The worship of Apollo included the establishment and maintenance of places of prophecy by means of which the gods could communicate with mankind and reveal futurity to such as deserved the boon. The early history of Greece abounds with accounts of talking trees, rivers, statues, and caves in which nymphs, dryads, or dæmons had taken up their abodes and from which they delivered oracles. While Christian authors have tried to prove that oracular revelations were delivered by the Devil for the purpose of misleading humanity, they have not dared to attack the theory of oracles, because of the repeated reference to it in their own sacred writings.
If the onyx stones on the shoulders of Israel’s high priest made known by their flashings the will of Jehovah, then a black dove, temporarily endowed with the faculty of speech, could indeed pronounce oracles in the temple of Jupiter Ammon. If the witch of Endor could invoke the shade of Samuel, who in turn gave prophecies to Saul, could not a priestess of Apollo call up the specter of her liege to foretell the destiny of Greece?
The most famous oracles of antiquity were those of Delphi, Dodona, Trophonius, and Latona, of which the talking oak trees of Dodona were the oldest. Though it is impossible to trace back to the genesis of the theory of oracular prophecy, it is known that many of the caves and fissures set aside by the Greeks as oracles were sacred long before the rise of Greek culture.
“… It was here that the Olympian gods spoke to mortal men through the use of a priesthood, which interpreted the trance-induced utterances of the Pythoness or Pythia. She was a middle-aged woman who sat on a copper-and-gold tripod, or, much earlier, on the “rock of the sibyl” (medium), and crouched over a fire while inhaling the smoke of burning laurel leaves, barley, marijuana, and oil, until a sufficient intoxication for her prophecies had been produced.”
FROM ANCIENT EGYPT TO GREECE: TIS THINE OWN APOLLO REIGNS
According to the Greeks, the greatest outcome of the love affair between Zeus and Leto was the birth of the most beloved of the oracle gods—Apollo. More than any other god in ancient history, Apollo represented the passion for prophetic inquiry among the nations. Though mostly associated with classical Greece, scholars agree that Apollo existed before the Olympian pantheon and some even claim that this entity was first known as Apollo by the Hyperboreans—an ancient and legendary people to the north. Herodotus came to this conclusion and recorded how the Hyperboreans continued in worship of Apollo even after his induction into the Greek pantheon, making an annual pilgrimage to the land of Delos where they participtated in the famous Greek festivals of Apollo. Lycia—a small country in southwest Turkey—also had an early connection with Apollo, where he was known as Lykeios, which some have joined to the Greek Lykos or ‘wolf’, thus making one of his ancient titles, “the wolf slayer.”
Ancient Greek mythology personified the mysteries of life and the cosmos in the form of a pantheon of gods who ruled from Mount Olympus. Their most powerful god who controlled the sky and weather was named Zeus.
Apollo was the son of Zeus and Leto and the twin of the goddess Artemis. He is sometimes personified as the sun driving a fiery chariot across the sky each day. He is associated with the tending of flocks and herds, love of beauty, balance, music, fine arts, poetry and medicine. He is the god of prophecy and is credited with the foundation of the oracle of Delphi. He is usually pictured as a young and handsome man holding the lyre, the bow and arrow, or seated on the omphalos next to the tripod, the twin symbols of Delphi.
Hermes, the little brother of Apollo, was personified as Mercury, the planet closest to the sun. The ancient Greek gods were very real to the common man in antiquity, but to the philosophers and to people who could think for themselves, the gods were recognized as metaphors for the powers of nature.