Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics
THE VOICES OF THE GODS
HEN the people wished to know the will of the gods they
inquired at places called "oracles." The most famous
of these was at Delphi. There was an opening in the
ground, out of which came a strange gas or vapor. Over this place a
temple was built and dedicated to Apollo. A priestess
lived there, and when people desired to have their
fortune told she breathed the vapor, and what she said
afterwards was thought to be the answer of the god.
But it was hard to understand, and the priests had to
explain it to the visitors. Usually it could be taken
in two or three ways, so that, whatever happened, the
oracle would be right.
Once the people of Athens asked what they should do in
a time of great danger. The oracle told them to trust
in their wooden walls. Some hurried to the ships and
escaped, but others trusted in the wooden walls on the
the citadel of Athens, and fought bravely there, only
to be defeated.
This is the way in which the oracle at Delphi was
discovered. Some goatherds, feeding
their flocks on Mount Parnassus, found that when the
animals ate near a certain place they seemed to go
crazy, and ran about bleating until they fell down in a
fit. The men, looking for
 the cause of this, found in a long, deep crack in the
side of the mountain. One of them bending over and
looking down breathed the vapor which came from the
opening. He threw up his arms, ran among his
fellow-herdsmen with a wild look on his face, and
shouted out strange words which no one understood.
Then he fell down weak and trembling, and could not
rise for some time. His friends were frightened, and,
since they could not explain the matter, they thought
it must be the breath of some god that had driven him
wild. It was decided at last that this god must be
Apollo. A temple was built, and a priestess, call
Pythoness, was appointed. She washed at the fountain
of Castalia, put a laurel wreath on her head, and sat
on a tripod, or three-footed chair, near the opening.
Visitors asked their questions, and she answered in the
name of the god.
There was an oracle of Zeus at Dodona. It is said that
two black doves flew from Egypt into Greece. One
alighted on an oak tree in Dodona, and said to the
people, "Here shall be the oracle of the mighty Zeus.
You who would know the will of the father of the gods
and men come here and listen. He will speak and you
The other dove flew to the Libyan oasis, and alighted
on the roof of the temple of Jupiter, speaking the same
words to the people there. After that, in both these
places, the leaves of the trees whispered, and the
priests explained what they said.
The oracle of Trophonius was in Botia. He and his
brother were architects, and built a treasure-house for
a king. They set a stone in one of the walls in such a
 way that they could move it whenever they liked, and so
go in and take the money and jewels without exciting
suspicion. The king was astonished to find his
treasure disappearing, though all the locks were fast
and the seals unbroken. He set a trap in the treasury,
and the brother was caught. Trophonius could not get
him out, so he cut off his brother's head and took it
with him, going out by way of the secret stone. Soon
after the earth opened and swallowed up the
"Master-Thief," as he had been called.
A great drought fell on Botia, and the people went to
Delphi for help. They were told to consult the oracle
of Trophonius at Lebadea. No oracle was found there
until one man noticed a swarm of bees flying into an
opening in the ground. Following them he heard a voice
that told him what he wished to know.
Those who visited that oracle had to go down a narrow
passage into a cave, and only by night. Coming out
they must walk backward. They were always low-spirited
after such a visit, so that when any one was sad and
gloomy, people said, "He must have been to the oracle