The Oracle: Ancient Delphi and the Science Behind Its Lost Secrets


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The Oracle: Ancient Delphi and the Science Behind Its Lost Secrets

Praise Enlightening and compelling. Looking for More Great Reads? Download our Spring Fiction Sampler Now. LitFlash The eBooks you want at the lowest prices. Read it Forward Read it first. Unbound Worlds Exploring the science fiction and fantasy universe. Stay in Touch Sign up. We are experiencing technical difficulties. Please try again later. The English Victorians of the late s were fascinated by the place, as were the Americans in the same time period. There was a strong interest in spiritualism, mysticism, and unknown powers of the mind during that time, and it was particularly interesting to read how some of the early founders of the English Society for Psychical Research the SPR were quite interested in ancient accounts of the Oracle at Delphi.

The French eventually became the main archaeologists in the very late s, and what they found was. Yes, there was a building, yes, there was clearly the remains of a temple, but the sweet vapors the Oracle had inhaled during her prophetic trances, which had been recorded numerous times over the centuries that the temple at Delphi was active? No trace, and no trace of anywhere they could have come from. So the Oracle was designated a fraud, faker, or perhaps someone who indulged in mind-altering drugs. There was no mystery. And then in the , a geologist named de Boer was in Greece to help evaluate possible sites for nuclear power plants.

De Boer spent part of his time in Greece reading classical history and literature there was a lot of time spent waiting for government permits and he developed a great respect for Plutarch, who had been high priest of Delphi for a time and who had written extensively of Delphi. De Boer himself had grown up in Indonesia as a child, and had survived being in a Japanese slave camp in World War II from the time he was nine and a half until he was eleven, which meant that he was not terribly afraid to question academic authorities, as there was not much they could do to him that would rival what he had already been through.

De Boer found the old site at Delphi and immediately recognized clear signs of active geology and very active faults in the nearby mountains.

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For all the archaeologists who had looked at Delphi in the late s and early s, very few of them knew much about geology or appreciated how much the very active geology of Greece could change the bedrock underneath the Delphaic temple. This began an effort over that took over 20 years to study the history and geology of the temple of Delphi. My copy of Broad's book is dated , and some of the most important articles about the research weren't published until Along the way, de Boer worked with Hale, an archaeologist; Chanton, a geochemist, and Spiller, a physician.

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They documented the geology and archaeology of Delphi, the presence of volatile hydrocarbon gases in nearby faults today and likely proof that similar gases came up from faults underneath the temple of Delphi in antiquity, and they conducted research into the effects of various hydrocarbon gases on human perception. Throughout it all is the recurring theme that specialists become specialists because they reduce messy reality down to what is easily measurable and repeatable, and while specialists can come up with some amazing things, they also become so preoccupied with the answers from their own specialties they refuse to consider larger possibilities.

Of the four men who studied different parts of Delphi in different ways, all came away with an appreciation that perhaps the world is a bit larger and less easily explained than it looks. In each case, it took a new look from their own specialty and help from other specialties to get an idea what the Delphi might have been like when the Oracle was still there as a prophet of Apollo. Broad writes that the discussions he had with the various researchers while writing the book paralleled a raging controversy within science as a whole: It is a really good book, one where I learned a lot and that gave me a lot to think about.

I highly recommend it. Oct 14, mali rated it really liked it Shelves: I certainly learned a lot here, about history, philosophy, religion, and science. I also learned perhaps more than I needed to about the detailed blow by blow of the scientific investigation of Delphi in the late 20th century. A different organization would have strengthened that part: I struggled to pay attention at times. But I made it through and gained a lot from doing so. Aug 19, Jules rated it really liked it. This is a history that evolves into scientific inquiry, and seeks to reveal the truth behind ancient mysticism.

Feb 27, Cynthia Haggard rated it it was amazing. Blending ancient history, recent modern history and the scientific disciplines of anthropology, geology and archeology, the author pieces together a fascinating account of what may have caused the Oracle at Delphi to be so well-regarded throughout the ancient world, that extra something that seemed to lie behind those Delphic prophecies. The priestess would sit on a metal tripod, her legs dangling, and William J. The priestess would sit on a metal tripod, her legs dangling, and that tripod was positioned over an X-like fault in the limestone bedrock through which seeped ethylene, a sweet-smelling gas that in small doses can cause a trance-like state, that quickly wears off with the entranced person remembering little afterwards.

