Mythologising the Pythia


  • Maja Sunčič



ancient Greece, prophecy, Delphi, Pythia, mythologising


Disappointed with the results of the French excavations at Delphi in the late 19th century, many researchers declared that Apollo and Pythia had never said anything. They expressed doubts about Pythia’s exceptional function and denied that her prophetic ability was natural, proclaiming her a fictitious or literary character, invented by philosophers in order to explain prophetic ability. Some went as far as to renounce the ancient sources as uncritical myths, and to label the Pythias as a product of religious manipulation and philosophical mystification. Despite the vast evidence in the primary sources, they mostly failed to understand how Pythia, presumably a completely ignorant local woman, could have uttered versified oracles, full of ambiguity, about the most important questions including politics, reforms, colonisation, war and peace, public health etc.
The paper discusses how Plutarch’s Pythian dialogues (The Oracles at Delphi, The Obsolescence of Oracles, The E at Delphi) present a valuable source for the revision of some still generally accepted notions about Delphi and Pythia. The possibilities of a contemporary re-contextualisation of Apollo’s priestess are examined in view of some recent approaches, based on anthropology and gender studies. Besides trying to examine the Pythias’ enthusiasm, as described by Plutarch, from the native perspective of antiquity as well as of gender studies, the paper argues for a re-examination of some widely accepted yet highly questionable notions concerning virginity, the sexualisation of the prophetic seance, and the renowned ambiguity of oracles as a sign of prophetic language rather than institutional duplicity.


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24. 07. 2010



Scholarly Articles

How to Cite

Sunčič, Maja. 2010. “Mythologising the Pythia”. Keria: Studia Latina Et Graeca 12 (1): 23-42.