<br><h3> Chapter One </h3> AESOP AND THE CONTESTATION OF DELPHIC AUTHORITY <p> <p> Let me begin with Aesop at Delphi. The strange, fissured, and uneven texts of the <i>Life of Aesop</i> and the open and permeable tradition that generated them necessitate the assumption of oral circulation of stories about Aesop, taking shape, traveling, and mutating over hundreds of years before the texts were set down in written form. At the same time, it is my contention that Aesop, like other folkloric trickster figures in other cultural traditions, enabled or gave voice to critiques of power and inequitable power relations from below. In these terms, Aesop was a mobile figure within the common or "little" cultural tradition in which nonelite and elite participated together, but a figure generally banned or excluded from elite high culture. As such, stories about Aesop should give us unique access to the rifts and tensions within Greek culture—divergent views, counterideologies, and resistances to all kinds of hegemonic positions, encoded in narrative form. <p> Based on these assumptions, I'd like to try to reconstruct the elements of an ideological critique that may go back to the fifth century BCE, embedded in the story of Aesop at Delphi. For, as we know from Herodotus (2.134–35), traditions on the Life of Aesop were already current in the fifth century BCE—especially the story of his victimization and death at the hands of the Delphians. And Aristophanes (<i>Wasps</i> 1446–48) shows that certain fables already had a fixed place in the tradition of the <i>Life</i>, since he cites the fable of the "eagle and the dung beetle" in the context of Aesop's fatal adventures at Delphi (where it still appears in Perry's <i>Vita</i> G, dated to the first or second century CE). Thus, as scholars have long recognized, the Delphic episode that ends the <i>Life</i> has the oldest secure pedigree and must go back to oral traditions about Aesop already current in the fifth century BCE. I would therefore like to try the experiment of reading the Delphic portion of the <i>Life</i> as a coherent narrative, many of whose elements go back to the classical era. It is my contention that already by the fifth century, Aesop had become "good to think with"—a figure who gave voice to a common civic or popular critique of inequitable and exclusionary institutional practices at Delphi. This critique is not simply a form of "anticlericalism" (the anachronistic and ultimately unhelpful term often used to "explain" critiques of the Delphic priesthood); it is rather a symptom of ongoing tension between the egalitarian ideology that prevailed within most Greek cities and the exceptional privileges and practices exercised by the Delphians who controlled Apollo's Panhellenic oracle. In order to clarify the terms of the critique of Delphi encoded in various Aesop traditions, I will first review the evidence we have for Delphi's distinctive status and practices going back to the archaic and classical periods but continuing for centuries. <p> <p> I. Ideological Tensions at Delphi <p> As far back as the early archaic period, Delphi represented an anomalous site, and one that played a significant role in the development and autonomy of the Greek cities. As Catherine Morgan has argued for this period, the Delphic oracle was importantly instrumental in Greek state formation. In the eighth century, it appears that the oracle participated actively in the negotiation and adjudication of "community problems which ... lay outside the collective experience of the elite of emerging states." Delphi's marginal status, outside the boundaries of the consulting states, made it ideal for this role—as Morgan puts it, consulting the oracle represented "a step outside the spatial context of daily life to the fringes of the social world in order to obtain sanction for action on unusual problems." Morgan concludes: <p> Oracular divination at Delphi was instituted towards the end of the eighth century as a tool to help the authorities of emerging states to deal with unprecedented problems; divination thus served as a means of legitimising the gradual introduction of social change whilst apparently maintaining basic community values.... the real significance of an oracle at Delphi is that it constitutes the first move towards state domination of activity at a sanctuary which otherwise served the personal interests of the elite. <p> <p> The intimate connection Morgan perceives between the rise of the Delphic oracle and Greek state formation is further borne out by the oracle's special prominence in the Greek colonization movement. For, as Carol Dougherty and others have well observed, the Delphic oracle was an essential element both in the reality and in the cultural representation of the colonial foundation of new poleis throughout the archaic and classical periods. <p> But this same spatial marginality simultaneously made Delphi an ideal site for the expression of individual elite power and display that tended to be curtailed within the participants' home cities. Archaeologists have noted a significant shift in the use of scarce metal resources already in the second half of the eighth century, from lavish grave goods to dedication. Ian Morris has argued that this shift was the result of egalitarian pressure on burial practices; elites then turned to dedication outside polis boundaries as a new venue for conspicuous display and as a means of maintaining a monopoly on precious metal. Such highly visible dedications continued at Panhellenic sites like Olympia and Delphi throughout the archaic and classical periods. In like manner, with the foundation of the Pythian Games in the early sixth