Rituals of Futures Making: The case of the Delphic Oracle
Denis Maksimov | Avenir Institute

The new episode of Pythian School of Futures compares ancient oracular practices with forecast methodologies devised by modern institutions, i.e. think tanks. Denis Maksimov examines the foresight of oracles who were believed to be gifted with the ability to provide intelligent and insightful advice or prophetic prescience. He sees their anticipatory speculations as paragons of calculated predictions, to be employed by data scientists and financial analysts in the contemporary world, and poses questions about how the future is produced. Episode 1: The Rituals of Future’s Making: The case of the Delphic Oracle is available to stream at Spotify, Apple, and Google Podcasts.

Episode Notes: 

1. Delphi is located at the foot of Mount Parnassus in Greece and civilization is considered the center of the world as Delphi. This area, formerly known as “Pytho” was a sacred precinct that served as the seat of Pythia, the major oracle who was consulted about important decisions. 



2. The name of Pythia originates from the Iliad and the Odyssey legend, which is considered as the holy book of Greek mythology. Pythia was the godmother of Apollo, the god of beauty. She was the high priestess of the temple of Apollo and is often referred to as the Delphic Oracle.



3. The Delphic Oracle had substantial influence in Ancient Greece because her delirious comments were thought of as prophecies that had decisive effects on worldly matters. People in Greek civilization were visiting Delphi to seek guidance about their problems. They submitted to Pythia as her institution was believed to be able to direct the future. Delphic Oracles were able to give elaborate predictions about politics, economics, culture, and military tactics as well as through insights about history at a hefty price.


4. Oracle (to “speak” in Latin) is an individual or agency considered to provide wise and insightful counsel or prophetic predictions. The most notably including precognition of the future inspired by deities. It is a form of divination. In extended use, oracle may also refer to the site of the prophet and to the oracular utterances themselves called khrēsmē ‘tresme’ (χρησμοί) in Greek.



5. The Battle of Marathon is an important example to understand the difference between foreseeing the future and making predictions for the future. During the golden age of Delphi that took place at the end of the fifth century, the Great Battle of Marathon broke out when Ancient Greece was under the Persian invasion. The battle was the culmination of the first attempt by Persia, under King Darius I to subjugate Greece. It is mentioned that the Athenians made an alliance with the Spartans to survive and used the power of Oracle to defeat the Persian empire. With their strategic moves, the Greek army decisively beat hollow the more numerous Persians, marking a turning point in the Greco-Persian Wars. 



6. Gaia is the personification of the Earth and one of the Greek primordial deities. She is the mother of Uranus which she received from the union of Titans, Cyclopes, and Giants. Gaia is represented in Delphi as the goddess behind the Oracle and Python was a kind of a serpent and the child of Gaia. Python was killed by Apollo to usurp the chthonic power. Through this Gaia passed her powers on to Apollo and The Temple of Apollo was founded by this ability.



7. Athena (also spelled Athene) is the goddess of war, handicraft, and the protectress of the city of Athens in Greek culture. She was in the superintendence of civilizing and protecting the city and urban life. Athena was known as Polias and Poliouchos (both derived from polis, meaning “city-state”). Her temples were usually located at top of a fortified acropolis in the central part of the city which probably stemmed according to the location of the king’s palaces. The Parthenon on the Athenian Acropolis is dedicated to her along with numerous other temples and monuments.



8. Euripides is the last of classical Athens’s three great tragic dramatists, following Aeschylus and Sophocles. He was born c. 484 BC in Athens and died in 406 in Macedonia. Euripides’ plays exhibit his iconoclastic, rationalizing attitude toward both religious belief and the ancient legends and myths that formed the traditional subject matter for Greek drama. He rejected the gods of Homeric theology whom he depicts as irrational and uninterested in meting out “divine justice.”  Gods are so often presented on the stage by Euripides partly due to their convenience as a source of information that could not otherwise be made available to the audience. 




9. Croesus was the last king of Lydia (on the West coast of Anatolia) who was renowned for his great wealth. He conquered the Greeks of mainland Ionia and was in turn subjugated by the Persians. Lack of sea power forced him to form alliances with, rather than conquer, the islanders of Ionia. He was famous for his wars and wealth. Croesus was saved from death many times in wars by the powers of Apollo. He gave many generous gifts from the spoils of war to the oracle at Delphi to benefit from consistent prophecies in battles. 



10. McKinsey & Company is an American global management consulting company, founded in 1926 by University of Chicago professor James O. McKinsey that advises on strategic management to corporations, governments, and other organizations. He conceived the idea after witnessing inefficiencies in military suppliers while working for the U.S. Army Ordnance Department. The company advises on using accounting principles as a management tool.




11. PricewaterhouseCoopers is a multinational and professional service of companies and co-ordinating entity for the worldwide network of the establishment. They manage the global brand and develop policies to create a common approach in situations such as risk and strategy. 




12. RAND Corporation is an American nonprofit global policy think tank created in 1948 to offer research and analysis to the United States Armed Forces. The establishment is financed by the U.S. government and private endowment, corporations, universities and private individuals. The company researches and develops solutions for other governments, international organizations, private companies and foundations with a host of defense and non-defense issues, including healthcare.