Pausanias, Description of Greece, Book 10

Adapted from the full text at


Pausanias was a Greek traveler during height of Roman rule. His most important work is the Description of Greece [Periegesis Hellados], a sort of tourist guidebook, which remains an invaluable text on ancient ruins.  The book seems to have been composed sometime between 143 and 161 AD. 


Delphi had been sacked by the Romans in 86 BC, and despoiled by later Roman emperors of some of its treasures, but there was still a lot to see when Pausanias visited.


The following are some brief selections from Pausanias' lengthy account of Delphi.


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V.  [5] From here the high road to Delphi becomes both steeper and more difficult for the walker.  Many and different are the stories told about Delphi, and even more so about the oracle of Apollo. For they say that in the earliest times the oracular seat belonged to Earth, who appointed as prophetess at it Daphnis, one of the nymphs of the mountain. [6]  There is extant among the Greeks an hexameter poem, the name of which is Eumolpia, and it is assigned to Musaeus, son of Antiophemus. In it the poet states that the oracle belonged to Poseidon and Earth in common; that Earth gave her oracles herself, but Poseidon used Pyrcon as his mouthpiece in giving responses. The verses are these:--

       Forthwith the voice of the Earth-goddess uttered a wise word,

       And with her Pyrcon, servant of the renowned Earth-shaker.


They say that afterwards Earth gave her share to Themis, who gave it to Apollo as a gift. It is said that he gave to Poseidon Calaureia, that lies off Troezen, in exchange for his oracle. [7] I have heard too that shepherds feeding their flocks came upon the oracle, were inspired by the vapor, and prophesied as the mouthpiece of Apollo. The most prevalent view, however, is that Phemonoe was the first prophetess of the god, and first sang in hexameter verse. Boeo, a native woman who composed a hymn for the Delphians, said that the oracle was established for the god by comers from the Hyperboreans, Olen and others, and that he was the first to prophesy and the first to chant the hexameter oracles. [8] The verses of Boeo are:-


       Here in truth a mindful oracle was built

       By the sons of the Hyperboreans, Pagasus and divine Agyieus.


 After enumerating others also of the Hyperboreans, at the end of the hymn she names Olen:--


       And Olen, who became the first prophet of Phoebus,

       And first fashioned a song of ancient verses.


Tradition, however, reports no other man as prophet, but makes mention of prophetesses only.


[9] They say that the most ancient temple of Apollo was made of laurel, the branches of which were brought from the laurel in Tempe. This temple must have had the form of a hut. The Delphians say that the second temple was made by bees from bees-wax and feathers, and that it was sent to the Hyperboreans by Apollo. [10] Another story is current, that the temple was set up by a Delphian, whose name was Pteras, and so the temple received its name from the builder. After this Pteras, so they say, the city in Crete was named, with the addition of a letter, Apterei. The story that the temple was built of the fern (pteris ) that grows on the mountains, by interweaving fresh stalks of it, I do not accept at all. [11] It is no wonder that the third temple was made of bronze, seeing that Acrisius made a bedchamber of bronze for his daughter, the Lacedaemonians still possess a sanctuary of Athena of the Bronze House, and the Roman forum, a marvel for its size and style, possesses a roof of bronze. So it would not be unlikely that a temple of bronze was made for Apollo.


[13]  The fourth temple was made by Trophonius and Agamedes; the tradition is that it was made of stone. It was burnt down in the archonship of Erxicleides at Athens, in the first year of the fifty-eighth Olympiad, when Diognetus of Crotona was victorious. The modern temple was built for the god by the Amphictyons from the sacred treasures, and the architect was one Spintharus of Corinth.


VII.  [2] The oldest contest and the one for which they first offered prizes was, according to tradition, the singing of a hymn to the god. The man who sang and won the prize was Chrysothemis of Crete, whose father Carmanor is said to have cleansed Apollo. After Chrysothemis, says tradition, Philammon won with a song, and after him his son Thamyris. But they say that Orpheus, a proud man and conceited about his mysteries, and Musaeus, who copied Orpheus in everything, refused to submit to the competition in musical skill. [3] They say too that Eleuther won a Pythian victory for his loud and sweet voice, for the song that he sang was not of his own composition. The story is that Hesiod too was debarred from competing because he had not learned to accompany his own singing on the harp. Homer too came to Delphi to inquire about his needs, but even though he had learned to play the harp, he would have found the skill useless owing to the loss of his eye-sight.


