The temple's origins are lost in myth. Greeks believed that the earth-goddess Ge (or Gaia)and her daughter Themis had given answers (also called oracles) at this location, which was then called Pytho, before Apollo took possession by slaying a great she-dragon, the serpent Python.
Another legend tells that Apollo metamorphosed into a dolphin and directed a Cretan ship to the site, ordering its sailors to build there his shrine. 'Delphis' is Greek for dolphin, hence Delphi.
Delphi was regarded as the 'navel of the earth', and in the temple there was a white stone (the omphalos stone) bound with a red ribbon to represent the navel and umbilical cord. This sacred stone supposedly marked the exact center of the Earth, determined by Zeus as the place at which two eagles met, after flying one from the eastern and one from the western boundary of the world. Nearby flowed the sacred fountain of Castalia.
According to the Greek historian Herodotus, the oracles were delivered by Apollo's priestess, the Pythia, seated on a tripod and speaking in a trance induced by natural gases seeping through the rocks. Her mutterings were then interpreted and transmitted to inquirers by the priests, who rendered them in deliberately vague verse.
Recent scholars say that, upon close study of all of the reliable evidence, they came to the conclusion that there was no chasm or vapors involved, and that the Pythia did not go into a trance or frenzy, crying incoherently. Furthermore, she spoke clearly, coherently, and directly to the people seeking advice.
The oracle at Delphi was consulted before any important step was taken in affairs of state: wars, the founding of colonies, and so forth. Thus it exerted a powerful influence on the history of the Greeks. The common reverence for its words, together with the Pythian festivals and games held near the shrine every four years, made for unity in the political and religious life of the Greek world.
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