ArticlePDF Available

The Delphic Oracle: A Multidisciplinary Defense of the Gaseous Vent Theory


Abstract and Figures

Ancient historical references consistently describe an intoxicating gas, produced by a cavern in the ground, as the source of the power at the oracle of Delphi. These ancient writings are supported by a series of associated geological findings. Chemical analysis of the spring waters and travertine deposits at the site show these gases to be the light hydrocarbon gases methane, ethane, and ethylene. The effects of inhaling ethylene, a major anesthetic gas in the mid-20th century, are similar to those described in the ancient writings. We believe the probable cause of the trancelike state of the Priestess (the Pythia) at the oracle of Delphi during her mantic sessions was produced by inhaling ethylene gas or a mixture of ethylene and ethane from a naturally occurring vent of geological origin.
Content may be subject to copyright.
The Delphic Oracle: A Multidisciplinary
Defense of the Gaseous Vent Theory
Henry A. Spiller,
*John R. Hale,
and Jelle Z. De Boer
Kentucky Regional Poison Center, Louisville, Kentucky
Department of Anthropology, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky
Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Wesleyan University,
Middletown, Connecticut
Ancient historical references consistently describe an intoxicating gas, produced by
a cavern in the ground, as the source of the power at the oracle of Delphi. These
ancient writings are supported by a series of associated geological findings.
Chemical analysis of the spring waters and travertine deposits at the site show these
gases to be the light hydrocarbon gases methane, ethane, and ethylene. The effects of
inhaling ethylene, a major anesthetic gas in the mid-20th century, are similar to
those described in the ancient writings. We believe the probable cause of the
trancelike state of the Priestess (the Pythia) at the oracle of Delphi during her
mantic sessions was produced by inhaling ethylene gas or a mixture of ethylene and
ethane from a naturally occurring vent of geological origin.
Key Words: Delphi; Ethylene; Altered mental status; Oracle
Oracles were usedin the ancient world to gain insight to
the future. Oracles were believed to have unique access to
the gods of a particular religion and through this access
were often able to see into the future. The most revered
oracle in ancient Greece was located at the town of Delphi
in the temple of Apollo, the god of prophecy. The prestige
of this oracle made Delphi the most important, influential,
and wealthy sacred place in the entire Greek world. For at
least a thousand years, the pronouncements of the Delphic
oracle offered divine guidance on issues ranging from the
founding of colonies to declarations of war, as well as
advice on personal issues.Rulers of Greece, Persia, and the
Roman Empire made the arduous journey to this
mountainous site. The ancient Greeks believed that the
Copyright q2002 by Marcel Dekker, Inc.
*Corresponding author. Mr. Henry Spiller, Kentucky Regional Poison Center, P.O. Box 35070, Louisville, KY 40232-5070. Fax:
502/629-7277; E-mail:
Clinical Toxicology, 40(2), 189–196 (2002)
prophetic power of the Delphic oracle derived from the
unique location of the temple at Delphi. According to
classical authors such as Plutarch and Cicero, the priestess
who spoke the prophecies (the Pythia) sat on a tripod that
spanned a fissure or cleft in the rock deep within the temple
of Apollo. A pneuma (breath, wind, vapor) rose from this
chasm into the recessed inner sanctum, or “adyton,” where
it intoxicated the Pythia and inspired her prophecies.
During the last century, however, these ancient testimonies
have been challenged and dismissed as unreliable, even as
fraud. We use a combinationof the ancient texts, geological
evidence, and modern understanding of the properties of
anesthetic gases to defend the argument that the prophesies
of the Pythias in fact occurred after an intoxication from
gases of geological origin.
When French archaeologists began to dig at Delphi in
the 1890s, they expected to findan elaborate marble temple,
fine statuary, and an inner sanctum built on bedrock with a
large cleft or fissure in the floor. To their disappointment,
the excavations revealed only the foundations of the
Temple of Apollo, along with parts of fallen columns. The
center of thetemple had no floor, but instead of revealing an
expanse of fissured bedrock or the mouth of a cave it
seemed to be built over a thick bed of natural clay.
A visiting English scholar was the first to express
skepticism about the ancient traditions (1). Half a century
later, an influential book was published by one of the
leaders of the French team (2). Amandry maintained that
there was no archaeological evidence in the temple itself
to support the belief in a fissure or a gaseous emission
(2). Moreover, he claimed that such an emission would
be geologically impossible in the limestones of Mount
Parnassus and stated that such vapors are only produced
in volcanic areas.
The great authority of Amandry persuaded almost all
historians, classicists, and archaeologists, except the
Greeks themselves, that the ancient tradition recorded by
Plutarch, Diodorus, and other writers was either a myth, a
confusion, or a deliberate fraud. Most modern books on
Delphi state categorically that there was not and could
not ever have been an intoxicating gaseous emission
inside the Temple of Apollo (3,4).
The historical defense of the gaseous vent theory is
based on evidence that includes ancient Greek and Latin
texts as well as the archaeological remains of the temple
and sanctuary. The literary texts include the testimony of
ancient historians such as Pliny and Diodorus, philoso-
phers such as Plato, poets such as Aeschylus and Cicero,
geographers such as Strabo, the travel writer Pausanias,
and even a priest of Apollo who served at Delphi—the
famous essayist and biographer Plutarch. These writers
consistently link the power of the oracle to natural features
inside the temple, such as a fissure, a gaseous emission, and
a spring. The geographer Strabo (64 B.C.– 25 A.D.) wrote:
They say that the seat of the oracle is a cave that is
hollowed out deep down in the earth, with a rather
narrow mouth, from which arises pneuma that
inspires a divine frenzy; and that over the mouth is
placed a high tripod, mounting which the Pythian
priestess receives the pneuma and then utters
oracles in both verse and prose.
The historian Diodorus of Sicily (first century B.C.)
noted an additional element in his description of the
Delphic oracle:
They say that the water of the Cassotis spring
plunges underground and emerges in the adyton of
the temple, where it makes the women prophetic.
While the Temple of Apollo was run by men, the
person who spoke the oracles was always a woman. She
was given the title “Pythia.” The Pythia served as a
medium for Apollo, who was believed to take over her
body and voice during her prophetic trances. The priest
Plutarch described the supposed relationship between the
god, the Pythia, and the natural forces by picturing the
god Apollo as a musician, the Pythia as his musical
instrument, and the pneuma, or vapor, as the plectrum or
tool with which he drew sounds from the instrument. The
Pythia was always a woman of the settlement of Delphi,
but she could be old or young, rich or poor, well educated
or illiterate. While she was serving as oracle, or
mouthpiece of the god, the Pythia lived in the sanctuary,
abstained from sexual intercourse, and fasted on or
before the days scheduled for oracular sessions. During
normal trances she heard the questions of visitors and
gave coherent, if cryptic, replies in verse or ordinary
speech. Occasionally she was seized with a violent
delirium rather than a benign trance.
The oracles at Delphi were delivered when the Pythia
was placed on a tripod (somewhat like a modern
Spiller, Hale, and De Boer190
barstool) in an enclosed chamber within the temple
called the adyton, a Greek term meaning literally “do not
enter.” The Pythia alone remained in the adyton. Those
consulting the oracle remained in a separate antechamber
nearby. The one surviving depiction of the adyton seems
to show that it had a low ceiling held up by a column or
columns (Fig. 1). This part of the temple was recessed
below the main floor level of the temple entrance.
Visitors descended a long narrow ramp or staircase to
reach the lower level of the waiting room and the
Pythia’s adyton.
Only nine times each year did the woman mount the
tripod, enter the trance state, and speak for the god. These
sessions were held on “Apollo’s Day,” the seventh day
after each new moon in spring, summer, and fall. The
oracle did not operate during the three months of winter.
During days of oracle activity, the Pythia would initially
be brought by priests of the temple from a secluded and
protected residence and led through a series of
purification and religious rituals in preparation for her
performance. Eventually she was led down into the inner
sanctum of the temple (the adyton ).
The geological defense of the gaseous vent theory is
supported by a series of associated facts: (1) the location
of the temple directly above the intersection of two major
faults, (2) the location of springs emerging from the
ground inside and around the temple, (3) the limestone
formations of the area containing petrochemicals, (4) the
unique design of the temple, (5) the fact that the oracle
did not function in the cold winter months, and (6) the
documentation of the presence of hydrocarbon gases
from the spring waters and travertine deposits.
The temple at Delphi is on a site intersected by major
tectonic faults that are part of the Korinth rift zone, a
region of crustal spreading (Fig. 2) (5). It sits on the
mainland of Greece on the southern slopes of the
Parnassos mountain range. Evidence for the recent
geologic activity of one of these faults includes
earthquakes and landslides. Evidence for intermittent
seismic activity is important as it helps to explain: (1) the
venting of the gases over an extended period of time, (2)
the periodic changes in the intensity of the gaseous
emissions, and (3) the eventual cause of their cessation.
Neeft believes that an earthquake destroyed the main part
of the Delphi settlement around 730 B.C. Delphi’s
highest period of prestige and wealth followed this event
and lasted to the end of the fifth century B.C. Another
earthquake severely damaged the temple in 375 B.C. and
again in 23 A.D. Quakes in the area have been reported in
1580, 1769, and 1870. Early references to landslides may
have been indicative of seismic activity in the region.
Rockfalls thwarted attempts to ransack the temple
complex by the Persians in 480 B.C., the Phocians in
354 352 B.C., and the Gauls in 279 278 B.C. Pechoux
Time and again earthquakes had rumbled here,
frightening away the plundering Persians and a
Figure 1. Only surviving depiction of the Pythia from the
time when the oracle was active.
Figure 2. Intersection of the Kerna Fault and the Delphi
Fault. The temple site is located directly above this intersection.
The Delphic Oracle 191
century later the plundering Phocians and a century
later the plundering Gauls; it was the God
protecting his shrine.
The oracle site is underlain by a limestone formation
of late Cretaceous age, which contains layers rich in
bitumen (oil). These limestone deposits formed some
100 million years ago in a shallow tropical sea. The
tectonic collision between the Eurasian and African
plates lifted these rocks above sea level to form the
mountain range of the Parnassos. Friction along fault
planes during slips heated and vaporized the lighter
constituents in the bituminous layers forming hydro-
carbon gases. The most likely path for the gases to follow
upwards would be to rise through the fault lines dissolved
in percolating ground water and to emerge eventually as
springs. There were a number of such springs recorded at
the Delphi site, including the Cassiotis that emerged in
the adyton.
It is interesting to note that the mantic sessions of the
Delphi oracle were never held during the winter months
when the god Apollo was believed to have gone north to
the land of the Hyperboreans. This suggests that the gas
emissions at Delphi may have diminished during the
colder periods when much of the water had accumulated
on Mount Parnassos as snow and ice, and ground water
temperatures were relatively low. As the ground water
temperature rose in the spring, more of the gas it had
incorporated was released.
Another key feature to support the argument for a
geological vent is the unique design of the temple.
Despite being one of the richest sites in ancient Greece,
the temple had an earthen floor in its center with stone
walls surrounding it. This unique construction, as
opposed to the standard stone floor of the other major
temples, suggests the design followed a physical need.
The site certainly did not lack funds or engineers, as
evidenced by the other major buildings at Delphi such as
the gymnasium, theater, and Temple of Athena.
A final note of importance is the relationship of
seismic activity and continued gas emissions. Because of
changes in the solubility of calcium in enriched ground
water the spaces in the fault zones would be slowly and
inexorably filled with calcite. Such a process would
inevitably clog or close the exit pathways for the trapped
gases. To reopen such pathways brecciation is needed.
Such a process commonly results from motion along a
fault. Periodic seismic activity, as has been recorded in
the area, is necessary to produce a ten-century-long
venting of gas deposits. Additionally, seismic activity is
also probably responsible for the final silencing of the gas
vents and of the oracle. Significant earthquakes shift the
flow of ground water with its dissolved gases, frequently
forcing it to emerge elsewhere along the fault.
A collapsed section of the ruined temple floor has
been tentatively identified as the possible site of the
adyton (26). It should be noted that three springs have
been identified at the site whose location of emergence
and flow all follow a pattern of northwest to southeast in
a path that follows the geologic direction of the fault line
and that crosses directly under the temple itself (Fig. 3).
Chemical analysis by gas chromatography was
recently performed on water samples from the springs
in and around the temple site and from travertine deposits
in the adyton using a headspace equilibrium technique
(5). The results of these samples have identified the
trapped gases as primarily methane, ethane, and
ethylene. Results showed the presence of methane and
ethane in the travertine deposits with no ethylene
detected. Evaluation of the spring water, however,
showed a greater concentration of ethylene than ethane,
with 0.3 and 0.2 nM/L, respectively. Ethylene is a
significantly less stable molecule than ethane and
methane, and may not have remained intact in the
travertine deposits in the proportions that originally
existed (11).
Figure 3. Location of fault line under temple and of the
springs’ emergence from ground.
Spiller, Hale, and De Boer192
The concentration of gases that were produced by the
ground vent at the time the oracle was functioning is
unknown. In all likelihood, the strength of the vent varied
over the centuries due to geological conditions, and in
fact Plutarch remarks on the waxing and waning of the
oracle over time. The oracle was reported to have ceased
to function sometime prior to the fourth century A.D. It is
unclear that if 1800 years after the reported cessation of
the vent, the gases present today reflect the same
proportion as existed in ancient times.
The third portion of the defense of the gaseous vent
theory is that the volatile fumes produced an altered
mental state that is similar to that produced by inhalation
of anesthetic gases. The effects described in the Pythia
are the same as the first stage of anesthesia, alternately
referred to as the excitation or amnesia phase (Table 1).
Of the three proposed gases, all have the potential to
produce an altered mental state, with ethylene .
ethane .methane (6). In present day volatile inhalant
abuse, hydrocarbon gases remain one of the primary
sought-after substances for their intoxicating properties
(7 10). In one report on volatile inhalant abuse, three of
the top four volatile substances chosen for abuse were
aliphatic hydrocarbons (7). Of the three gases available at
Delphi, ethylene is the most likely candidate to have
produced the intoxicating vapor. Ethane, however, would
be nearly equipotent and a mixture of the two would also
produce significant altered mental status (6).
Ethylene is a simple aliphatic hydrocarbon gas
), with a sweet odor detectable at 700 ppm (11).
It was one of the major inhalational anesthetic gases used
in general anesthesia from the 1930s through the 1970s
(12 16). Induction of full anesthesia with ethylene
occurs rapidly (12,13,16 – 18). In less than 2 minutes after
inhalation, levels of ethylene in the brain are capable of
producing full anesthesia (16,17,19,21). Bourne found
ethylene to be approximately 2.8 times as potent as
nitrous oxide or ether (16). Some of the advantages of
ethylene were its rapid onset and clearance, and the lack
of respiratory and cardiovascular depressing effects. This
is primarily due to low solubility and distribution outside
of the vascular compartment. The major disadvantages
were the rare fires or explosions in the operating room
(22,23). It was replaced with safer, less explosive gases
by the 1970s.
There are relatively few eyewitness descriptions of
the Pythia in her intoxicated state. This is most likely
because relatively few insiders knew the inner workings
of the temple. The descriptions that do exist offer two
distinct pictures of the Pythia in her intoxicated state. The
first is the normal and “working state” of a calm relaxed
woman able to respond to questions with visions that in
many cases were random and not apparently associated
Table 1
Comparison of Historical Descriptions of Usual Response/Presentation of the Pythia with That of Mild Anesthesia via Inhalational
Anesthetic Gases
Description of Pythia at Delphi
from a “Normal” Mantic Session
Description of Mild Anesthesia with
Ethylene or Nitrous Oxide
Rapid onset of trance state Full effects in 30 seconds to 2 minutes (Borne)
Calm response, willingly entered the adyton.
