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A gripping modern-day detective story about the scientific quest to understand the Oracle of Delphi
Like Walking the Bible, this fascinating book turns a modern eye on an enduring legend. The Oracle of Delphi was one of the most influential figures in ancient Greece. Human mistress of the god Apollo, she had the power to enter into ecstatic communion with him and deliver his prophesies to men. Thousands of years later, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist William J. Broad follows a crew of enterprising researchers as they sift through the evidence of history, geology, and archaeology to reveal—as far as science is able—the source of her visions.
The oracle at Delphi influenced politicians and slaves with her prophecies, yet her life and practices are shrouded in mystery. In a fascinating story that is part detective tale and part science report, Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times writer Broad unveils the oracle. In order to prepare for her encounter with Apollo, the oracle descended into a chasm near the temple, where she would breathe the holy pneuma. She would then deliver her prophecies in a trance, sometimes foaming at the mouth and sometimes in a frenzy. When the temple was unearthed in the 19th century, archeologists and geologists searched for the mysterious chasm. Broad traces the history of these efforts and the conflicts they produced. By the mid 20th century, many scientists argued that the chasm never existed. He follows two modern-day Indiana Joneses, geologist Jelle de Boer and archeologist John Hale, as they refute those conclusions by uncovering the chasm and the geological faults that produced hallucinogenic vapors. Broad's lively prose and fast-paced storytelling conduct us on a breathless adventure of religious mystery and scientific discovery and ends with a surprising consideration of the meaning of the oracle's powers and the existence of "shadowy worlds... beyond the ken" of science. B&w illus.