[4] In the third year of the forty-eighth Olympiad, at which Glaucias of Crotona was victorious, the Amphictyons held contests for harping as from the beginning, but added competitions for flute-playing and for singing to the flute. The conquerors proclaimed were Melampus, a Cephallenian, for harping, and Echembrotus, an Arcadian, for singing to the flute, with Sacadas of Argos for flute-playing. This same Sacadas won victories at the next two Pythian festivals. [5] On that occasion they also offered for the first time prizes for athletes, the competitions being the same as those at Olympia, except the four-horse chariot, and the Delphians themselves added to the contests running-races for boys, the long course and the double course. At the second Pythian Festival they no longer offered prizes for events, and hereafter gave a crown for victory. On this occasion they no longer included singing to the flute, thinking that the music was ill-omened to listen to. For the tunes of the flute were most dismal, and the words sung to the tunes were lamentations. [6] ... But they added a chariot-race, and Cleisthenes, the tyrant of Sicyon, was proclaimed victor in the chariot-race. [7] At the eighth Pythian Festival they added a contest for harpists playing without singing; Agelaus of Tegea was crowned. At the twenty-third Pythian Festival they added a race in armour. For this Timaenetus of Phlius won the laurel, five Olympiads after Damaretus of Heraea was victorious. At the forty-eighth Pythian Festival they established a race for two-horse chariots, and the chariot won of Execestides the Phocian. At the fifth Festival after this they yoked foals to a chariot, and the chariot of Orphondas of Thebes came in first. [8] The pancratium for boys, a race for a chariot drawn by two foals, and a race for ridden foals, were many years afterwards introduced from Elis. The first was brought in at the sixty-first Pythian Festival, and Iolaidas of Thebes was victorious. At the next Festival but one they held a race for a ridden foal, and at the sixty-ninth Festival a race for a chariot drawn by two foals; the victor proclaimed for the former was Lycormas of Larisa, for the latter Ptolemy the Macedonian. For the kings of Egypt liked to be called Macedonians, as in fact they were. The reason why a crown of laurel is the prize for a Pythian victory is in my opinion simply and solely because the prevailing tradition has it that Apollo fell in love with the daughter of Ladon.


VIII.  [6] When you enter the city you see temples in a row. The first of them was in ruins, and the one next to it had neither images nor statues. The third had statues of a few Roman emperors; the fourth is called the temple of Athena Forethought.  Of its two images the one in the fore-temple is a votive offering of the Massiliots, and is larger than the one inside the temple. The Massiliots are a colony of Phocaea in Ionia, and their city was founded by some of those who ran away from Phocaea when attacked by Harpagus the Persian. They proved superior to the Carthaginians in a sea war, acquired the territory they now hold, and reached great prosperity. [7] The votive offering of the Massiliots is of bronze. The gold shield given to Athena Forethought by Croesus the Lydian was said by the Delphians to have been stolen by Philomelus. Near the sanctuary of Forethought is a precinct of the hero Phylacus. This Phylacus is reported by the Delphians to have defended them at the time of the Persian invasion.


[9] Ascending from the gymnasium along the way to the sanctuary you reach, on the right of the way, the water of Castalia, which is sweet to drink and pleasant to bathe in. Some say that the spring was named after a native woman, others after a man called Castalius. But Panyassis, son of Polyarchus, who composed an epic poem on Heracles, says that Castalia was a daughter of Achelous. For about Heracles he says:--


       Crossing with swift feet snowy Parnassus

       He reached the immortal water of Castalia, daughter of Achelous.


[10] I have heard another account, that the water was a gift to Castalia from the river Cephisus. So Alcaeus has it in his prelude to Apollo. The strongest confirmation of this view is a custom of the Lilaeans, who on certain specified days throw into the spring of the Cephisus cakes of the district and other things ordained by use, and it is said that these reappear in Castalia.


IX.[1] The city of Delphi, both the sacred enclosure of Apollo and the city generally, lies altogether on sloping ground. The enclosure is very large, and is on the highest part of the city. Passages run through it, close to one another. I will mention which of the votive offerings seemed to me most worthy of notice.