Remained there for hours
Pleasant state of being, no sense of anxiety or asphyxiation. Happy to
stay under influence of gas for long periods of time (Lockhardt)
Remain conscious Remain conscious (Lockhardt)
Able to maintain seated position Able to maintain seated position (James)
Can see others and hear questions Responds to questions and write answers (James)
Tone and pattern of speech altered Pattern of speech altered
Describe out of body experience—Feeling of being
possessed by the god Apollo
Altered state—experienced religious revelations (James)
Free Association—images not obviously connected
to questions
Free Association—random thought pattern not obviously connected to
initial question (James)
Recovers rapidly Complete recovery in 5 – 15 minutes from full operable anesthesia (Herb)
Amnesia of events while under influence Amnesia of event while under influence (Lockhardt, James)
Based on evidence from Plutarch, Plato, Lucan, and other ancient authors, as well as depiction of Pythia on a vase from the fifth century.
The Delphic Oracle 193
to the subject at hand (Table 1). The second description is
that of an apparently rare event of a delirious, ataxic, and
combative woman, described as in a frenzy. Both
descriptions are consistent with intoxication by ethylene
and the early stages of anesthesia. This was a naturally
occurring vent. Strict control of the flow of gas would not
exist and therefore control of the depth of anesthesia
would be crude, if at all. The likelihood of an adverse
event is high with hundreds of subjects over the ten
centuries using a poorly controlled source of gas.
Lockhardt et al., in their description of the first human
experiments with ethylene as an anesthetic gas, reported
10 of their 12 subjects had a very pleasant experience.
However, two of the 12 had periods of excitement,
confusion, and combative behavior.
An interesting modern illustration of the power of
mild anesthesia to produce a religious visionary state
comes from the philosopher William James who, during
the late 19th and early 20th century, experienced
religious mysticism and “extraordinary revelations”
while experimenting with nitrous oxide. Descriptions
of his “sessions” are similar to descriptions of the
“normal” Pythia (24,25).
The most dramatic and detailed descriptions of the
Pythia are during sessions gone awry. This situation,
however, is not unlike the modern medical literature
where case reports of difficult cases or adverse events get
published in great detail, while the many “normal” cases
go unrecorded and unpublished.
The most reliable documentation of the Pythia during
her mantic sessions comes from the essayist Plutarch. His
description of a mantic session gone awry correlates well
with the effects that have been reported from the
excitation phase of anesthesia: confusion, agitation,
ataxia, and delirium. Plutarch described how a rich
deputation from abroad had come to the temple for a
consultation. The preparatory rituals indicated it was not
the proper time but eventually the Pythia was forced to
take her position on the tripod by the temple priests who
were interested in satisfying the rich clients.
She went down into the oracle unwillingly and half-
heartedly; and with her first responses it was at once
plain from the harshness ofher voice thatshe was not
responding properly; she was like a laboring shipand
was filled with a mightyand baleful spirit. Finallyshe
became hysterical and with a frightful shriek rushed
toward the exit and threw herself down, with the
result that not only the members of the deputation
fled but also the oracle-interpreter Nicander and
those holy men that were present.
Marcus Anneeaus Lucanus (Lucan) relates another
story of a mantic session gone awry. It is the story of
when the Roman Governor and General Appius Claudius
consulted the oracle. Appius Claudius desperately
needed a consultation concerning which side to join in
the Roman civil war between Caesar and Pompey. He
had traveled a great distance; however, it was not the
seventh day and the oracle was not open for business.
The Roman general forced the oracle to open for him and
forced the Pythia down into the chamber against her will.
Lucan reports:
She initially dreaded the oracle recess of the inner
shrine, she halted by the entrance and counter-
feiting inspiration uttered feigned words from a
bosom uninspired; with no inarticulate cry of
indistinct utterances proved that her mind was not
inspired with the divine frenzy. Her words that
rushed not forth with the tremulous cry, her voice
had not the power to fill the space of the vast
It is interesting to note that the ancient Greeks noted a
change in her speech, both in tone and in pattern. The
idea that lack of indistinct utterances proved her mind
was not inspired, suggests recognition of a different
clinical presentation during the time of “possession.”
Appius Claudius was not happy with the initial efforts of
the Pythia and is reported to have shouted down to her:
Profane wretch. I have come to inquire about the
fate of this distracted world. Unless you stop
speaking in your own voice and go down to the
cave for true inspiration the gods whose oracles
you are taking in vain will punish you—And so
will I!
Lucan, then describes how, terrified by the Roman
General, the Pythia entered the adyton.
And her bosom for the first time drew in the divine
power which the inspiration of the rock, still active
after so many centuries, forced upon her. At last
Apollo mastered the breast of the priestess. Frantic
she careens about the cave, with her neck under
possession, she whirls with tossing head through
the void of the temple she scatters tripods that
impede her random course.
What they appear to be describing are consistent with
the excitation phase of general anesthesia. Lockhardt
et al., when working with ethylene, describe a period of
ataxia after ethylene intoxication and later describe two
of their 12 subjects going through a period of excitement
Spiller, Hale, and De Boer194
“so that restraint by holding down of the extremities was
necessary” (12).
Another piece of supporting evidence is the report by
Plutarch of a sweet odor like that of perfume that would
drift to the outer sections of the temple from the adyton.