century, Delphi became a Panhellenic center for elite athletic competition and display. Both these forms of elite display—dedications and athletics—were fraught with ideological tension in the archaic period, and we see a lot of cultural work being done to reconcile elite interests with civic ideology. As a marginal site risen to Panhellenic prominence, Delphi is by no means unique in playing this role; Olympia shows very similar developments. But what is unique at Delphi is the pronounced tension between the important state functions of its oracle coexisting with its status as a highly visible venue for elite display. We might imagine these two tendencies straining against each other at the sanctuary. <p> Furthermore, it would be far too simplistic neatly to separate Delphi's oracular function (as serving state interests) from its sanctuary functions of athletics and dedication (as serving extrapolis elite interests). For individuals as well as states regularly consulted the Delphic oracle. More to the point, access to the oracle was itself inextricably implicated in what we might call an elite economy of dedication and sacrifice. In the first place, it was expensive to consult the oracle; hence the proverb, "Without bronze, Phoebus doesn't prophesy" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). As we know from the text of two special "conventions" preserved between Delphi and individual consulting states, those who wished to consult first had to offer on the main altar a <i>pelanos</i>, or sacred cake, whose cost was fixed at a high price within the sanctuary (and at six to eleven times the price for states as for private individuals). Then there were other special taxes or tariffs to be paid, to compensate the Delphians for the preliminary sacrifice of a goat and other preparatory rituals. Finally, on entering the temple, the consultor was required to sacrifice sheep or goats, and from this sacrifice the Delphians exacted a special share for themselves. Thus in a Delphic convention with Sciathos, preserved in an inscription dating to the first half of the fourth century, this special share is referred to as an offering consecrated to the god "on the sacrificial table" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]): scholars debate whether the Delphians appropriated some special cuts or the entire sacrificial victim "on the table." In addition, later lexicographers, glossing the proverb "Delphic knife," explain that it derives from the Delphians' practice of "taking one share of the sacrificial victims, and [then] exacting another share 'for the knife'" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], Leutsch-Schneidewin I.393, no. 94 Macarius 179). Based on this ancient notice, Georges Roux speculates that "the subaltern personnel of sacrificers, the 'cooks' charged with killing and butchering the animal, claimed for themselves in the guise of a tip a portion 'for the knife.'" <p> This unusual sacrificial procedure made the Delphians a byword in antiquity for greed and rapacity. Hence the Old Comic joke, "When you sacrifice at Delphi, you'll have to buy meat," as well as the proverbial expression, "Delphic knife," which we're told referred specifically to the greed of Delphic priests, or generally to "men who were lovers of profit and inclined to take [something] from everything" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Leutsch-Schneidewin I.393, no. 94). Delphic sacrifice was notorious and, as we shall see, much commented on throughout the archaic and classical periods. For, as Marcel Detienne has observed, this Delphic practice completely contravened the civic ideology of sacrifice, which constituted an egalitarian community of citizens through the direct and equal division of the sacrificial victim among all participants. <p> Second, in addition to the expense, access to the oracle could be difficult and was not always equitably distributed. Oracular consultation regularly occurred only one day a month, although there is some evidence to suggest that extraordinary consultations could sometimes be scheduled for exceptional consultants. On the regular twelve days per year, there could imaginably be quite a crush of visitors eager to consult the oracle. On each day, the Delphians reserved for themselves the right of first consultation. Normally, the sequence of consultors thereafter was determined by a fixed order of precedence and by lot, but the Delphians could also award honorary grants of priority (called <i>promanteia</i>) to different individuals and states. A remarkable sequence in Herodotus shows how this grant of <i>promanteia</i> might come about. According to Herodotus, when Croesus first ascertained that its oracle was a "true oracle," he dispatched lavish gifts to Delphi: three thousand of each kind of sacrificial animal; gilded and silver-plated furniture and purple garments immolated for the god; and huge numbers of gold and silver dedications (Hdt. 1.50–52). Then, on receiving two more oracular responses that pleased him, Croesus went even further; as Herodotus tells it: <p> Sending again to Pytho, he presents the Delphians (having learned their number) with two staters of gold for each man. And the Delphians, in exchange for these things, gave to Croesus and the Lydians <i>promanteia</i> and <i>ateleia</i> and <i>prohedria</i>, and granted that it be permissible for any one of them who wanted to become a Delphian for all time. (Hdt. 1.54) <p> <p> Here, Croesus and the Lydians are awarded <i>promanteia</i>, the right of priority in oracular consultation; <i>ateleia</i>, exemption from all taxes levied on those consulting; and <i>prohedria</i>, the right to front-row