The excavations at Delphi – Scientific American 1909
The excavations at Delphi, known under the name “La Grande Fouille” (the great excavation in french) was of international importance and captured the attention of the public all over the world.Scientific American, New York, May 1909. Vol. C, no 20
THE EXCAVATIONS AT DELPHI Some striking discoveries made by M. Homolle
by the Paris correspondent of the Scientific American
The whole of the site of the sacred enclosure of Delphi has now been uncovered by the excavations which have been carried on by the French School of Athens, under the direction of the eminent archeologist M. Homolle. We have already refer to this subject, but the undertaking is so large in scope that it affords an almost inexhaustible field for description.
The rights of excavation on the site of Delphi were conceded to the French government by a diplomatic agreement which was ratified by the French and Hellenic parliaments in 1891. It was far from easy to carry on the work of excavation.
The site of the ancient sacred enclosure was covered by the village of Castri. Measures had to be taken for removing the whole village, and this required no less than two years, as it was a community of about a thousand inhabitants and contained four hundred houses. This operation alone entailed an expense of over $5 0,000 before any of the excavation work could be commenced.
As to the scope of the Excavations which the French School of Athens carried out, this work bears upon the entire sacred enclosure containing the temple of Apollo and the theater, as well as all the portions which depended upon it, including the stadium, the gymnasium, the celebrated spring of Cassotis, and various edifices.
The work of uncovering , this extensive area required as many as 400 workmen and several miles of track for the 75 light cars which were used for removing the earth. The extent of the excavations covers about a mile and a half in length. in all this large area the excavation was carried down to the virgin soil.
A wonderful assemblage of artistic riches adorned Delphi. There are votive buildings, statues, and various commemorative offerings. Delphi was the great religious center of Greece, and kings and representatives of various nations came to consult the oracle.
On such occasions, as well as after great victories or where there were special reasons for thanksgiving, there were erected what are known as the treasuries or small temple structures containing, no doubt, various precious objects offered to Apollo.
These structures had a high artistic value. Bronze and marble groups were in abundance all around the sacred enclosure, and these were executed, no doubt, by the most celebrated artists. We have one marble statue which is a copy of a work of Lysippus, and a figure taken from a bronze chariot group, one of the most remarkable to be excavated within recent years.
What remains – have been found-and some of them are illustrated here-fully justify the restoration of the sacred enclosure and its monuments under the direction of M. Homolle.
In the accompanying plall view we have a good idea of how the various structures in the Temenos were distributed. The whole, including the theater, is surrounded by a wall, making the enclosure of a somewhat rectangular form. It extends up a rather steep slope of the mountain side.
In the central part is the great Temple of Apollo, which was erected upon a vast terrace or esplanade, thus commanding a view over all the surrounding country. Above, on a higher level, is the theater, while on the lowest land in the foreground regrouped the different votive structures.
We also observe the Sacred Way, which winds up the slope and is bordered by the various buildings, finally reaching the temple terrace. Outside the walls there is a large paved area where the religious processions could be formed before proceeding within the enclosure and along the Sacred Way. On one side of this area was the Merchants’ Portico where various objects were sold, no doubt of a religious character.
One of the most striking of the small votive buildings is the Treasury of Cnidos, which is in the Ionic style, and enough of the remains were found to justify a complete reconstruction such as is now to be seen in the Athens Museum.
This is shown in one of the present views. This reconstruction was made from the portions of frieze which were found and also of the fronton, together with one, of the caryatidesand various architectural motifs which gave the pattern of the borders and other details. Measuring about twenty by thirty feet, is formed a small cella preceded by the entrance portico or prodomos.
The two caryatides are draped female figures of the archaic style, and both of them is the entrance door which is surrounded by a richly decorated lintel.
The arts of the frieze are well preserved. On the front side the frieze represents the combat of the Greeks and Trojans around the body of Euphorbus, under the eye of the divinities assembled in Olympus who were following the struggle and encouraging the various heroes by their gestures. The assembly of divinities bears some analogy to the well known scene which is represented on the frieze of the Parthenon.
On the west side the frieze shows the apotheosis of Hercules who is introduced into Olympus by Athena borne on a chariot with winged horses, and herself represented as winged, while at the other end Hebe descends from the chariot.
The west frieze bears the carrying away of the daughters of Leukippios by Castor and Pollux, with three chariots and horses recalling the Pantheon frieze. A group full of movement is shown on the north frieze, which represents the Gigantomachy, (combat of gods and giants, a favorite subject of sculpture).
On the fronton is a group representing the dispute for the sacred Tripod between Apollo and Hercules. The figures are here sculptured in high relief in the lower part and are entirely detached in the upper part. We also show a detail in view of this group, and it is of interest as showing the appearance of the celebrated Tripod upon which sat the Pythia in the farthermost enclosure of the temple and on the border of the opening below which flowed the sacred spring of Castalia.
Regarding the oracle of Delphi, M. Homolle states that in the early period of the sacred – spot and before the temple of Apollo had been built, the oracle occupied what was known as the sanctuary of the Earth and the Muses, and here were the Rocks of the Sibyl.The sacred spring also flowed underneath this spot.
When the great temple was built, the seat of the Oracle was transferred to this place, and it remained there during all the history of Delphi. Daochos, the tetrarch of Thessaly, erected a votive offering at Delphi consisting of eight life-sized marble statues ranged in line upon a long base structure. The remains of all these statues have been found, and one of them, which is shown here, is very well preserved. These statues (fourth century B.C) represented the various members of the family of Daochos, and the present one is the athlete Agias.
It is to be reckoned among the most important artistic finds of recent years as it or at least of his appears to be the work of Lysippus school. The present statues are in marble and are copies of a similar ex-voto group in bronze which existed at Pharsale, no doubt very faithfully executed after the originals.
We should not forget that Delphi may be likened to a vast concourse of artistic works, so that only the very best were likely to be erected there. We recognize the qualities of the work of Lyssippus in the length of the proportions, the small size of the head and the careful rendering of the hair. The expression of the face,with half open mouth, is to be observed. Under each of the statues was engraved the inscription giving the name of the person. We thus have the remains of Sisyphos, the father of Daochos, in a short tunic; Telamachos, his great-uncle, as a young man leaning upon Hermes, also the cloaked figure of Sisyphos II, his son, which is larger than life. The heads of these statues are missing, however.
Lack of space forbids us to give more than a passing mention of some of the remarkable objects which are here illustrated, such as the bronze charioteer forming part of a group with chariot and four horses, also the colossal marble Sphinx of Naxos (sixth century B. C.) mounted on the top of a high column, and the three graceful female figures forming the top of the acanthus column.