Sunday, August 12, 2007

Turkey Travelogue 6d - Didyma

Under construction for 500 years but never finished, the temple of Apollo at Didyma was a major oracular site that apparently rivaled Delphi in importance. The Blue Guide paints an idyllic picture:
The best time to visit the temple is just after sunset. Most of the tourists have departed by then and only a few silent figures linger among the giant columns. The walls, glimmering in the ghostly afterglow or pallid under a gibbous moon, are home to flocks of rooks which rise, circle then settle above the empty shrine. Only their harsh calls are heard. The oracle is silent.
We arrived in the mid-afternoon heat to find a ruined structure surrounded by tourist shops. My impression from reading the Lonely Planet guide was that the temple was located by the coast, but the sea was nowhere in sight. The visit was worth it, however, because Didyma is an excellent walk-around model of a typical Greek temple--typical, that is, in layout, but not in size:
Most ancient visitors would not have been invited inside, as we were. After washing in the sacred well, those who wished to consult the oracle would sacrifice on the altar before the temple entrance (see the circular area to the left of the next picture):
They would then ascend the stairs to the porch in front of the temple (pronaos) and put their queries to the priests:
From a gap in the wall, they could make out the open-air inner sanctuary (the adyton), which contained the naiskos, the smaller temple structure which held the statue of the god,...
...but they presumably would not have descended through the unusual tunnels on either side of the temple into the adyton itself:
The oracle could not always be 'in' because the prophetess, who served as the mouthpiece of the god, had to fast for three days before each oracular session. During this time of preparation she appears to have stayed within the adytum. After her three-day fast she would enter the naiskos (the rectangular foundations of which are visible toward the end of the sanctuary), sit suspended over the sacred spring on a piece of wood, dip either her foot or her dress into the water, and then provide answers to the questions given to her:
Her responses were then taken up the monumental staircase to the chresmographeion where the priests would convert them into hexameter verse and deliver them in writing to the waiting supplicants:
At least that is one common reconstruction (based primarily on the Oxford Classical Dictionary; see also this useful site). In reality, many details about the oracle's operation remain unclear.

Outside the temple are several inscriptions that mention prophets...
...and "good luck" (ΑΓΑΘΗ ΤΥΧΗ):
Didyma's luck ran out early in the 4th century AD, when the oracle advised "Diocletian to initiate his empire-wide persecution of the Christian church.... Constantine I closed the oracle, and executed the priests; it appears not to have functioned thereafter" (OCD, 467).

Click here for the Turkey Travelogue Index.

No comments: