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From Delphi to Google: Ancient Oracle to Modern-Day Search Engines

Oracle of Delphi
The Tholos at Delphi, Greece. Credit: Tamara Semina/CC BY-SA 3.0

In ancient Greece the people relied heavily on oracles not only to predict the future, but to reveal secret information and the answers to their deepest philosophical questions.

One of the most famous of all oracles was at Delphi, located in an enormous sacred enclosure consecrated to the god Apollo. Legend and mythology say that Delphi took its name from Delphyne, the serpent that lived there and was killed by the god Apollo. However, in other accounts, the serpent was the male serpent (drakon) called Python.

The mentally unstable Roman emperor Nero, relentlessly tried to learn the timing and circumstances of his death from the Oracle at Delphi.

The message he received was “beware of the seventy-third year,” so the emperor continued on in a false sense of security, until shortly after this omen he was killed by Galba, who happened to be 73 years old.

However, that’s certainly not the only well-known question asked of the oracle. Lead tablets reveal that the brilliant Roman orator Cicero asked the common Google search question: “How to become famous.”

Unfortunately, when Roman emperor Theodosius I ascended to power, the oracle was shut down as it was associated with pagan cults and beliefs. However, it remains a great tourist attraction until this day, as people from all over the world travel to see the ruins of Delphi and the famous Delphic oracle.

Not much has changed in human nature from the times of our ancient ancestors in many ways.

Nowadays, people also try to control the future, seek quick responses to their questions and expect that obtaining information on just about any subject should be instantaneous — like typing a question into Google’s search bar.

In reality, this is only slightly different from writing questions on lead tablets and submitting them to the Oracle of Delphi.

The modern technology that we live with today is very reminiscent of the legend of the Oracle of Delphi since it reflects the basic human need to try to control or at least anticipate the future.

The striking message that the Delphic oracle revealed in ancient days to both Croesus of Lydia and Chilon of Sparta is a message that can still speak to all humans today.

When they asked the oracle what was most important, and the best thing to know, they both received the same answer from the oracle — that you must “know thyself.” Also ascribed to Socrates, this phrase is inscribed on the stones of Delphi.

In other words, the oracle instructed people to consider what expectations and abilities they had on their own in order to best direct their own lives in the future.

Things are not always as they appear at first and people rely heavily on others to solve their problems and change their situations for them, instead of looking inward to see how they can view the world differently and play a different role in the grand scheme of things.

It seems as though the words of the wise Oracle of Delphi are as true today as they were in ancient times.

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