seats for the Pythian and other festivals at Delphi. Beyond that, Croesus and all his subjects in perpetuity can become Delphic citizens if they wish—that is, they are honorary Greeks. It is worth noting how, on both sides of this exchange, Apollo and his Delphic shrine are inseparably linked with the polis of Delphi and its citizens. Croesus combines gifts to the god (dedications) with the distribution of monetary gifts to each Delphic citizen, while his heroic-scale sacrifices clearly benefit both. The Delphians likewise reciprocate with an award of privileges that combine the oracular, the festive, and the properly civic. At Delphi, it appears, it is impossible to disengage the god of shrine and oracle from the citizens who are also his faithful servants. <p> In practice, all these Delphic institutions give the lie to—or at least severely qualify—Pindar's ideologically loaded characterization of Apollo's shrine as a [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ("all-receiving temple," <i>Pythian</i> 8.61–62). These practices might thus be said to produce a unique tension between individual cities' reliance on the Delphic oracle and the special access and status granted there to members of a Panhellenic (or even international) elite. Or—to put it in more abstract terms—between the generally egalitarian ideology of the Greek cities and the Delphians' inequitable distribution of scarce symbolic resources (oracular access and sacrificial portions), over which they enjoyed a virtual monopoly. <p> <p> II. The Aesopic Critique <p> I want to suggest that this tension generated a popular civic critique of such problematic Delphic practices through the figure of Aesop—a critique that dates back at least to the fifth century BCE but endures, as the Delphic practices themselves endure, for centuries. M. L. West has noted that there is a sudden explosion of references to Aesop starting in the mid-fifth century and continuing throughout the classical period. It is at this point, I would contend, that Aesop becomes "good to think with" for a tradition of local, civic resistance to Delphi. Thus our earliest references to Aesop (in Herodotus and Aristophanes) suggest that stories about his ill-fated trip to Delphi circulated on Samos and in Athens (and we might imagine in other mainland and East Greek cities as well). In these traditions of Aesop at Delphi, Aesop consistently challenges and demystifies the elitist practices and privileges I've just described, calling into question the delegated authority and autonomy of the Delphians and of the oracular god himself. <p> These elements continue and survive in the traditions around Aesop because the Delphic institutions critiqued themselves continue for centuries. But this critique draws its point and animus from the organizing structure of the polis, and so (as we shall see) its elements begin to disaggregate and fade in a later period when the individual cities lose their primacy. This is a speculative claim, based as it is on the <i>Life of Aesop</i> and other traditions that were committed to writing many centuries later. In order to justify this claim for a critique that arises in the fifth century, I will attempt to demonstrate a coherent pattern in the <i>Life</i> and other traditions around Aesop, drawing on independent scholarly arguments that parts of the pattern at least seem to go back to the classical period. I will at the same time demonstrate that this pattern bears significant similarities to other, sixth- and fifth-century commentary on the problematic status and sanctity of Delphi. This is thus a structuralist approach, akin to the historian Peter Burke's "regressive method," that attempts to reconstruct a culturally distinctive signifying system from fragmentary details, some preserved in archaic and classical sources, others embedded in much later written accounts. <p> In the first place, it is important to emphasize that the Aesopic critique is not limited to the human representatives of Apollo, but extends to the Delphic god himself and his claim to an "oracular monopoly." As the positive version is formulated, Apollo's Delphic oracle alone gives voice directly to the will or plan of his father Zeus. We find this claim made explicitly in the sixth-century Panhellenic and pro-Olympian discourse of the Homeric Hymns. Thus, briefly, in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo, when the newborn god asserts his privileges (ll. 131–32): "Let the cithara and the curved bow be dear to me, and I shall prophesy to men the unerring plan of Zeus"; and much more elaborately in the <i>Homeric Hymn to Hermes</i>, in response to the younger god's importunate request for a share of Apollo's mantic power (ll. 528–40): <p> But then I will give you the very beautiful staff of prosperity and wealth, golden, triple- leaved, which will guard you unharmed as it accomplishes all the settings of good words and deeds, however many things I claim to know from the divine voice of Zeus. But, as for the mantic power you ask for (O best of gods, Zeus-nurtured), it is ordained neither for you nor for any other of the immortals to know it; for the mind of Zeus knows it. But I, entrusted [with it], nodded and swore a mighty oath that no other of the ever-living gods apart from me would know the dense-thinking counsel of Zeus. And so, brother, bearer of the golden staff, do not bid me furnish the divine decrees, however many things broad-seeing Zeus plots and plans. <p> <i>(Continues...)</i> <p> <p> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>Aesopic Conversations</b> by <b>LESLIE KURKE</b> Copyright © 2011 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.