Ethylene has a slight smell that is described as sweet with
odor recognition at 700 ppm (11). That this odor was
detectable in the outer sections of the temple, after
diffusion over a large area, strongly suggests that greater
concentrations existed in the enclosed adyton where the
Pythia sat. The unique setup of the temple at Delphi, with
a history of a recessed enclosed cell, would tend to
concentrate the fumes around the Pythia allowing for a
more significant exposure (Fig. 4). Also there is
archeological evidence of efforts by the Greeks to
concentrate the fumes by capping the vent and funneling
it through a directed opening (26). It is suggested that the
tripod of Pythia was then placed directly over this
funneled gas jet.
Historically with ethylene, a mixture of 70– 80%
ethylene and 20– 30% oxygen was used to produce full
operable anesthesia. Mixtures of 20% ethylene and 80%
oxygen were also used successfully (13). A concentration
of less than 20% would be capable of producing an altered
mental state while allowing her to remain conscious. This is
something that could easily be produced using a directed
vent in a small, enclosed chamber.
Another intriguing piece of evidence is offered by the
sole representation of the Pythia existing from the period
when the oracle functioned. It is interesting to note the
unusual slumped posture of the Pythia, in a period when
Greek human forms were proudly rendered with rigid
erect posture (Fig. 1). The artists of the period did not
attempt to portray her as raving and flailing, nor as erect
and alert, but rather slumped over, as one would expect
from a mildly anesthetized woman.
Another example from the ancient texts that suggest
mild anesthesia is the report that the Pythia did not
remember her utterances or other events after she had
recovered. This is typical of the first stage of anesthesia,
sometimes referred to as the stage of amnesia and
analgesia (27). Luckhardt et al. also describe amnesia of
the period under the influence of ethylene (12).
Several other interesting similarities exist but their
value is unclear. The ritual to prepare the Pythia for her
ordeal, for instance, involved fasting the day of the
ordeal. Similar advice is given to patients undergoing
anesthesia to fast the night before surgery. The well-
known side effect of nausea and vomiting may have been
learned by the ancient Greeks and incorporated into their
In conclusion we believe that: (1) the ancient texts all
consistently refer to a gas or breath from a cavern as the
source of the marvel at Delphi, (2) the geological studies
show the existence of conditions for producing
hydrocarbon gases in a manner consistent with the
ancient texts, and (3) intoxication by one of the
hydrocarbon gases, ethylene, produces effects consistent
with the descriptions of behavior of the Pythia in the
ancient texts. We believe the probable cause of the
trancelike state used by the Pythia at the oracle of Delphi
during her mantic sessions was produced under the
influence of inhaling ethylene gas or a mixture of
ethylene and ethane from a naturally occurring vent of
geological origin.
1. Oppe, A.P. The Chasm at Delphi. J. Hellenic Stud. 1904,
24, 214240.
2. Amandry, P. La Mantique Apollinienne a Delphes;
Boccard: Paris, 1950; 215 230.
3. Fontenrose, J. The Delphic Oracle; University of
California: Berkeley, 1978; 9 10.
Figure 4. Sketch of the Pythia in the adyton, showing
fractures from which gaseous emission rose into the small,
enclosed structure. Based on archeological text and findings in
the temple remains.
The Delphic Oracle 195
4. Parke, H.W.; Wormell, D.E.W. The Delphic Oracle, v. II:
The Oracular Responses; Blackwell: Oxford, 1956;
5. De Boer, J.Z.; Hale, J.R.; Chanton, J. New Evidence for
the Geological Origins of the Ancient Delphic Oracle
(Greece). Geology 2001,29, 707 710.
6. Dorsch, R.R.; De Rocco, A.G. A Generalized Hydrate
Mechanism of Gaseous Anesthesia. Physiol. Chem. Phys.
1973,5, 209223.
7. Spiller, H.A.; Krenzelok, E.P. Epidemiology of Inhalant
Abuse Reported to Two Regional Poison Centers.
J. Toxicol. Clin. Toxicol. 1997,35, 167173.
8. Esmail, A.; Meyer, L.; Pottier, A.; Wright, S. Deaths from
Volatile Substance Abuse in Those Under 18 Years:
Results from a National Epidemiological Study. Arch.
Dis. Child. 1993,69 (3), 356360.
9. Parks, J.G.; Noguchi, T.T.; Klatt, E.C. The Epidemiology
of Fatal Burn Injuries. J. Forensic Sci. 1989,34 (2),
10. McGravey, E.L.; Clavet, G.J.; Mason, W.; Waite, D.
Adolescent Inhalant Abuse: Environment of Use. Am.
J. Drug Alcohol Abuse 1999,25, 731741.
11. Gibson, G.G.; Clarke, S.E.; Farrar, D.; Elcombe, C.R.
Ethene (ethylene). In Ethel Browning’s Toxicity and
Metabolism of Industrial Solvents, 2nd Ed.; Snyder, R.,
Ed.; Elsevier: New York, 1987; 339 353.
12. Luckhardt, A.B.; Carter, J.B. Physiological Effects of
Ethylene. J. Am. Med. Assoc. 1923,80, 765 770.
13. Herb, I.C. Ethylene: Notes Taken from the Clinical
Records. Anesth. Analg. 1923,Dec, 230232.
14. Herb, I.C. The Present Status of Ethylene. J. Am. Med.
Assoc. 1933,101 (22), 17161720.
15. De Jong, R.H.; Eger, E.I. MAC Expanded: AD50 and
AD95 Values of Common Inhalational Anesthetics in
Man. Anesthesiology 1975,42, 384389.
