What Questions did Ancient Greeks Ask the Oracles?



The Temple of Apollo at Delphi, place of the Oracle of Delphi, the most known being Pythia

Ancient Greeks were curious people and always asked questions about the world and man, as the writings of philosophers of the times indicate. At the same time, in some aspects at least, they were like modern people who want to know the future, searching for answers in astrologers, coffee-cup readers or psychics.

In the ancient days, Greeks went to the oracles to get the answers they wanted. After extensive research, Professor Mika Kajava from the University of Helsinki found some of the most common questions ancient Greeks asked the oracles.  

Kajava found that the concerns and wishes of ancient Greeks were not very different from the ones modern Greeks have. And like today’s Christian Orthodox faithful who pray to God and ask for guidance and answers, the Greeks of the old days ran to the oracles asking very similar questions. 

The Delphic oracle was the most prestigious, with kings and common people putting their questions about their future plans and waiting to receive a response about what the gods thought of them. Pythia is the best known priestess–oracle.

Delphi became so busy that long queues would form on the certain days of the month on which the priestess could be consulted and, in later times, several oracular priestesses would operate at once. But consultants had to be careful how they interpreted the, often unclear, answers of the oracle.

Pythia at Delphi

Will I be happy with the woman I’m marrying? Will I have children? Will I find a good job?Will my next journey to the colonies be dangerous? To which gods should I sacrifice to stay in good health? These are some of the questions ancient Greeks asked the oracles, never getting a clear answer.

Some of the people visited the oracles asking questions to solve crimes and mysteries, expecting the wisdom of the gods and their representatives on earth: “Who stole my sheep?” “Who poisoned Aristovoula?” “Is the child my wife is carrying mine?”

A very common question ancient Greeks asked the oracles was: “To which god should I pray, in order to see my business prosper?”

But the answers were almost always enigmatic. King Croesus of Lydia asked the oracle whether or not he should go to war on his neighboring kingdom. The oracle replied that if he went to war, a great kingdom would fall. Croesus interpreted this as being his enemy’s, but it turned out to be his own kingdom.

When the Persian army under Xerxes approached Athens, the Athenians wanted to know whether to fight the Persians and asked Delphi. Also, ambassadors consulted the oracles as to what policies were preferable.