n Acta Classica : Proceedings of the Classical Association of South Africa - Pindar's Paean 8 and the birth of the myth of the first temples of Delphi

Volume 62 Number 1
  • ISSN : 0065-1141
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Pindar’s fragmentary Paean 8, along with the ancient Delphic verse ‘eagles contribute the feathers and bees the wax’, and Pausanias’ account (10.5.9–13) are the main sources of the narrative concerning the first four temples in Delphi: one temple was constructed of laurel, another of feathers and beeswax, another of bronze, and the fourth of stone. This narrative has always been an enigma. According to ancient and modern scholars, some of these temples were real and some belonged to the sphere of myth. The argument is put forward here that the myth resulted from a misinterpretation of the enigmatic language of Pindar’s paean and the Delphic verse. According to this analysis, the original narrative concerns three (not four) ‘temples’, which in reality were portable shrines. One was made of branches of oleander, another of bronze, and another was sculpted in stone. They represented the ‘hut’ of Apollo, his abode; they were kept in the sanctum and had the form of the object that later became known as the omphalos. They were periodically burnt and buried in a pit in front of the temple during the Septērion ritual, for which Pindar composed his eighth paean. The article also attempts to clarify some important aspects of the early history of Delphi (the architectural structure of the early sanctuary and the identity of the Hyperboreans and the Lokroi).

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