In this scientific age, it is easy to feel that the explanation just given explains everything about what being a Delphic Oracle was like. But that would miss the point about what the women took themselves to be doing as they sat on that tripod. They had prepared carefully for the event which took place once a month during the warmer part of the year. They had gone through various purification rituals. And as they sat on that tripod, in that darkened room, with a laurel held in one hand and a small bowl of water in the other, they expected that the god Apollo would reveal himself to them, and give sage advice to whoever might appear.

Strangely enough, it mostly seemed to work. It probably helped that the women chosen for the task were well-educated and intelligent, so that in their semi-inebriated state they were able to reply in classical hexameters. It was probably necessary to have the priests of Apollo hovering nearby should something go wrong. But what I am trying to say here is that it is unfair to dismiss these women as akin to glue-sniffers. People sniffing glue are not usually planning to meet the god Apollo and use his wise counsel for the benefit of society. Because, as I am fond of reminding my friends, we all possess an extraordinarily powerful machine in our heads.

And expectations filter experience. Expectations can turn a tawdry quest for a high into something profound that still resonates thousands of years after the event. Broad is careful to spell out that point at the end of his wonderful book. This is one of the first I picked up in that effort. I was surprised by how much I liked it. It has its flaws but overall it was an informative and fast-paced read. That last item was the one I 3. That last item was the one I enjoyed the least. At first it was actually pretty exciting—would they find what they thought they would? How would it all come together?

Way too much about the dudes. It recovered pretty well though, discussing reductive scientistic viewpoints and what they lack as well as leaving much of the question of the Oracle open. I also liked hearing about the excavation, rivalries, etc.

The Oracle Ancient Delphi and the Science Behind Its Lost Secrets

The writing is smooth and the reading goes quickly; if the Oracle interests you, I definitely recommend it not having any expertise in the field , with the caveat that you may want to skim some of the later sections of the scholarly adventure part. Feb 21, Cypress Butane rated it it was amazing.

A very good story about an interesting topic. Worth reading through to the end. I found this in a church resale shop in Sonoma, California a few days ago and read most of it flying back from San Francisco to Chicago, finishing it last night. Generally speaking, I'll pick up anything about ancient Greece with a thought to purchase.

A couple of years ago I read an article in the newspaper about the discovery detailed in this book: This was intriguing, but the paper hardly scratc I found this in a church resale shop in Sonoma, California a few days ago and read most of it flying back from San Francisco to Chicago, finishing it last night. This was intriguing, but the paper hardly scratched the surface. Finding this book was fortuitous. Contrary to the description of the book given here, the supposed cause, ethylene, does not normally cause hallucinations.

Rather, it is more like nitrous oxide and was, like nitrous, used as an anaesthetic until recently. However, with the right set and setting it is believable that the ancient mistresses of the god would go into significant raptures under its influence. Broad's book is good in outlining previous study of the Oracle and in detailing the work of Hale, deBoer and their colleagues. It also contains a decent bibliography and extensive notes. It is evident, however, that the author is not expert in classical history, sociology or religion.

A much more concrete picture might have been drawn about the religious, not to mention political, functions of altered states of consciousness in the ancient world. Also, he barely addresses such basic questions as pertain to the Delphic order as a whole: Finally, the long-winded concluding chapters about the debate between reductionists and holists is facile and unconvincing. It is rather surprising that Broad has worked as a science editor.

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One assumes his "scientific" concerns have been more technological than theoretical. Sep 02, Stephanie rated it really liked it Shelves: A delicious intersection of history, archaeology, geology, medico-pharmacology, and religion. The author establishes the foundation by returning to the information from direct historical sources about the Oracle of Delphi, from the earliest accounts of the shrine to the last known prophecy.

These accounts of the legends of the phemeuna; the gasses which stirred the prophetic discourse, come the later descriptions of the archaeology efforts of more recent centuries. The findings from these came t A delicious intersection of history, archaeology, geology, medico-pharmacology, and religion. The findings from these came to false conclusions which promoted the idea that the Oracle was a fraud. Although these conclusions were based on assumptions made by archaeologists speculating about areas beyond their educational specialty, they nonetheless endured for over a century.

