Revisiting Delphi: Religion and storytelling in Ancient Greece
Cambridge University Press, $135 hb, 230 pp, 9781107151574
Re-visiting Delphi. The re-iteration is plain necessity: if Italo Calvino is correct and the classics can only ever be reread, then even a first-time visitor to Delphi is revisiting it. That evocative sanctuary barely clinging to the slopes of Parnassus is simultaneously place and commonplace (the Greek topos encompasses both senses). In Julia Kindt’s hands, Delphi is less a space than a stage set: a platform for the Pythia’s oracular pronouncements and a backdrop to the stories of those who went to consult her. These oracular stories have won their way to becoming archetypes: Herodotus’s self-delusional Croesus attacking Persia after being assured that in doing so he will destroy a great empire; Plato’s diffident Socrates, named by the Pythia as second-to-none in his wisdom; and the panicked Athenians, knowing only that a ‘wall of wood’ will save them from the Persians, being persuaded by Themistocles – opportunistically? – that Apollo is instructing them to man their fleet and decamp to Salamis rather than retreat to fortify the Isthmus or trust in the defensive capabilities of the Acropolis.