Donaldus. I am bringing your a small quantity of water from the Castilian Spring–sacred to the Muses. I drank from the spring, though my wise child warned me that I was more likely to take away giardia than poetic inspiration.
There is no place quite like Delphi.We arrived at mid-day, had our 2456th Greek salads, and then walked down to the sanctuary. A day ago we had begun to formulate what we would ask the Pythian oracle. And since we checked into our hotel for the evening, we had a more serious conversation about how the oracle might be expected to deliver her answer: unlikely to be a telegram, we agreed, but might it come indirectly from someone or some text we encounter now? We tested a couple of hypotheses but without any satisfaction, so far.
We began the day in Nafplia, end it in central Greece. The temperature at Delphi was perfect, a slight breeze, sky hazy and at times cloudy. We saw no more than 20 people in the sanctuary. It was pastoral, peaceful, propitious. The quiet–when the crowds are not overrunning the place–invites a kind of
numb “presence” In order fully to appreciate Delphi, you have to realize that thousands of people came very long distances, at great exertion, to consult the oracle. They could not have been doing this as a campy touristic experience. They must have believed that the oracle would deliver wisdom and insight. It’s not easy to get here today, in the climate-controlled world of the internal combustion engine. And yet they came, and then consulted priests to interpret what the oracle uttered, and then–most surprising of all–tried to coordinate their actons to honor the wisdom of the gods.
We have been discussing the nature of sacred places. Did Delphi become sacred because people decided to put temples here, or was it sacred in that from the sulfurous fissures issued fumes that directed the oracle to utter things that helped people make significant decisions? How does a landscape or landmark become sacred? Can it cease to be sacred? For example, does the massive press of tourists (who represent a contemptuous tradition) erode the sacredness of a sacred place?
We must come home to America soon, but we are not really ready to come home. I believe this journey, daughter and father, will shape and even change both of our lives. And I do think this journey will be the gold standard of all subsequent journeys for each of us.
No place in Greece is mre than 85 miles from the sea. When I first read that in C.M. Bowra’s book 30 years ago, I understood it intellectually. Now I begin to understand it in a more essential way.