Though little is known of how the priestess was chosen, the Pythia was probably selected, at the death of her predecessor, from amongst a guild of priestesses of the temple. These women were all natives of Delphi and were required to have had a sober life and be of good character. In the heyday of the oracle, the Pythia may have been a woman chosen from an influential family, well educated in geography, politics, history, philosophy, and the arts. During later periods, however, uneducated peasant women were chosen for the role, which may explain why the poetic pentameter or hexameter prophecies of the early period, later were made only in prose.
Often the priestess's answers to questions would be put into hexameter by a priest. So it seems to have been aptitude rather than any ascribed status that made these women eligible to be Pythias and speak for the god. The job of a priestess, especially the Pythia, was a respectable career for Greek women. Priestesses enjoyed many liberties and rewards for their social position, such as freedom from taxation, the right to own property and attend public events, a salary and housing provided by the state, a wide range of duties depending on their affiliation, and often gold crowns.
During the main period of the oracle's popularity, as many as three women served as Pythia, another vestige of the triad, with two taking turns in giving prophecy and another kept in reserve. Plutarch said  that the Pythia's life was shortened through the service of Apollo. The sessions were said to be exhausting. At the end of each period the Pythia would be like a runner after a race or a dancer after an ecstatic dance, which may have had a physical effect on the health of the Pythia.
Several other officiants served the oracle in addition to the Pythia. Before BC, while the temple was dedicated to Apollo, there was probably only one priest of Apollo. Priests were chosen from among the main citizens of Delphi, and were appointed for life. In addition to overseeing the oracle, priests would also conduct sacrifices at other festivals of Apollo, and had charge of the Pythian games. Earlier arrangements, before the temple became dedicated to Apollo, are not documented.
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The other officiants associated with the oracle are less well known. In the traditions associated with Apollo, the oracle only gave prophecies during the nine warmest months of each year. During winter months, Apollo was said to have deserted his temple, his place being taken by his divine half-brother Dionysus , whose tomb was also within the temple. It is not known whether the Oracle participated with the Dionysian rites of the Maenads or Thyades in the Korykion cave on Mount Parnassos, although Plutarch  informs us that his friend Clea was both a Priestess to Apollo and to the secret rites of Dionysus.
The male priests seem to have had their own ceremonies to the dying and resurrecting god. Apollo was said to return at the beginning of spring, on the 7th day of the month of Bysios, his birthday.
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This would reiterate the absences of the great goddess Demeter in winter also, which would have been a part of the earliest traditions. Once a month, thereafter, the oracle would undergo purification rites, including fasting, to ceremonially prepare the Pythia for communications with the divine. On the seventh day of each month, she would be led by two attended oracular priests, with her face veiled in purple.
The Pythia would then bathe naked in the Castalian Spring then would drink the holier waters of the Cassotis , which flowed closer to the temple, where a naiad possessing magical powers was said to live. Euripides described this ritual purification ceremony, starting first with the priest Ion dancing on the highest point of Mount Parnassus, going about his duties within the temple, and sprinkling the temple floor with holy water.
The purification ceremonies always were performed on the seventh day of the month, which was sacred to and associated with the god Apollo. Consultants, carrying laurel branches sacred to Apollo, approached the temple along the winding upward course of the Sacred Way, bringing a young goat kid for sacrifice in the forecourt of the temple, and a monetary fee. According to Plutarch's essay on the meaning of the "E at Delphi" the only literary source for the inscription , there have been various interpretations of this letter.
Pythia would then remove her purple veil.
She would wear a short plain white dress. At the temple fire to Hestia , a live goat kid would be set in front of the Altar and sprinkled with water. If the kid trembled from the hooves upward it was considered a good omen for the oracle, but if it didn't, the enquirer was considered to have been rejected by the god and the consultation was terminated. The rising smoke was a signal that the oracle was open. The Oracle then descended into the adyton Greek for "inaccessible" and mounted her tripod seat, holding laurel leaves and a dish of Kassotis spring water into which she gazed.
Nearby was the omphalos Greek for "navel" , which was flanked by two solid gold eagles representing the authority of Zeus , and the cleft from which emerged the sacred pneuma. Petitioners drew lots to determine the order of admission, but representatives of a city-state or those who brought larger donations to Apollo were secured a higher place in line. Each person approaching the oracle was accompanied with a proxenos specific to the state of the petitioner, whose job was to identify the citizen of their polis.
