Apolline and Dionysian Ecstasy at Delphi

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Following F. Nietzsche, Apollo and Dionysos are often regarded as opposites. The two brothers, however, shared the same temple at Delphi, considered by the Greek as the umbilical center of the world and the most sacred place on earth. The cults of both gods were focused on actions of women in the state of possession: the Pythia, in the grip of Apollo, uttered prophecies inspired by the god, and the thyiads, known as maenads elsewhere, on alternate years roamed the mountain forests, following the call of Dionysos. Gender misbalance among Dionysos’ rapturous worshippers probably reflects the proclivity of women in patriarchal societies to channel their suppressed psychological tension through ecstatic rites, and the dominance of female prophets as instruments employed by the Greek gods to announce their will to the mortals can be explained as a result of the responsiveness of women to manipulation of consciousness. However, the intersection between Apolline prophecy and Bacchic ecstasy at Delphi suggests a deeper connection between the cults of female votaries of the two gods. This paper presents an overview of the evidence on ecstatic cults of Apollo and Dionysos in Delphi, compares ancient testimonies with insights into the anthropology and neuroscience of alteration of consciousness and suggests that the proximity of the two cults ensued from their deep multi-dimensional connection.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Companion to Ecstatic Experience in the Ancient World
EditorsDiana Stein, Sarah Kielt Costello, Karen Polinger Foster
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9781003041610
ISBN (Print)9780367480325
StatePublished - 31 Dec 2021


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