Snakes!

Oct. 20th, 2008 09:36 pm
porphyry: (Friedrich)
From Diogenes Laertius’ Life of Heraclides of Pontus (trans. from the new Rutgers volume, with some adjustments)

H. of P. raised a snake from the time when it was young and after it had grown up, and when he was about to die, he told one of his trusted attendants to conceal his own body and to put the snake on the bier, so that he would appear to have passed over to the company of the gods. And so it turned out. And when the citizens were in the middle of escorting him to the grave and were speaking his praise, the snake heard the shouting, came out from the funerary attire, and scared most of the crowd. Later, however, all was revealed, and H. was seen not as he seemed to be, but as he was.

…when a famine seized the land, the citizens of Heraclea asked the Pythia for relief. But …H. bribed both the sacred envoys and the sacred envoys and the prophetess, so as to make her reply that they would be released from their distress if they would crown H. … with a golden crown while alive, and when dead honor him as a hero. The falsified oracle was brought home, but those who forges it gained nothing. For immediately on being crowned in the theater, H. was struck with paralysis, and the envoys of the oracle were stoned to death. But also the Pythia in the same hour, as she went down into the adyton and stepped upon one of the snakes, was bitten and breathed her last on the spot.


Heraclides was a student of Plato and lost the election to succeed Speusippus (the first head after Plato) as head of the Academy to Xenocrates.

The second passage is especially interesting since it suggests that the Adyton of Delphi was crawling with snakes (a wonder they survived the ethylene vapors!), which, of course, it was not. But I suspect the passage alludes to a popular (and rather New Agey) belief that the Pythia was possessed by the ghost of the Python, for which there was some evidence in Plutarch.

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