This service too was paid for. Plutarch describes the events of one session in which the omens were ill-favored, but the Oracle was consulted nonetheless. The priests proceeded to receive the prophecy, but the result was a hysterical uncontrollable reaction from the priestess that resulted in her death a few days later. At times when the Pythia was not available, consultants could obtain guidance by asking simple Yes-or-No questions to the priests.
A response was returned through the tossing of colored beans, one color designating "yes," another "no. Between and of the Oracles statements of Delphi are known to have survived since classical times, of which over half are said to be accurate historically see the article Famous Oracular Statements from Delphi for some examples.
Cicero noted no expedition was undertaken, no colony sent out, and no affair of any distinguished individuals went on without the sanction of the oracle. The early fathers of the Christian church could think of no explanation for the oracles but that demons were allowed to assist them to spread idolatry; so that the need for a savior would be more evident.
The 6th-century BC temple was named the "Temple of Alcmaeonidae " in tribute to the Athenian family who funded its reconstruction following a fire, which had destroyed the original structure. The pediment sculptures are a tribute to Praxias and Androsthenes of Athens.
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The monument was partly restored during ? The temple survived until AD , when the Roman emperor Theodosius I silenced the oracle by destroying the temple and most of the statues and works of art to remove all traces of Paganism. There have been many attempts to find a scientific explanation for the Pythia's inspiration. However, most commonly,  these refer to an observation made by Plutarch , who presided as high priest at Delphi for several years, who stated that her oracular powers appeared to be associated with vapors from the Kerna spring waters that flowed under the temple.
It has often been suggested that these vapors may have been hallucinogenic gases. Recent geological investigations have shown that gas emissions from a geologic chasm in the earth could have inspired the Delphic Oracle to "connect with the divine. Traces of ethylene have been found in the waters of the Castallian spring, which is now largely diverted for the town water supply of the town of modern Delphi. However, Lehoux argues  that ethylene is "impossible" and benzene is "crucially underdetermined. An alternative theory based on review of contemporary toxicological literature indicates that it is oleander that causes symptoms similar to those of the Pythia.
Pythia used oleander as a complement during the oracular procedure, chewing its leaves and inhaling their smoke. The oleander fumes the "spirit of Apollo" could have originated in a brazier located in an underground chamber the antron and have escaped through an opening the "chasm" in the temple's floor. This hypothesis perfectly fits the findings of the archaeological excavations that revealed an underground space under the temple.
This explanation sheds light on the alleged spirit and chasm of Delphi, that have been the subject of intense debate and interdisciplinary research for the last hundred years. Contrary to ancient literature, they found no fissure and no possible means for the production of fumes. In accordance with this definitive statement, such scholars as Frederick Poulson, E. Dodds, Joseph Fontenrose, and Saul Levin all stated that there were no vapors and no chasm.
For the decades to follow, scientists and scholars believed the ancient descriptions of a sacred, inspiring pneuma to be fallacious. Subsequent re-examination of the French excavations, however, has shown that this consensus may have been mistaken. Broad demonstrates that a French photograph of the excavated interior of the temple clearly depicts a springlike pool as well as a number of small vertical fissures, indicating numerous pathways by which vapors could enter the base of the temple. During the s, the interdisciplinary team of geologist Jelle Zeilinga de Boer,  archaeologist John R.
Hale,  forensic chemist Jeffrey P. Chanton,  and toxicologist Henry R.
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Spiller  investigated the site at Delphi using this photograph and other sources as evidence, as part of a United Nations survey of all active faults in Greece. Jelle Zeilinga de Boer saw evidence of a fault line in Delphi that lay under the ruined temple. During several expeditions, they discovered two major fault lines, one lying north-south, the Kerna fault, and the other lying east-west, the Delphic fault, which parallels the shore of the Corinthian Gulf. The rift of the Gulf of Corinth is one of the most geologically active sites on Earth; shifts there impose immense strains on nearby fault lines, such as those below Delphi.
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The two faults cross one another, and they intersect right below where the adyton was probably located. The actual, original oracle chamber had been destroyed by the moving faults, but there is strong structural evidence that indicates where it was most likely located. They also found evidence for underground passages and chambers, and drains for spring water. Additionally, they discovered at the site formations of travertine , a form of calcite created when water flows through limestone and dissolves calcium carbonate , which is later redeposited.