This piece seems to be meant by Lucian as a kind of satirical invective against the avarice and selfishness of those who presided over the business of oracles.
Men of Delphi: I stand in no public relation to the city of Agrigentum, in no private relation to its ruler; I am bound to him neither by gratitude for past favours, nor by the prospect of future friendship: but I have heard the just and temperate plea advanced by his emissaries, and I rise to advocate the claims of religion, the interests of our community, the duties of the priesthood; I charge you, thwart not the pious intention of a mighty prince, nor deprive the God of an offering which in the intention of the donor is already his, and which is destined to serve as an eternal threefold record,— of the sculptor’s art, of inventive cruelty, and of righteous retribution.
2To me it seems that only to have raised this question, only to have halted between acceptance and rejection, is in itself an offence against Heaven; nay, a glaring impiety. For what is this but a sacrilege more heinous than that of the temple-robber, who does but plunder those sacred things to which you would even deny consecration?
3I implore you,— your fellow priest, your partner in good report (if so it may be), or in evil (should that now befall us), implores you: close not the temple-doors upon the devout worshipper; suffer us not to be known to the world as men who examine jealously into the offerings that are brought, and subject the donor to the narrow scrutiny of a court, and to the hazard of a vote. For who would not be deterred at the thought that the God accepts no offering without the previous sanction of his priests?
Already Apollo has declared his true opinion. Had he hated Phalaris, or scorned his gift, it had been easy for him to sink the gift and the ship that bore it in mid-ocean; instead, we learn that he vouchsafed them a calm passage and a safe arrival at Cirrha.
5Clearly the monarch’s piety is acceptable in his sight. It behoves you to confirm his decision, and to add this bull to the glories of the temple. Strange indeed, if the sender of so magnificent a gift is to meet with rejection at the temple-door, and his piety to be rewarded with the judgement that his offering is unclean.
My opponent tells a harrowing tale of butchery and violence, of plunder and abduction; it is much that he does not call himself an eyewitness thereof; we might suppose that he was but newly arrived from Agrigentum, did we not know that his travels have never carried him on board ship. In matters of this kind, it is not advisable to place much reliance even on the assertions of the supposed victims; there is no knowing how far they are speaking the truth;— as to bringing allegations ourselves, when we know nothing of the facts, that is out of the question.
7Granting even that something of the kind did happen, it happened in Sicily: we are at Delphi; we are not called upon to interfere. Do we propose to abandon the temple for the law-court? Are we, whose office it is to sacrifice, and minister to the God, and receive his offerings,— are we to sit here debating whether certain cities on the other side of the Ionian sea are well or ill governed?
8Let other men’s affairs be as they may, it is our business, as I take it, to know our own: our past history, our present situation, our best interests. We need not wait for Homer to inform us that we inhabit a land of crags, and are tillers of a rocky soil; our eyes tell us that; if we depended on our soil, we must go hungry all our days. Apollo; his temple; his oracle; his worshippers; his sacrifices;— these are the fields of the Delphians, these their revenues, their wealth, their maintenance. I can speak the truth here. It is as the poets say: we sow not, we plough not, yet all things grow for our use; for a God is our husbandman, and gives us not the good things of Greece only; all that Phrygia, all that Lydia, all that Persia, Assyria, Phoenicia, Italy, and the far North can yield,— all comes to Delphi. We live in prosperity and plenty; in the esteem of mankind we are second to none but the God himself. So it was in the beginning: so it is now: and so may it ever be!
But who has ever heard before of our putting an offering to the vote, or hindering men from paying sacrifice? No one; and herein, as I maintain, is the secret of our temple’s greatness, and of the abundant wealth of its offerings. Then let us have no innovations now, no new-fangled institutions, no inquiries into the origin and nature and nationality and pedigree of a gift; let us take what is brought to us, and set it in the store-chamber without more ado.
10In this way we shall best serve both the God and his worshippers. I think it would be well if, before you deliberate further on the question before you, you would consider how great and how various are the issues involved. There is the God, his temple, his sacrifices and offerings, the ancient customs and ordinances, the reputation of the oracle; again, our city as a whole, our common interests, and those of every individual Delphian among us; lastly — and I know not what consideration could seem of more vital importance to a well-judging mind —, our own credit or discredit with the world at large.
I say, then, we have to deal not with Phalaris, not with a single tyrant, not with this bull, not with so much weight of bronze,— but with every king and prince who frequents our temple at this day; with gold and silver and all the precious offerings that should pour in upon the God; that God whose interests claim our first attention.
12Say, why should we change the old-established usage in regard to offerings? What fault have we to find with the ancient custom, that we should propose innovations? Never yet, from the day when Delphi was first inhabited, and Apollo prophesied, and the tripod gave utterance, and the priestess was inspired, never yet have the bringers of gifts been subjected to scrutiny. And shall they now? Consider how the ancient custom, which granted free access to all men, has filled the temple with treasures; how all men have brought their offerings, and how some have impoverished themselves to enrich the God.
13My mind misgives me that, when you have assumed the censorship of offerings, you will lack employment: men may refuse to submit themselves to your court; they may think it is enough to spend their money, without having to undergo the risk of a rejection for their pains. Would life be worth living, to the man who should be judged unworthy to offer sacrifice?