"Priestess of Delphi," John Collier, 1891, Wikimedia photo.
“Priestess of Delphi,” John Collier, 1891, Wikimedia photo.

Supplicants to approach Delphic Oracle,
Pythia, twin brothers, Tellias and Tellis,
Stated their plight to awaiting priests,
Fear of impending war, Trojans attacking
Greeks, uncertainty of their fate, both
Hooded to conceal their family similarities,
Their mother, god blessed to raise two
Sons identical in face, body, and height.

Lover of art and music, Tellias, deciphered
Poetry and prose on ancient parchment
Texts, language translations god-given gifts.
Whilst a child he sat at priests’ feet, playing
Lute and lyre, music to soothe ethereal gods,
Who accepted his melodic refrains equal as
Burnt offerings, hymns like smoke drifting
Over Grecian flowing fields of grain.

Young Tellis was attuned to mathematics
Of war, computing wingéd paths of arrows
Shot from bows well-strung, distance and
Angle to strike enemies dead, he sat aside
Greek generals, who took his trusted mach-
Inations to unleash ten-thousand barbs
At Trojans, their shield raised head-high,
As they fell wounded in warring waves.

Now as threat of hand-to-hand war loomed
Near, each brother was of fighting age with
Loving wives and children, fear of strife upon
Their home, each destined with differing god-
Woven fates as enchantress Pythia decreed,
Knowledge from rock-fissured fumes, honey-
Hearted truths, dualistic words, imparting
Joyous relief or lacerated hearts.

When both brothers approached the oracle,
They removed their cloaks and bowed, two
Proud Attic sons, semblance of radiant sun
God: tall, muscled, and of olive-skin, Tellias
Offering an ancient papyrus of deific pro-
Phesies, Tellis presenting a bronze xiphos
Ceremonial sword. In unison they spoke,
“Oracle, we seek what guidance you advise.”

Beholding their manly forms, away Pythia
Stepped from tripod throne of sacred sight,
With hands extended toward their faces, she
Contorted as if python bitten, her mind ether-
Wrested in agonizing pain. “I speak one state-
Ment from Apollo, twained in meaning as you
Discern, for that shall be your fate: “You will
Go you will return not in war shall you die.”

Master of arrowed flight, bellicose Tellis
Heard, “You will go, you will return, not in
War shall you shall die,” Learnéd sage-twin
Tellias, his fate woefully misheard: “You will
Go, you will return not, in war shall you die.”
For false prophesies, by Apollo’s hand, earth-
Quakes toppled Delphic temple. Standing
With her twin brother, goddess Artemis, shot
Quick arrows into Pythia’s deceiving breast.

Tellis: “You will go, you will return, not in war shall you die.”
Tellias: “You will go, you will return not, in war shall you die.”
Such is the difference in comma placement or verbal pauses.

For more on “List of oracular statements from Delphi”


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