A Delphic Prophecy

The oracle at Delphi was one of the most renowned places in the Ancient world. People travelled from far and wide to consult the priestess, who sat in a dimly-lit cave, and her answers were believed to come straight from the god Apollo.

Once a man named Aëtion came to ask the oracle why he and his wife had had no children. The priestess replied that they would have a son, and that this son would become king over the people of Corinth. Greatly delighted, Aëtion carried the prophecy home to his wife, who was called Labda, and sure enough a child was soon born to them. Unfortunately, word of the oracle’s prediction had reached Corinth and the ruling family resolved to murder the baby. Ten of the city’s foremost men were despatched to the town where Aëtion and Labda lived, and they soon found the house and knocked upon the door. A serving maid admitted them, and went to tell her mistress that ten Corinthians wished to see the newly-born son of Aëtion. Touched by this compliment to her husband, Labda hurried into the outer room, carrying the baby.

“You are most welcome,” she said to the strangers. “Here, you may hold him if you wish.” So saying, she placed the child in the arms of one of the visitors. Now, the men had arranged amongst themselves that whosoever first received the child, should dash it to the ground, but at that very moment the baby opened its eyes and smiled up into the face of the first Corinthian. The man’s heart was moved by pity and he passed the baby on to his companion. Disconcerted, the second man passed it on to the third, and so on round the whole circle until it was returned, unharmed to its mother.

As soon as they got outside, the men began angrily reproaching each other, and in particular the man who had first had the child in his arms. At length they decided to re-enter the house and all take part in the murder.

However, fate had decreed that the Delphic prophecy would be fulfilled, and Labda overheard their conversation and hid the baby in a “cypsel” or corn-bin. The men were unable to find him and they decided to return to Corinth with the report that they had carried out their rulers' instructions.

Thus the child was saved, and when the little boy, who was called Cypselus after the corn-bin, grew up, he did indeed become king of Corinth, and ruled over the Corinthians for thirty years.

~Bethan Lewis~

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