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Student Work: Delphi Inspires Creative Writing

Temple to Apollo at Delphi, Greece. (Photo by Russ Bryant)

Professor Elizabeth Denton’s introduction to fiction writing class visited the site of Apollo‚Äôs temple in Delphi, a place to which people from all across the ancient world traveled to hear the¬†prophecies of the Delphic Oracle, also known as the Pythia.

In preparation for their visit, Professor Peter Krentz provided some historical context for these young writers.

First they heard the legend of how Delphi became the center of the ancient world. Apollo released two birds at opposite ends of the earth at the same time. They met at Delphi, proving that Delphi was the center of the world.

Then the students heard a bit about the Pythia, the priestess at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, located on the beautiful slopes of Mount Parnassus. Krentz described how ancient texts have documented the Pythia inhaling a sweet-smelling gas before prophesying. He related how modern geology has helped demystify the Pythia. As it turns out, the temple sits directly over the spot where two fault lines cross. Not only that, but investigators found evidence of ethylene, a gas that has a sweet smell and in low doses can make one feel euphoric or in a somewhat altered state of consciousness, but still allows one to be able to sit up and speak.

After seeing the archeological ruins and hearing more stories about the Oracle students were asked to write a short piece of fiction inspired by what they saw and by the stories they heard.  The only requirement for the assignment was to set the piece in the modern world.

Please enjoy the following pieces of fiction by Britt Moorman from George Washington University and Sean Stein from University of California San Diegeo.

Temple to Apollo at Delphi, Greece. (Photo by Russ Bryant)


Losing Ground

by Britt Moorman

She whispered to herself a story of two birds, released so they could fly to the center. When the center was reached, it was pierced with celestial light – a white stake that froze in midair with a crack, ground spreading beneath it.

It fell haphazardly. Two pigeons tried to meet in the middle, one falling with a broken wing.

Strangers from near and far would come to the monument to marvel at the bleached stones that reached up up up. Trains grumbled below, screeching in the darkness. Planes flew overhead, shaking the sky into the color of dishwater. She saw the sun slip up, a kite with a broken string. She climbed to the top of the tower but the sun had disappeared.

Strangers from near and far would come to the reflecting pool to purify themselves. They stared into the water and remembered; they stared into the water and forgot. She saw the moon drowning in the pool, a precious necklace dropped into murky water. She waded into the water but the moon had disappeared.

It hung in midair, creaking with wind, suspended like a rusted iron swing.

She whispered to herself a story of a small rock. It spun around the sun. Drops of dew pulsed from it, pulled towards the light of the moon. If the sun and the moon met in the middle, knowledge would drip down onto the center of the rock.

A homeless woman sat by the edge of the water at night, a rainbow pigeon cradled between her wilted fingers. Waiting.


Temple to Apollo at Delphi, Greece. (Photo by Russ Bryant)



by Sean Stein

Maria stood at the very edge of the rock, looking out across the valley, a valley bathed in the golden light of a setting sun. The wind itself seemed to be made of sunlight as it whirled and danced with her long brown hair. She spun once and the length of it swirled around her neck, her waist, her legs, as if caught in a silent storm at the edge of the world. Her glowing amber gown billowed fiercely beneath her as she waltzed with the sun-warmed breeze. Arms held above her, the dress was brilliant and alive; it set her on fire. In her world, just like in her dream, Maria was a radiant sun, one to rival the star disappearing on the horizon.

“Maria, come back!”

                  Maria whipped her head around at the sound and her hair followed. Flying straight from the forest behind her was a delicate, pure white hummingbird. The messenger stopped to hover just inches in front of Maria’s beautiful face and opened its small, pointed beak.

“Be careful, Maria,” it said in a familiar voice.

“Be careful!” screamed Annie, who stood in her white nurse’s uniform, pressed against the rope fence that separated the rugged dirt path from the edge of the cliff.  She reached small, pointed fingers toward Maria, a girl dressed in nothing but a yellow, translucent hospital gown and matching yellow bandana. She was hunched over, staring at the air in front of her, a wide smile stretching her gaunt features.

“Maria!” Annie screeched into the wind. “Come back!”

But Maria saw only her bird. Raising her golden arms, she lifted the delicate crown that graced her head, a small, sunlit circlet that glistened with dozens of tiny, multicolored jewels. She laughed, a song of pure joy, as the hummingbird flew through the hoop in a burst of snowy feathers. He came out the other side brighter, cleaner, more beautiful. Such was her joy that her small white companion couldn’t help but laugh as well and her hair took to swirling around them both.

“Silly bird,” said Maria, throwing her tiara into the wind where it exploded in a cloud of shimmering gold powder. “The Oracle doesn’t need to be careful, little bird. I can fly, like you. I dreamed it!”

“Maria, don’t!” Annie cried from her restricted position behind the rope. She watched the thin, dirty bandana float gently to the rocks below. “Please, you’re not the Oracle. You can’t fly!”

 Annie didn’t dare cross the line, for fear of falling off herself.

Maria stood directly in front of Annie, laughing and twirling, the light shining through her thin, dirty hospital gown, revealing her emaciated figure. Every spin brought her closer and closer to the edge. Annie stood useless in her wrinkled white dress, three unswallowed pills clutched tightly in her hand.

“Please, just come back! Please!”

“I don’t need to come back,” Maria told the bird, smiling a most brilliant smile. “I’m exactly where I should be. Here, with you, and with my sun. I dreamed it. I know!”

She raised her foot, slowly, as if stepping through water. She reached out a delicate hand and the hummingbird flew forward to land on her slender finger, a snowflake set on fire. She kissed its tiny head and threw it back into the air.

Annie watched horrified as Maria’s bare foot stood hovering over nothingness.

“Let us fly, my bird!” Maria called to the setting sun. “I dreamed it!”

And she flew.


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