Through a unlikely serious of coincidences, a history professor, a geologist, and a researcher in medico-pharmacology connect and work together to reveal a more accurate picture of the mechanism of how Delphi came to evolve and endure as a center of prophecy in the Greco-Roman world.

I would have been pleased and satisfied with that, but the last chapters of the book take it one step more. The final section is a discussion contrasting scientific reductionism and the metaphysical theories of holism and emergency. After the fascinating scientific story of the prior chapters of the book, it was especially nice to see the author ask the question: What a powerful ending for the larger questions of what is prophecy and how does it work. This is one of the best books I have read in months Jan 27, Gregg Sapp rated it liked it.

The institution of the oracle of Delphi, not entirely unlike latter day faith healers and psychic channelers, was invested in a certain degree of magic and mysticism to give it a degree of otherworldly credibility. To appreciate how the oracle worked requires at once a scientific detachement and methodological precision, but also an open and creative empathy that allows the investigator to imagine how it felt and what it meant to the ancient Greek believers.

What is the significance of the re di The institution of the oracle of Delphi, not entirely unlike latter day faith healers and psychic channelers, was invested in a certain degree of magic and mysticism to give it a degree of otherworldly credibility. What is the significance of the re discovery that the oracle breathed intoxicating subterranean fumes in order to induce her ecstatic experiences? Some modern critics would be quick to dismiss this as proof that the oracular institution was corrupt, not much more than priests playing head games which they passed off as revelation.

But, as I think Broad would agree, to do so misses entirely the transcendant nature of the experience.

Ancient Delphi and the Science Behind Its Lost Secrets

I also learned perhaps more than I needed to about the detailed blow by blow of the scientific investigation of Delphi in the late 20th century. Joelle deBoer , John Hale. Regardless of the poor conclusion, this was an informative lesson on how the oracle helped change the course of the world with its guidance. In December , he was among the last Westerners to see the Soviet hammer and sickle flying over the Kremlin. Together, these varied elements entwined with the spectacular setting to create and sustain the richly deserved reputation of the women who communed with, and spoke for, the god of light, music, rationality, and truth. Mar 28, Becky rated it really liked it.

The oracle was seen as a bridge between the divine and the mundane, so nobody approached without a sense of awe. It was wonderful, fearful, and beautiful all at once. The author concludes with a discussion of the limitations of scientific reductionism. The oracle of Delphi might not present the best case study for making that point; however, it does persuade readers that the oracle represented much more to her devotees than just a crazy stoned woman ranting about things that nobody could understand. Her secrets are safe in this book A well written account of the search for a scientific basis for the power of the Delphic oracle.

The Oracle

However, the book falters in its later chapters, as it attempts to drag scientific philosophy into the mix - that is, even though the mechanism of the oracle's prophecying is explained ethelyene oxide , does this explain how she was able to be correct? The author says no, and then goes on to basically invoke Stephen J. Gould's philosophy of Non-Overlapping Magisteria, implying that science can't an A well written account of the search for a scientific basis for the power of the Delphic oracle.

Gould's philosophy of Non-Overlapping Magisteria, implying that science can't and probably shouldn't even try to reduce everything, as there are certain things that it doesn't have the tools to even discuss. The author acknowledges that his book is, at least in part, an attempt to return an element of mystery to science, and to put it in its place my interpretation, not the author's words. Oct 21, Kylin Larsson rated it it was amazing Shelves: This book has almost everything I ever wanted to know about the Oracle of Delphi.

This would have been perfect if a few more prophecies had been included. I think people take it the knowledge of intoxicating fumes at Delphi for granted. This wasn't conclusively proven until Written by two-time recipient of the Pulitzer, Broad does a fine job of turning a scientific search for specifics of Delphi's oracular power into something of fast-paced read.

So here's the main thing that four scientists This book has almost everything I ever wanted to know about the Oracle of Delphi. So here's the main thing that four scientists but mostly one geologist and one archeologist found: Despite the dig years ago that found no evidence of a chasm emitting intoxicating gasses, there is one. Delphi sits on a criss-cross of geologic faults that act as a literal pipeline--straight into the Oracle's chamber in the Temple of Apollo.

