I recently visited Delphi in Greece. This spectacularly beautiful site on the slopes of Mount Parnassus was revered by ancient Greeks from all over the fractious Hellenic world. This was where the god Apollo spoke through a crack in the rock to those worthy of his wisdom. The sacred truths were relayed through an `oracle`, almost certainly a woman intoxicated by incense and what we may term today as `substance abuse`. Even before the sanctuary of Apollo was built however this was thought to be the birthplace of the earth goddess Ge (as in Geology, as a matter of interest). Down the slope from the temple of Apollo and the rock beside which the Oracle consulted is the sanctuary of Athena. This is quite proper since Apollo was the sun god and Athena goddess of the moon. This was another version of the ancient religious observation that the sun god brings life but dies at the summer solstice only to be reborn in the arms of the virgin moon in December when the whole cycle begins again.
The timing of my visit to Delphi was not the best from the point of view of weather. If I were a more fragile soul I might have felt the sun god was not very happy to see me since I explored the famous site in pouring rain. I reflected that the weather was more what I`d expect from Edinburgh than Greece. I had to admit the rain was a little warmer than we sometimes get in Scotland. However, it had that particular eastern Mediterranean character of appearing to provide you with a personal cloud that dropped the entire Aegean Sea on you every minute wherever you moved.
As I made me way down that hallowed mountainside, a glorious rainbow appeared which told me that Apollo had simply been having a bit of harmless amusement with this northern visitor whom he probably thought waterproof in any case. This coincided with my reaching the sanctuary of Athena. There, suddenly, I had another reason to feel that I was back in Edinburgh. I stood by the temple of the goddess, a circular structure known as the Tholos. I realised that I had stood beside this great structure before. On Calton Hill, the rise that overlooks Princes Street in Edinburgh, is a replica of this type of edifice. It is the Dugald Stewart Monument, celebrating the life of the very influential eighteenth century Scottish philosopher. It is normally said that this monument was built as a copy of the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens but I wondered of the sanctuary of Athena was in fact the prototype.
Holy sites around the world have all too often been the focus of war, dispute and carnage amongst so-called `believers`. Calling them `holy` sometimes seems a cruel irony. Delphi was different. Its presence and influence united the Greek world which extended at that time far beyond the present country`s boundaries, including Marseilles in France and Alexandria in Egypt. I liked that comparison. If the parallels between Delphi and Edinburgh could be extended to include that effect then I would be very pleased. Edinburgh is sometimes known as `The Athens of the North` Detractors have occasionally preferred to call it `The Reykjavik of the South`. From now on I shall think of Calton Hill at least as a little piece of Delphi radiating peace and harmony even in the rain.