16. Bourne, J.G. Uptake, Elimination and Potency of Inhala-
tional Anaesthetics. Anesthesia 1964,Jan 19 (1), 12– 32.
17. Cowles, A.L.; Borgstedt, H.H.; Gilles, A.J. Uptake and
Distribution of Inhalation Anesthetic Agents in Clinical
Practice. Anesth. Analg. 1968,47, 404 414.
18. Cole, W.H.J. On Obtaining the Best Use from Methoxy-
flurane with Special Reference to Its Use with Ethylene.
Med. J. Aust. 1968,1, 7–9.
19. Cohen, E.N.; Chow, K.L.; Mathers, L. Autoradiographic
Distribution of Volatile Anesthetics Within the Brain.
Anesthesiology 1972,37, 324331.
20. Cowles, A.L.; Borgstedt, H.H.; Gillies, A.J. The Uptake
and Distribution of Four Inhalation Anesthetics in Dogs.
Anesthesiology 1972,36, 558570.
21. Salnitre, E.; Rackow, H.; Wolf, G.L.; Epstein, R.M. The
Uptake of Ethylene in Man. Anesthesiology 1965,26,
22. Ngai, S.H. Explosive Agents—Are They Needed? Surg.
Clin. N. Am. 1975,55 (4), 975 985.
23. MacDonald, A.G. A Short History of Fires and
Explosions Caused by Anesthetic Agents. Br. J. Anesth.
1995,72 (6), 710722.
24. James, W. Review of The Anaesthetic Revelation of the
Gist of Philosophy. The Atlantic Monthly. http://www.
25. Tymoczko, D. The Nitrous Philosopher. The Atlantic
26. De Boer, J.Z.; Hale, J.R. The Geological Origins of the
Oracle at Delphi, Greece. In The Archeology of Geological
Catastrophes; McGuire, W.G., Griffiths, D.R., Hancock,
P.L., Stewart, I.S., Eds.; Geological Society, London
Special Publications: London, 2000; Vol. 171, 399– 412.
27. Dripps, R.D.; Eckenhoff, J.E.; Vandam, L.D. Introduction
to Anesthesia; WB Saunders: Philadelphia, 1977; 231– 241.
Spiller, Hale, and De Boer196
... Ustinova (2009a) suggests that prophetic activities in ancient Greece were performed in caves because the cave structure, i.e. deep and narrow with a small entrance, facilitated ASCs by two means: sensory deprivation through complete darkness and absence of sound, and the natural accumulation of narcotic gas inhaled in the enclosed space of the cave. Ethylene in particular, in light doses, creates a sensation of euphoria, which might have triggered the ASC of the priestess at the oracle of Delphi (De Boer, Hale, and Chanton 2001;Spiller, Hale, and De Boer 2002). It is noteworthy that naturally produced gas was measured in the shaft of Lascaux Cave (Lewis-Williams 2002b) and Cussac Cave (Jouteau et al. 2019). ...
Full-text available
In this paper, we present a novel hypothesis as to what led humans in the Upper Paleolithic to penetrate and decorate deep, dark caves. Many of the depictions in these caves are located in halls or narrow passages deep in the interior, navigable only with artificial light. We simulated the effect of torches on oxygen concentrations in structures similar to Paleolithic decorated caves and showed that the oxygen quickly decreased to levels known to induce a state of hypoxia. Hypoxia increases the release of dopamine in the brain, resulting in hallucinations and out-of-body experiences. We discuss the significance of caves in indigenous world views and contend that entering these deep, dark environments was a conscious choice, motivated by an understanding of the transformative nature of an underground, oxygen-depleted space. The cave environment was conceived as both a liminal space and an ontological arena, allowing early humans to maintain their connectedness with the cosmos. It was not the decoration that rendered the caves significant; rather, the significance of the chosen caves was the reason for their decoration.
... The oracle at Delphi appears in The Winter's Tale, a play contemporary to The Tempest which was written between 1609 and 1611. Geologists and toxicologists have argued that the trance-like state of the priestess, the oracle at Delphi, was not just fantasy (Piccardi, 2000;Spiller et al., 2002). One may also think that Sybil, in Cumae where Aeneas stopped over for prophecies during his trip to Rome, may have prophesied under the effect of gas inhalation. ...
Full-text available
The Tempest, the last work entirely attributed to William Shakespeare, has been subject to many studies and interpretations, ranging from adventure and Shakespeare's biography to colonialism and the cultural revolution, and is studied in this paper in the context of naturally occurring hazards. The play tells the story of a magician, Prospero, and his daughter who are shipwrecked on an unknown island where they encounter strange creatures and beings. But is it a fantastic island or was the author inspired by real places? Literary scholars proposed several hypotheses through the years, based on historical sources. Here, we analyse the play in the light of geosciences and mythology supporting the hypothesis that the playwright was inspired by the Mediterranean. Our goal is not to identify the island but rather to examine the various geographical and philosophical–political factors that may have influenced Shakespeare's literary creation. Nevertheless, some verses in the play suggest volcanism, placing the island in the Sicilian sea. This underlines once again how deep the playwright's knowledge of Italy was. It also suggests that this part of the Mediterranean was known, at the time of Shakespeare, as the theatre of phenomena originated in the volcanism of the area. One implication is that he could have used historical sources, still unknown and precious, to reconstruct geological events that occurred off the Sicilian coast.
