the author and those involved in the pursuit of truth are still searching for the real key of the Oracle's success...Spiritual belief.
A fascinating topic, a masterful work of academic study, and an open acknowledgement of the fact that: "There are more things in heaven, and earth, Horatio than are dreamt of in your philosophy." (Hamlet).
A great book to read...a great book to have, and... "a must" for the serious student of history and archaeology!
A wondrful book!