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Dr. John Hale | "The Delphic Oracle" | April 16, 2010 | Toledo Museum of Art

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Dr. John Hale presented "The Delphic Oracle: Modern Science Examines an Ancient Mystery" at the Toledo Museum of Art.  

Ancient Greek and Roman authors stated that the Apollo’s sacred oracle at Delphi in central Greece was located at the site of unusual geological features an phenomena: a chasm or fissure in the rock; an emission of sweet-smelling vapor or gas; and a sacred spring. The priestess who pronounced the oracles, known as the Pythia, sat on a tall tripod above the fissure where she could inhale the vapor, thus triggering a prophetic trance in which she could serve as a medium for the prophetic oracles of the god Apollo. So great was the influence of the woman’s words that scarcely a colony was founded or a war undertaken in Greece for over a millennium without the sanction of the Delphic Oracle. Famous figures from Oedipus and Agamemnon to Alexander the Great and various Roman emperors consulted the shrine. During the 20th century, most scholars adopted a skeptical attitude towards the ancient traditions about Delphi, denying that there had ever been a fissure or a gaseous emission in the crypt of the temple. However, in 1995 an interdisciplinary team was created to study not only the archaeology of Delphi, but also the evidence from geology, chemistry, and toxicology that related to the oracle. The results of the research vindicated the ancient sources. Our team has gone on to study Greek oracle sites elsewhere in the Aegean and Asia Minor, where we have found similar geological features.

Dr. John R. Hale is the Director of Liberal Studies, and Adjunct Professor of Archaeology in the Department of Anthropology, at the University of Louisville, Kentucky. He earned his B.A. at Yale University and his Ph.D. at Cambridge University. Dr. Hale teaches introductory courses on archaeology, as well as more specialized courses on the Bronze Age, the ancient Greeks, the Roman world, Celtic cultures, Vikings, and on nautical and underwater archaeology. Dr. Hale's writing has been published in the journal Antiquity, The Classical Bulletin, the Journal of Roman Archaeology, and Scientific American. He is also the author of "Lords of the Sea" (2009), a volume about the ancient Athenian navy. Dr. Hale has received many awards for distinguished teaching, including the Panhellenic Teacher of the Year Award and the Delphi Center Award. An accomplished instructor, Dr. Hale is also an archaeologist with more than 30 years of fieldwork experience. He has excavated at the Romano-British site of Dragonby in Lincolnshire, England, and at the Roman Villa of Torre de Palma, Portugal. 

Dr. John Hale | "The Delphic Oracle" | April 16, 2010 | Toledo Museum of Art

Run Time: 1:08

Dr. John Hale presented "The Delphic Oracle: Modern Science Examines an Ancient Mystery" at the Toledo Museum of Art.  

Ancient Greek and Roman authors stated that the Apollo’s sacred oracle at Delphi in central Greece was located at the site of unusual geological features an phenomena: a chasm or fissure in the rock; an emission of sweet-smelling vapor or gas; and a sacred spring. The priestess who pronounced the oracles, known as the Pythia, sat on a tall tripod above the fissure where she could inhale the vapor, thus triggering a prophetic trance in which she could serve as a medium for the prophetic oracles of the god Apollo. So great was the influence of the woman’s words that scarcely a colony was founded or a war undertaken in Greece for over a millennium without the sanction of the Delphic Oracle. Famous figures from Oedipus and Agamemnon to Alexander the Great and various Roman emperors consulted the shrine. During the 20th century, most scholars adopted a skeptical attitude towards the ancient traditions about Delphi, denying that there had ever been a fissure or a gaseous emission in the crypt of the temple. However, in 1995 an interdisciplinary team was created to study not only the archaeology of Delphi, but also the evidence from geology, chemistry, and toxicology that related to the oracle. The results of the research vindicated the ancient sources. Our team has gone on to study Greek oracle sites elsewhere in the Aegean and Asia Minor, where we have found similar geological features.

Dr. John R. Hale is the Director of Liberal Studies, and Adjunct Professor of Archaeology in the Department of Anthropology, at the University of Louisville, Kentucky. He earned his B.A. at Yale University and his Ph.D. at Cambridge University. Dr. Hale teaches introductory courses on archaeology, as well as more specialized courses on the Bronze Age, the ancient Greeks, the Roman world, Celtic cultures, Vikings, and on nautical and underwater archaeology. Dr. Hale's writing has been published in the journal Antiquity, The Classical Bulletin, the Journal of Roman Archaeology, and Scientific American. He is also the author of "Lords of the Sea" (2009), a volume about the ancient Athenian navy. Dr. Hale has received many awards for distinguished teaching, including the Panhellenic Teacher of the Year Award and the Delphi Center Award. An accomplished instructor, Dr. Hale is also an archaeologist with more than 30 years of fieldwork experience. He has excavated at the Romano-British site of Dragonby in Lincolnshire, England, and at the Roman Villa of Torre de Palma, Portugal. 
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