... We do not even know if the composition of the gases varied during that period. That's why it's fun to read polemics in that regard [26][27][28][29][30] . Martin Litchfield West suggested that the Pythia can be seen as a shamaness: 'the Pythia resembles a shamaness at least to the extent that she communicates with her god while in a state of trance, and conveys as much to those present by uttering unintelligible words. ...
... This distinction is important because the ancient Greeks thought that mental illness and 5 most physical handicaps made an individual somehow less human, and resulted in both stigma and poor treatment for that individual (Mora 1992 (Spiller, et al 2002). Pythian prophecy usually came in the form of rhyme or copious word play. ...
Conference Paper
Society is governed by a set of social norms and schemas. Deviance, or transgressing these values, usually results in a loss of social status or even possible stigma. However, there are situations where the transgression does not negatively impact social status and may at times actually increase prestige and social power. Plato describes several such examples where the individual had abandoned rationality and should be considered insane, but where that madness was ultimately beneficial. He separated these forms of madness from ‘common’ madness caused by disease and argued that they were divinely inspired. Though often viewed in a classic context, careful examination reveals that Plato was describing traits that were not bound to Greek culture, and was in fact a sociological phenomenon that occurs across many cultures and time periods.
Archaeological investigations into Greece history date almost to the time of Greek independence from the Turkish Empire in 1832. Excavation and restoration of Greek temple ruins have proceeded cautiously but continually ever since. During this time, the preferred (but not universal) orientation of Greek temples to the eastern horizon quickly became evident to archaeologists. Modern scientific surveys are finding more examples of astronomical alignments and complicated relationships with the Sun, Moon, planets, and stars, relating not only to orientation but also to mythology, cult practices, and communal ceremonies.
The Delphi Technique is a group judgement method which is typically used to reach agreement from a group of people with expertise in a particular area. It is an iterative process where panel members complete questionnaires over several rounds, often rating their agreement/disagreement against a statement, with changes made in later rounds based on the feedback received. It has been used widely in pharmacy-related studies relevant to education, research and practice. This paper provides a critical analysis of the various design choices which researchers may consider when planning a Delphi namely the panel of participants, the use of the Likert scale, the effect of feedback, what constitutes consensus and the number of rounds. It also gives an overview of the development and origins of the Delphi, and discusses the advantages and disadvantages of the technique. Advantages include that the Delphi can be conducted with panel members in different geographical locations in their own time, however the technique can therefore take longer to conduct and lacks face-to-face discussion. Patient experts may be less comfortable participating in a relatively complex survey, however the anonymous nature of the process can be more inclusive in allowing participants to feedback candidly. This paper shows the importance of careful planning of the design choices to ensure the reliability and validity of the Delphi.
Many antiquitiesAntiquities in southeast GreeceGreece, including the Acropolis of AthensAcropolis of Athens and DelphiDelphi, are among the most well known archaeological sites in the world. Antiquities are generally situated in localities where earthquakeEarthquakes damage is minimized by building on outcrops of resistant limestoneLimestone and marbleMarble. Historical sites in southeast GreeceGreece, such as the Plains of MarathonPlains of Marathon and the Pass of ThermopylaePass of Thermopylae, are associated with events which have helped shaped European history. Antiquities in the remote Pindus MountainsPindus Mountains of northwest GreeceGreece, including monasteries constructed in medieval times when defensive positions were crucial, may occur in seemingly inaccessible localities. The monasteries of the MeteoraMeteora are well known as they have featured in a number of films. The regional geology of southeast and northeast GreeceGreece is dominated by NW-SE trending tectonic zones associated with the long drawn-out Alpine OrogenyAlpine Orogeny. Alpine zones are associated with resistant metamorphic rocks (Palaeozoic-Mesozoic) and include thick sequences of limestoneLimestone and marbleMarble. Crustal extension during the CenozoicCenozoic resulted in formation of basins and grabensGraben that are partially infilled by flyschFlysch and molasse sediments. The eastern Mediterranean region is one of the most tectonically active regions on Earth and geological processes are continuously reshaping landformsLandforms. The most famous of the antiquitiesAntiquities in southeast GreeceGreece is the Acropolis of AthensAcropolis of Athens. The “hill city” is situated on a resistant block of limestoneLimestone (Upper CretaceousCretaceous) which has been thrustThrust over a sequence of younger and softer marlsMarl within the Athens BasinAthens Basin. Monuments such as the ParthenonParthenon and the Temple of Rome and AugustusTemple of Rome and Augustus are in part built from the high-quality Pentelic MarblePentelic Marble derived from mountains to the north of AthensAthens. The antiquity of DelphiDelphi occurs in a karstic (or “Delphic”) landscapeLandscapes associated with the rugged Parnassus MountainsParnassus Mountains. DelphiDelphi is widely known for oracles offered by priestesses who inhaled hallucinogenic vapours derived from geothermal springs. Descriptions by the Greek historian HerodotusHerodotus, Greek historian of narrow defiles (which favoured the “Three Hundred”) and natural hot springsHot springs at the site of the Battle of ThermopylaeBattle of Thermopylae (480 BC) have been corroborated by geomorphological reconstructions. Rapid rates of sedimentationSedimentation in the Euboean grabenEuboean Graben have caused the shoreline to retreat northward by several kilometres. AntiquitiesAntiquities and monasteries in the Pindus MountainsPindus Mountains occur in some of the most remote regions of Europe. Glaciated landformsLandforms and spectacular limestoneLimestonegorgesGorge are protected in several national and geoparksGeoparks. The monasteries of the MeteoraMeteora are perched on hilltops comprised of resistant beds of conglomerateConglomerate (MioceneMiocene). The conglomerate is part of a sequence of molasse sediments derived from erosionErosion of the older metamorphic rocks that border the Central Hellenic BasinCentral Hellenic Basin.
