Nothing to Excess,
Surety Brings Ruin”
– inscribed at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi
Many are aware of the Apollo at Delphi inscription and associate it as words of wisdom, after all, the Temple at Delphi was at the center of global intelligence. Kings, emperors, statesmen, generals from all quarters of the ancient world would travel to the Temple with a very generous payment in gold in hopes that the wisdom of the great god Apollo would be bestowed on them and give strength and power to their particular cause.
One of the most famous prophecies made by the Cult of Delphi, according to the ancient historian Herodotus, was to King Croesus of Lydia. King Croesus was a very rich king and the last bastion of the Ionian cities against the increasing Persian power in Anatolia. King Croesus wished to know whether he should continue his military campaign deeper into Persian Empire territory and whether he should seek a military alliance in such a feat.
According to Herodotus, the amount of gold King Croesus delivered was the greatest ever bestowed upon the Temple of Apollo. In return the priestess of Delphi, otherwise known as the Oracle, (some poor young girl selected once a year with the “right attributes”) would spout nonsensical babble, intoxicated by the gas vapours of the chasm she was conveniently placed over. The priests would then “translate” the Oracle’s prophecy.
King Croesus was told as his prophecy-riddle, “If Croesus goes to war he will destroy a great empire.” Croesus was also told to ally himself with the most powerful Greek state, and he chose Sparta. Croesus was overjoyed and thought his victory solid and immediately began working towards building his military campaign against Persia. Long story short, Croesus lost everything and Lydia was taken over by the Persians. The Spartans never showed up.
It turns out the prophecy-riddle was not wrong, but that Croesus mistook which great empire would fall.
There is likely a great deal of truth in this story. And the words inscribed at the Temple of Apollo “Know Thyself, Nothing to Excess, Surety Brings Ruin” becomes more a foreboding to anyone who dares enter such a Temple in search of wisdom and power; those who are “worthy” of the god Apollo will have the wisdom to solve the riddle of their prophecy and will prevail, those unworthy of Apollo’s “good graces” will fail and be ruined.
It’s a nice story, but it is in fact, a brilliant cover for a global intelligence racket.
The Cult of Delphi was indeed the nerve center of military and political intelligence that had no “allegiance” to any state or empire, but rather was able to use intel that they collected with their network of spies, along with intel they were given by those foolish enough to layout their plans (and their gold) to them. The priests of Delphi would then decide thereupon what information needed to be shared with what target to fit their purpose, a “prophecy” that they shaped, like moving pawns on a chessboard.
The question for those who dared visit the Cult of Delphi was thus not so much about having enough wisdom to solve the veiled prophecy, but rather, ‘What kind of pawn are you to the priests of Apollo?’