If you are interested in geology, archeology, or Greek culture, this is a must-read. Jan 24, Brian Bruns rated it really liked it.

The Oracle: Ancient Delphi and the Science Behind Its Lost Secrets by William J. Broad

An excellent book, well done indeed. For those who really enjoy archeology, this has it all, including a great amount of geology and Greek history. The former, geology, is paramount in solving the quest for actual locations and verifiable proof of legend. A great deal of this book involves the discipline, which I happen to enjoy, and the combination of multiple disciplines is rewarding on several levels.

There is a great amount of history in this book, particularly combing through millennia of D An excellent book, well done indeed. There is a great amount of history in this book, particularly combing through millennia of Delphi's influences, written history, oral history, and legend.

Everything is presented smartly, and the final results are most satisfying. Jan 18, Gary rated it liked it. This was an interesting book - if you have an interest in the Oracle of Delphi. The Oracle actually Oracles were very important in shaping and impacting happenings for over 1, years. For years there has been debate - Were they psychic? How did they do it? I enjoyed the story and learned several items regarding history, archeology, geology, and neuroscience from it. It' This was an interesting book - if you have an interest in the Oracle of Delphi.

It's worth the time to read - if you enjoy learning truths regarding history. This is one of those books that you were subconsciously waiting years for, and then when you see it it's like a dream fulfilled. Delphi is one of those places that continually appears throughout ancient Greek literature and history. This book touches on the literary and historical contexts of the Oracle, while going even further by bringing present-day exploration of the site, and the latest scientific findings, to bear on our understanding of its essence.

Recommended for academic libraries and l This is one of those books that you were subconsciously waiting years for, and then when you see it it's like a dream fulfilled. Recommended for academic libraries and larger public libraries, such as the district center. Oct 13, Erin Moxam rated it liked it Shelves: This was a very interesting and informative book, however, I did find the ending a bit of a let down, there was no real conclusion for me, even if just from the author's point of view, if not closure on the subject itself.

I did like his attempt to approach an almost paranormal subject from and open minded yet scientific point of view, that was very interesting. Regardless of the poor conclusion, this was an informative lesson on how the oracle helped change the course of the world with its guid This was a very interesting and informative book, however, I did find the ending a bit of a let down, there was no real conclusion for me, even if just from the author's point of view, if not closure on the subject itself. Regardless of the poor conclusion, this was an informative lesson on how the oracle helped change the course of the world with its guidance.

Apr 23, liz rated it it was ok Shelves: This one made me feel like I was kind of overdoing it on the non-fiction. Basically, a couple hundred years' worth of archaeologists had found no sign of any sort of vapors at the ancient site of Delphi Mostly interesting, until at the end when Broad starts getting into metaphysics I don't think it's a coincidence that all of his best-sellers were co-written with another auth Dry, dry, dry.

I don't think it's a coincidence that all of his best-sellers were co-written with another author. Jan 30, Jada Roche rated it really liked it. At first the book is dry and takes some time to get into The real story, to me, was not figuring out what made the Oracle an oracle, but instead the relationship and passions driving science and scientists. Would have liked to have seen that explored some more. I enjoyed the humour that was injected more and more near the end as well.

The author has a great voice, it's too bad that in much of the book it felt obscured and muffled. Jul 26, Melissa rated it really liked it Shelves: Quite a fun book to read and the author did a very nice job of explaining all the science behind the ideas without losing both neophyte and scientist. The Oracle is a book that shows how science can back up the ancient historical record even when previous "modern" investigations say the historical record is wrong.

Two highlights are 1 the history of the Oracle through its decline and 2 a short discussion of metaphysics and reductive naturalism. Feb 06, J. Ewbank rated it liked it Shelves: At first I was afraid that this book by William Broad was going to tell me more about the Oracle than I really wanted to know and was beginning to get bogged down in it. Then, I began to get what he was really about and enjoyed reading it. It tells you abaou the configuration of the area and why the faults produced such dramatic results during the days of the Oracle.