Giving earth reason to act with its own strategy is still a new and foreign concept for the western science, which otherwise argues there on ‘lack of evidence’. People who ‘can feel the environment’, earth’s pulse, or who are hypersensitive, are out of luck. However, the fact that ‘Mother Earth’ is part of the wider cosmos and that it ‘responds’ and that signals can be detected is already known to virtually all indigenous people for millennia; the western world is also increasingly picking up on it. Such dire connections with ‘Mother Earth’ are certainly well known for the Hindu Kush-Himalaya region and its religions: ‘Mother Earth’ can be angry and strike a revenge, e.g. earth quakes, tsunamis, floods and fire outbreaks. Here I introduce and review those concepts and the failure of the western science-based policy model to acknowledge and to learn from deep -so called primitive- knowledge about ‘Mother Earth’ and its harmony. While many research signals are pretty strong and in support of this ‘Mother Earth’ concept – including many from the Deep Ecology and GAIA theories – the current scheme of globalization still ignores those views for a modern more sustainable environmental and conservation policy that allows to live in a better and more holistic and sustainable harmony with ‘Mother Earth’ and all its beings -biotic and abiotic ones.
Full-text available
Drugs that eliminate pain caused by medical treatment have been sought by humanity since time immemorial. Initially, only analgesic substances, especially plant alkaloids (some of which had a narcotic effect), were used for this purpose. During the Middle Ages, these pseudoanesthetics evolved into a primitive form of anesthesia, the sleeping sponge (spongia somnifera). True general (inhalation) anesthetics were discovered only with the development of chemistry during the 18th century, especially with the discovery, synthesis, and medical application of gaseous substances. The oldest, though long overlooked, was nitrous oxide. The substance that caused the true revolution and the onset of anesthesia in medical procedures was diethyl ether. Although a compound known since the 16th century, it was used for general anesthesia only in 1846 and then changed the history of medicine, especially surgery. For some time, the third anesthetic discovered, chloroform, competed with diethyl ether for the first position in anesthesia. During the 20th century, chemists developed other inhalation anesthetics, especially fluorocarbons. The discovery of bar-bituric acid derivatives at the beginning of the 20th century allowed the induction of anesthesia by intravenous administration. Equally important was the discovery of substances causing local anesthesia. The first was the alkaloid cocaine, but because it caused a strong and rapid addiction, it was soon replaced by its analogues, especially procaine and lidocaine. The historical development of anesthetics demonstrates the collaboration of chemists and physicians in an effort to relieve pain of the sufferers and to provide them with quality treatment.
Ancient tradition linked the Delphic oracle in Greece to specific geological phenomena, including a fissure in the bedrock, intoxicating gaseous emissions, and a spring. Despite testimony by ancient authors, many modern scholars have dismissed these traditional accounts as mistaken or fraudulent. This paper presents the results of an interdisciplinary study that has succeeded in locating young faults at the oracle site and has also identified the prophetic vapor as an emission of light hydrocarbon gases generated in the underlying strata of bituminous limestone.
Ancient authors from Plato to Pausanias have left descriptions of Delphi's oracle and its mantic sessions. The latter were interpreted as events in which the Pythia (priestess) placed herself on a tripod over a cleft (fissure) in the ground below the Apollo temple. Here she inhaled a vapour rising from the cleft, and became inspired with the power of prophecy. French archaeologists who excavated the oracle site at the turn of the century reported no evidence of either fissures or gaseous emissions and concluded that the ancient accounts were myths. As a result, modern classical scholars and many archaeologists reject the ancient testimonies concerning the mantic sessions and their geological origin. However, the geological conditions at the oracle site do not a priori exclude the early accounts. A major WNW-ESE fault zone and a minor swarm of NNW-SSE fractures intersect below the site. These intersection(s) provided pathways for rising ground water, including a spring below the Apollo temple. The faults broke through a bituminous limestone formation at relatively shallow depth. Hydrocarbon gases that originated in this formation may have escaped during and after seismo-tectonic events. Such gases can induce mild narcotic effects. It is highly probable therefore that the Pythia's inspiration resulted from the inhalation of light hydrocarbon gases, which rose along a fissure (fracture) in the adyton below the Apollo temple.
During the early part of 1908, severe losses were sustained by carnation growers shipping their products into Chicago, because of the fact that these flowers, when placed in the greenhouses, would "go to sleep," whereas the buds already showing petals failed to open. Crocker and Knight1 of the Hull Botanical Laboratory immediately undertook the study of the effect of illuminating gas on flowering carnations, the results of which showed that ethylene, which forms approximately 4 per cent, of the gas, is the chief constituent that determines the toxicity of the gas for plants. Their investigations showed that one part of ethylene in 2,000,000 parts of air caused the already open flowers to close, on twelve hours' exposure, whereas one part in 1,000,000 prevented the opening of buds already showing petals. Neljubow,2 who had previously studied the effects of ethylene on etiolated seedlings of peas and other legumes, showed