[3] On entering the enclosure you come to a bronze bull, a votive offering of the Corcyraeans made by Theopropus of Aegina. The story is that in Corcyra a bull, leaving the cows, would go down from the pasture and bellow on the shore. As the same thing happened every day, the herdsman went down to the sea and saw a countless number of tunny-fish. [4] He reported the matter to the Corcyraeans, who, finding their labour lost in trying to catch the tunnies, sent envoys to Delphi. So they sacrificed the bull to Poseidon, and straightway after the sacrifice they caught the fish, and dedicated their offerings at Olympia and at Delphi with a tithe of their catch.


X.[1] On the base below the wooden horse is an inscription which says that the statues were dedicated from a tithe of the spoils taken in the engagement at Marathon. They represent Athena, Apollo, and Miltiades, one of the generals. Of those called heroes there are Erechtheus, Cecrops, Pandion, Leos, Antiochus, son of Heracles by Meda, daughter of Phylas, as well as Aegeus and Acamas, one of the sons of Theseus. These heroes gave names, in obedience to a Delphic oracle, to tribes at Athens. Codrus however, the son of Melanthus, Theseus, and Neleus, these are not givers of names to tribes. [2] The statues enumerated were made by Pheidias, and really are a tithe of the spoils of the battle. But the statues of Antigonus, of his son Demetrius, and of Ptolemy the Egyptian, were sent to Delphi by the Athenians afterwards. The statue of the Egyptian they sent out of good-will; those of the Macedonians were sent because of the dread that they inspired.


[6] The bronze horses and captive women dedicated by the Tarentines were made from spoils taken from the Messapians, a non-Greek people bordering on the territory of Tarentum, and are works of Ageladas the Argive. Tarentum is a colony of the Lacedaemonians, and its founder was Phalanthus, a Spartan. On setting out to found a colony Phalanthus received an oracle from Delphi, declaring that when he should feel rain under a cloudless sky (aethra), he would then win both a territory and a city. [7] At first he neither examined the oracle himself nor informed one of his interpreters, but came to Italy with his ships. But when, although he won victories over the barbarians, he succeeded neither in taking a city nor in making himself master of a territory, he called to mind the oracle, and thought that the god had foretold an impossibility. For never could rain fall from a clear and cloudless sky. When he was in despair, his wife, who had accompanied him from home, among other endearments placed her husband's head between her knees and began to pick out the lice. And it chanced that the wife, such was her affection, wept as she saw her husband's fortunes coming to nothing. [8] As her tears fell in showers, and she wetted the head of Phalanthus, he realized the meaning of the oracle, for his wife's name was Aethra. And so on that night he took from the barbarians Tarentum, the largest and most prosperous city on the coast. They say that Taras the hero was a son of Poseidon by a nymph of the country, and that after this hero were named both the city and the river. For the river, just like the city, is called Taras.


XI.  [2] The Siphnians too made a treasury, the reason being as follows. Their island contained gold mines, and the god ordered them to pay a tithe of the revenues to Delphi. So they built the treasury, and continued to pay the tithe until greed made them omit the tribute, when the sea flooded their mines and hid them from sight.


[5] The Thebans have a treasury built from the spoils of war, and so have the Athenians. Whether the Cnidians built to commemorate a victory or to display their prosperity I do not know, but the Theban treasury was made from the spoils taken at the battle of Leuctra, and the Athenian treasury from those taken from the army that landed with Datis at Marathon. The inhabitants of Cleonae were, like the Athenians, afflicted with the plague, and obeying an oracle from Delphi sacrificed a he-goat to the sun while it was still rising. This put an end to the trouble, and so they sent a bronze he-goat to Apollo. The Syracusans have a treasury built from the spoils taken in the great Athenian disaster, the Potidaeans in Thrace built one to show their piety to the god.


[6] The Athenians also built a portico out of the spoils they took in their war against the Peloponnesians and their Greek allies. There are also dedicated the figure-heads of ships and bronze shields. The inscription on them enumerates the cities from which the Athenians sent the first-fruits: Elis, Lacedaemon, Sicyon, Megara, Pellene in Achaia, Ambracia, Leucas, and Corinth itself. It also says that from the spoils taken in these sea-battles a sacrifice was offered to Theseus and to Poseidon at the cape called Rhium. It seems to me that the inscription refers to Phormio, son of Asopichus, and to his achievements.


