Welcome to the second post in Historia Gaming! Today I will be discussing Delphi, one of the most beautiful and interesting sites in Ancient Greece, home to the Oracle of Delphi -yes this is the woman who sat on a tripod and inhaled lots of fumes. But how does Assassins Creed compare to the real thing? Let’s take a look shall we!
Delphi is situated on the western slope of Mount Parnassus and overlooks the coastal plain to the south and the valley of Phocis. In Greek mythology, the site of Delphi was thought to be the navel of the world and as such was a prominent sanctuary from 1400 BC where originally, the mother goddess Gaia was worshipped. By the 8th century however, the site had transitioned into a place of worship dedicated to Phoebus Apollo. According to myth, Apollo took over the sanctuary at Delphi when he fought and defeated the monster who guarded the navel of the earth, a snake known as Pytho and it is because this snake that Delphi is also known as Pytho. So, with myth and history combined, Delphi was believed to be the home of the gods and the imposing mountain and valley do nothing to dispel this feeling even now. It truly is a place that fills you with awe.
But, sadly, in the game this feeling of awe just isn’t there. This is due to the fact that the game developers have lowered the elevation of Delphi and the dominating presence of Mount Parnassus which looms over the site in reality, isn’t there in the game. Similarly, the game developers have altered the valley so that the steep and sheer drops which characterise the valley in real life, are more of a meandering gentle slope. Overall it is a bit disappointing and as a result when I reached the entrance of Delphi in the game, I had a “is this it?” moment. This is a feeling I didn’t experience when visiting the site in reality, an experience which left me speechless (which is difficult).
However, geography aside, the game developers have done a stunning job at recreating the streets and buildings at Delphi and really have brought the place to life.
Upon entering Delphi in the game, you are immediately assailed by bronze statues and offerings to the gods and as you walk further into the sanctuary, you come across the Athenian Treasury. The Athenians dedicated this treasury to Apollo between the years of 490-485 BC following their victory at the Battle of Marathon against the Persians. It was built with marble from Paros with Doric columns and the treasury would have been ornamented with thirty metopes depicting the exploits of the Greek heroes Theseus and Hercules. What is a metope I hear you ask? See the vertical lines on the top of the treasury with the gaps between them? Simply put the metopes are decorative bits in the middle. Today the Athenian Treasury is the best-preserved monument in Delphi, due to the restoration efforts in 1903-1906 by French archaeologists.
In the game, the Athenian Treasury is stunningly accurate. The columns are Doric in game as in reality and the detail which has gone into the metopes at the top although probably not 100% accurate are still phenomenal, especially as it is difficult to see what the original decorations were (honestly, it’s impossible I just see lumps). The treasury is colourful, like it would have been originally and the size is pretty spot on.
Moving onwards and upwards through the narrow streets of Delphi (made wider in-game for a better player experience), we finally arrive at the Temple of Apollo. Originally constructed in the 7th century BC, the temple sadly burned down in 548 BC and was rebuilt at the end of the 6th century by a wealthy Athenian family. The temple was destroyed again by an earthquake in the 4th century BC but was reconstructed and remained standing until 390 AD when it was destroyed by zealous Christians during the reign of Theodosius. Inside the temple lived the Oracle at Delphi or the Pythia, a chaste woman whose life was dedicated to serving Apollo. Seated on a tripod surrounded by offerings the Pythia would deliver Apollos messages to supplicants who came to hear the words of the god. Her messages were often incoherent and indecipherable and needed further examination by priests of the temple. What caused her divine inspiration? Well this was attributed to fissures in the earth which produced fumes that she would inhale as she sat on her little tripod. Nobody knows exactly what fumes she inhaled, with the topic being a hot debate amongst scholars, but to me one thing is perfectly clear- she was as high as a kite.
In game, the temple of Apollo is beautifully reconstructed and the only major difference is that the temple in the game is destroyed by an earthquake, not by early Christians determined to obliterate paganism. Thus, the version of the temple used in the game is the 5th version which allows Ubisoft to play around slightly with proportions, placement and the surroundings. That being said however in game the temple is pretty accurate. The doorway/ramp up to the temple is situated roughly where it is in reality give or take a few meters and unlike the in-game temple at Sounion, the temple of Apollo doesn’t look squat but elegant. The columns are Doric style like in reality and the colour, metopes and decoration on the temple again fits the style. The only thing that annoys me personally about the temple of Apollo in the game, is the oracle who is not sat on her tripod and is nowhere NEAR as high as she should be.
Moving on to the final topic of discussion at Delphi; the theatre. The theatre at Delphi is built just up the hill from the temple of Apollo and gives spectators a view of the sanctuary and the valley below. It was originally built in the 4th century BC but has been remodelled since then by the king of Pergamon in 160 BC and again in 67 A.D for the emperor Nero’s visit. Subsequent repairs and transformations also took place in the 2nd century A.D apparently instigated by Herodes Atticus. In antiquity, the theatre was used for vocal and musical contests in the Pythian Games which took place every four years to commemorate Apollo’s victory over the snake. The theatre, like the rest of the site was sadly abandoned when Delphi lost significance and when the Christians came to call.
In the game the theatre is well… it’s not too bad! One thing that ruins it for me is that the stunning view over the valley that you get in reality is missing, but that goes back to what I was saying earlier about the whole geographical issue of the in-game Delphi. That aside the game version of the theatre is much smaller than its real-life counterpart – which – could be due to the fact that the ruins we see today date from later remodelling. However, on closer inspection it becomes obvious that the theatre Ubisoft have used for the model at Delphi isn’t based on the one actually at Delphi. The size of the theatre used in-game is a much closer fit to the theatre of Dionysus in Athens which you can see today and it is a pretty accurate reconstruction of that theatre. The stone barriers and VIP seating which are used in the game are also eerily similar to those used in the theatre of Dionysus, but these do not exist in the ruins at Delphi. The theatre therefore is a bit of a let-down as it becomes obvious that Ubisoft just took a model of a theatre and thought ‘this will do’ rather than doing a fully accurate reconstruction.
Historia Accuracy: 9/10
Overall from a classicists perspective and in my humble opinion, the game developers did a phenomenal job of reconstructing Delphi and it is probably one of the most accurate places in the game with painstaking attention to detail.
P.S -Delphi is such a large site it is impossible to discuss it all in one article which is why I have focused on ‘key’ monuments which still stand in part today. Similarly, as Delphi is largely rubble and many of the monuments no longer exist today, it is impossible to discuss the history of every monument or statue alongside an image of how they look today. As I am using my own photographs of these sites for my posts, I will more often than not stick with monuments and statues that exist today.