Greece, Ancient Delphi & the Famous Oracle with Dr Helena Meskanen

Greece, Ancient Delphi & the Famous Oracle with Dr Helena Meskanen

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The Delphic oracle advised Greek city-states and individuals alike on matters of war and peace. But how did it function, who controlled it, and could it be trusted? Join this conversation with an archaeologist to talk about war and peace in ancient Greece.

The Oracle of Delphi was the most famous oracle in ancient Greece, and it was consulted by Greek city-states far and wide, on a wide range of issues. Because of the high status of the oracle, it attracted questions of utmost importance, and therefore it often ended up in the middle of internal politics within and among the Greek city-states. This Conversation examines the political role of the oracle, the sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi, and the way Greek city-states sought the god’s advice and support.

“She was knowledgeable, very well organized and delightful."

Among the most scenic mountains of Greece, in the centre of the world (according to the Greeks at least), is Delphi and the sanctuary of the god Apollo. The sanctuary held a great festival of athletics and music similar to the Olympic games, but it is now mostly known for its oracle. Access for consultation was limited; it involved a range of rituals and permissions, and therefore the less important questions seem almost hilariously trivial. The Pythia would enter a state of trance (some sources say due to toxic fumes emerging from a chasm) and the god Apollo would send utterances through her voice. These were then written into more elegant hexameter oracular responses. The status of the oracle led to many of the leading city-states to consult it for important matters on war and peace, and the oracle often ended up in the middle of inter-state politics. What was the role of the oracle, who controlled it, and could it be trusted?

“It was inspiring for my daughter to learn from someone who spoke several languages, has a doctorate in an interesting subject area, and travels as part of her career.”

Led by an expert on Greek archaeology, Dr Helena Meskanen, this interactive seminar will offer a deep dive into the world of oracular utterances, interpretation of cryptic messages, and the warring Greek city-states. Designed to inform curiosity as well as future travels, participants will come away with a greater understanding of the function of oracles in Greece and the political aspect of Greek religion.

“I appreciate her organization, ability to convey essential and interesting information, and responsiveness to questions.”

Dr Helena Meskanen is an archaeologist specialising in ancient Greece, with research focusing on ancient Spartan religion. She has been leading tours of the British Museum for 3 years and feels passionately about the wide range of objects on display, and the stories they tell about the museum and the cultures that created them.

This conversation is suitable for all ages

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.