XII.[1] There is a rock rising up above the ground. On it, say the Delphians, there stood and chanted the oracles a woman, by name Herophile and surnamed Sibyl. The former Sibyl I find was as ancient as any; the Greeks say that she was a daughter of Zeus by Lamia, daughter of Poseidon, that she was the first woman to chant oracles, and that the name Sibyl was given her by the Libyans. [2] Herophile was younger than she was, but nevertheless she too was clearly born before the Trojan war, as she foretold in her oracles that Helen would be brought up in Sparta to be the ruin of Asia and of Europe, and that for her sake the Greeks would capture Troy. The Delians remember also a hymn this woman composed to Apollo. In her poem she calls herself not only Herophile but also Artemis, and the wedded wife of Apollo, saying too sometimes that she is his sister, and sometimes that she is his daughter. [3] These statements she made in her poetry when in a frenzy and possessed by the god. Elsewhere in her oracles she states that her mother was an immortal, one of the nymphs of Ida, while her father was a human. These are the verses:--


       I am by birth half mortal, half divine;

       An immortal nymph was my mother, my father an eater of corn;

       On my mother's side of Idaean birth, but my fatherland was red

       Marpessus, sacred to the Mother, and the river Aidoneus.


[11] It is said that the men who uttered oracles were Euclus of Cyprus, the Athenians Musaeus, son of Antiophemus, and Lycus, son of Pandion, and also Bacis, a Boeotian who was possessed by nymphs. I have read the oracles of all these except those of Lycus.


These are the women and men who, down to the present day, are said to have been the mouthpiece by which a god prophesied. But time is long, and perhaps similar things may occur again.


XVI.  [3] What is called the Omphalus (Navel ) by the Delphians is made of white marble, and is said by the Delphians to be the center of all the earth. Pindar in one of his odes supports their view.


XXIV.[1] ...In the fore-temple at Delphi are written maxims useful for the life of men, inscribed by those whom the Greeks say were sages. These were: from Ionia, Thales of Miletus and Bias of Priene; of the Aeolians in Lesbos, Pittacus of Mitylene; of the Dorians in Asia, Cleobulus of Lindus; Solon of Athens and Chilon of Sparta; the seventh sage, according to the list of Plato, the son of Ariston, is not Periander, the son of Cypselus, but Myson of Chenae, a village on Mount Oeta.  These sages, then, came to Delphi and dedicated to Apollo the celebrated maxims, "Know thyself," and "Nothing in excess."


[4] In the temple has been built an altar of Poseidon, because Poseidon too possessed in part the most ancient oracle. There are also images of two Fates; but in place of the third Fate there stand by their side Zeus, Guide of Fate, and Apollo, Guide of Fate. Here you may behold the hearth on which the priest of Apollo killed Neoptolemus, the son of Achilles. The story of the end of Neoptolemus I have told elsewhere. [5] Not far from the hearth has been dedicated a chair of Pindar. The chair is of iron, and on it they say Pindar sat whenever he came to Delphi, and there composed his songs to Apollo. Into the innermost part of the temple there pass but few, but there is dedicated in it another image of Apollo, made of gold.


[6] Leaving the temple and turning to the left you will come to an enclosure in which is the grave of Neoptolemus, the son of Achilles. Every year the Delphians sacrifice to him as to a hero. Ascending from the tomb you come to a stone of no large size. Over it every day they pour olive oil, and at each feast they place on it unworked wool. There is also an opinion about this stone, that it was given to Cronus instead of his child, and that Cronus vomited it up again.


[7] Coming back to the temple after seeing the stone, you come to the spring called Cassotis. By it is a wall of no great size, and the ascent to the spring is through the wall. It is said that the water of this Cassotis sinks under the ground, and inspires the women in the shrine of the god. She who gave her name to the spring is said to have been a nymph of Parnassus.


XXXII.[1] Adjoining the sacred enclosure is a theater worth seeing, and on coming up from the enclosure...and here is an image of Dionysus, dedicated by the Cnidians. The Delphian race-course is on the highest part of their city. It was made of the stone that is most common about Parnassus, until Herodes the Athenian rebuilt it of Pentelic marble. Such in my day the objects remaining in Delphi that are worth recording.