The Oracle

February 25

Our pilgrimage to Delphi begins in the fallow hour between dark and day. As the bus trundles north, Helios gallops his chariot out of the eastern mountains. Rolling like a silver coin along the ridge, the sun’s chariot runs behind muslin clouds. The village of Delphi flocks in the foothills of Mount Parnassus, a muster of white cottages and cafés overlooking an abyss.

Across the abyss, a miniature fishing villages smudges the shore of the Aegean. The vista is so pale and still it must be painted on marble, a study in blue and white, composed of snow-crowned mountains, sun-bleached cottages, and fig trees in bridal-white bloom. The Aegean is a swathe of pearly gesso, without even a dappling of sunlight. No fishing boats scratch the lacquered waters and the seaside village is as still as a cemetery.


Above Delphi, Apollo’s Temple stands in a froth of yellow wild flowers. The ruins sketch foundations along the terraced slopes, leaving a blueprint of the altars, shrines, treasuries, and temples that once hallowed the red stone ridge. Amongst the mustard and calendula, marble columns spear from the earth like the horns of restless chthonic creatures. Black soot clouds the marble where sacrificial fires once smoked. And still the wind plays through the surviving columns of Apollo’s Temple, plucking the strings of a harp that hasn’t sung since the Oracle left Delphi.




On a lower terrace, on the brink of the abyss, Athena’s Sanctuary rests amongst olive trees. Wild hyacinth, dark as purple thunder, trembles amongst the ruins. Yet even in the feral shudder of this rubble field, the Sanctuary is whole in its symmetry. Though only three matched columns and a triangle of smoked marble blocks remain, the Sanctuary’s symmetry is its serenity.


I didn’t bring a question to Delphi because I know the Oracle left with the snakes. But I leave with pages of unmarried phrases and orphaned words. Even in my notebook, I can’t put Delphi back together again. Delphi is a depot of unanswered questions in limestone and marble.



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