For ancient Greeks, Delphi was the center of the world: a site sacred to the god Apollo, where all Greeks united to worship. But at its heart was a dark, strange place: the mysterious sanctuary where the priestess of Apollo prophesied.
The priestess, called the Pythia, sat above a chasm in the earth, which belched forth fumes.
She breathed deeply – some believe that the fumes possessed hallucinogenic properties – and slipped into semi-consciousness.
Her prophecies were opaque, often frantic. This was the Oracle of Delphi: the Greeks’ most famous and most feared window into the will of the gods.
It lay in “a cavern hollowed down in the depths” of the hillside, as the historian Strabo reported, underneath the great Temple of Apollo.
Today, the ruins of the Temple sit on the slopes of Mount Parnassus.
It was destroyed by the Emperor Theodosius I, in 390 CE, in an attempt to eradicate the old pagan beliefs.
Few traces of the Oracle remain, but the site is still an eerie one: mist clings to the hills, and you can almost hear the ghosts of Croesus, Nero, and Alexander.
As a child, she was called Mnesarete (Greek for “virtue”), but because she was born with sallow skin, she was called Phryne (Greek for “toad”).
Still, Phryne became the most successful and sought-after courtesan in ancient Greece, commanding 100 times the going rate.
Supposedly, she was even the model for the sculpture called Aphrodite of Cnidus, one of the most famous works of Greek art.
Lust Rewards: Phryne became incredibly rich thanks to her liaisons with powerful men in Athens.
According to legend, she even offered to pay to rebuild the city walls of Thebes, which had been destroyed by Alexander the Great in 336 BC, but there was a condition: the new wall had to contain the inscription
“Destroyed by Alexander, restored by Phryne the courtesan.” Her offer was declined.
Around 340 BC, Phryne was accused of affronting the gods by appearing nude during a religious ceremony.
At her trial, the orator Hyyperides -her defender and also one of her lovers- ripped open Phryne’s robe and exposed her to the court. Why?
He considered it a legitimate defense. She was, after all, the most beautiful woman in Athens, and someone that gorgeous must be on good terms with Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty, no matter what codes of conduct she appeared to have broken.
Two rival parishes on the Greek island of Chios engage in a most unusual and dangerous Easter tradition that has been taking place quite possibly since the Ottoman era.
The churches, which sit on opposite hillsides about 400 meters away from one another, recreate a yearly “Rocket War”, which is exactly what it sounds like.
Until 1889 real cannons were used in this annual performance, which no one really seems to know the origin of.
Their cannons outlawed and confiscated, the two churches in question, Angios Marcos and Panaghia Ereithiani, had to resort to homemade bottle rockets that are produced throughout the year for the fiery spectacle that draws a high number of tourists.
Tourism may just be the only reason the tradition has survived this long. Most residents are understandably not big fans of up to 80,000 unstable fire sticks screaming through the sky and slamming into the bell towers of their churches while they attempt to attend mass inside.
As the rocket builders blow off digits and sometimes lose their lives preparing for the battle, the less enthusiastic board up buildings and try to protect as much as possible with wire mesh.
By the next morning, ears are ringing, throats are filled with smoke and sulphur, fires have been put out, and burns have been treated, but a winner is never officially decided on.
The sign of victory is the most direct hits afflicted on the rival, but every year both congregations declare themselves the winners, and they agree to disagree, and settle the score next year.