Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Delphi
DELPHI, Δελφοί, a town of ancient Greece in the territory of Phocis, famous as the seat of the most important temple and oracle of Apollo. It was situated about six miles inland from the shores of the Corinthian Gulf, in a rugged and romantic glen, closed on the N. by the steep wall-like under-cliffs of Mount Parnassus known as the Phædriades, or Shining Rocks, on the E. and W. by two minor ridges or spurs, and on the S. by the irregular heights of Mount Cirphis. Between the two mountains the Pleistus flowed from east to west, and opposite the town received the brooklet of the Castalian fountain, which rose in a deep gorge in the centre of the Parnassian cliff. The site of the ancient town is now occupied by the village of Castri, and the natural features of the scene have been somewhat altered by the earthquake of 1870; but the main points of interest can still be distinguished.
Of the origin of the Delphian oracle nothing is known. One legend told how the prophetic virtues of the site were discovered by a shepherd whose goats began to frisk about under the influence of the subterranean vapour; and another related how Apollo, after he had slain the great serpent Pytho on the spot, boarded a Cretan ship in the neighbouring gulf, and consecrated the crew to his service. It seems almost certain that the place was the seat of a religious establishment previous to its connection with the worship of Apollo; but its whole historic importance—which can hardly be over-estimated—is entirely due to this connection. The first temple of stone was reputed to have been built by the semi-mythical personages Trophonius and Agamedes. It was burned down in 548 B.C., but was soon after replaced by the building which has already been described. The contract for the work was taken by the Athenian family of the Alcmæonids, who were at that time in exile from the tyranny of Hippias. They employed the architect Spintharus, and acquired great credit for the disinterested liberality with which they accomplished their task. The principal facts in the history of Delphi have already been narrated in the article Amphictyony (vol. i. p. 772), where the reader will also find an account of the relation in which the temple stood to the states of Greece. It only remains to tell how the sanctuary and its treasures, which had been miraculously saved from the Persians and the Gauls, were put under contribution by Sulla for the payment of his soldiers; how Nero removed no fewer than 500 brazen images from the sacred precincts; and how Constantine the Great enriched his new city by the sacred tripods, the statues of the Heliconian Muses, the Apollo, and the celebrated Pan dedicated by the Greek cities after the conclusion of the war with the Medes. Julian afterwards sent Oribasius to restore the temple; but the oracle responded to the emperor's enthusiasm with nothing but a wail over the glory that had departed.
See Pausanias for a detailed description of the town in the second century of the Christian era; the Ion of Euripides for many interesting descriptions; and among modern works Wilster, De religione et oraculo Apollinis Delphici, Copenhagen, 1827; Hullmann, Würdigung des Delphischen Orakels, 1837; Götte, Das Delphische Orakel, 1839; Curtius, Anecdota Delphica, 1843; Schliemann in Allgemeine Zeitung, 1874.