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 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 is 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.