back30 Jan 20234 min read
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What’s in a Name? Pyth and the Pythia

The Pyth Network launched into mainnet on August 2021 after many months of building, surprising many with its mission to make every asset price available on every chain.

Members of our early community asked many thoughtful questions: Where does Pyth’s data come from, where will Pyth data be available, what keeps Pyth data fast and accurate, and — perhaps most importantly— where does the name “Pyth” come from?

Is it a reference to Python, the object-oriented programming language?

We get that a lot — and while our GitHub does provide a Python client, the name “Pyth” is actually a callback to a much older and spiritually profound legacy, rooted deeply in ancient Greek history and mythology…

The Oracle of Delphi Entranced by Henrich Leutemann, (1824–1905)

Pythia, the Oracle of Delphi

The name ‘Pythia’ refers to a long line of high priestesses who delivered oracular prophecies to members of the Greek poleis and travellers from across the Mediterranean.

The Pythia was one among many oracles throughout the Greek world — diviners who could channel prophecies from the gods, including Poseidon, Themis, and finally, Apollo.

The Pythia — Oracle of Delphi and priestess of Apollo — was the most popular oracle in the Greek world. Visitors from the Greek poleis and beyond would travel to the Temple of Delphi to consult the Pythia on profound matters, including career, harvest, conquest, and colonization.

The Pythia would deliver her prophecies while in a state of dreamlike trance, and her words were often cryptic. Another priest, or prophetes, would be responsible for interpreting and recording her utterances, often in metrical hexameter form.

The Delphic Oracle was regarded as one of the most important oracles in the ancient world. Delphi was an important resource for Greek communities to deal with unprecedented challenges and consultations with the Pythia became more frequent and extensive. The polis transformed into an important political center, and the ‘cult of the Pythian Apollo’ would spread throughout the Greek Mediterranean.

The practice of consulting the Pythia began around 800 BCE and continued for over a thousand years. The last recorded prophecy occurred in 393 CE, after which the Roman emperor Flavius Theodosius ordered the closure of all pagan temples.

Delphic Sibyl by Michelangelo (circa 1509)

Pyth and the Pythia

The Pythia played a critical role in Greek society, guiding members of the Greek poleis throughout difficult times by relaying divine truth from the gods to the masses.

Following in the Pythia’s spiritual footsteps, the Pyth Network’s core contributors designed a new kind of oracle to bring the truth of the world to the blockchain. From this mission came the name Pyth, in reference to the Pythia’s ancient, symbolic practice.

Fast forward 2,500 years from the founding of the Temple of Apollo, and the need for ‘oracles’ is still strong, albeit modernized. Wordplay aside, the next growth stage of decentralized finance requires a new type of data infrastructure — one which can bring real-world data to the blockchain at low latencies and high fidelity, while meeting the standards of reliability and transparency expected by institutional participants.

Pyth is taking the helm and spearheading a new generation of DeFi: one that marries the worlds of TradFi and DeFi, unlocking powerful data from both sides and delivering that data to those who need it.

More Facts about the Pythia

  • The position of Pythia was held by women selected by the temple priests. Pythiai were originally maidens of honorable birth, but the custom later became to employ women of fifty and older.
  • Moral character and absolute commitment to the role were of utmost importance in choosing a priestess. A newly selected Pythia would have to relinquish her familial duties to fulfill her new role in the temple.
  • Many Greek mythology heroes consulted oracles for guidance and protection, including Jason when given a protective branch by Athena for the Argo, Achilles calling on Zeus Dodonean during the Trojan War, and Odysseus consulting the oracle on Mt. Parnassus about returning to Ithaca in disguise.
  • According to Plutarch, the Pythia’s prophetic powers came from the vapors from underground springs; during a consultation, the Pythia would be lowered into a prophetic chamber (adyton) and steeped into a trance through the volcanic fumes emerging from the Castalian spring.
  • The Pythia was not herself the source of divine truth; rather, she was a relayer of the gods’ messages. Likewise, the Pyth Network is not itself the source of truth of prices, but instead oversees the safe, recorded journey of financial data from the markets to your smart contracts.

Join the Pythian Games

We hope you enjoyed today’s mini-lecture, but the conversation doesn’t stop here!

The Pyth Discord runs regular community events, including art and meme contests, pop quizzes, and other games for community members feeling blessed by the Pythian Apollo. The best contestants are eligible for sentimental and aesthetic prizes.

Inspired builders can check out our developer resources and documentation to get started.

We can’t wait to hear what you think! You can join the Pyth Discord and Telegram, and follow us on Twitter. You can also learn more about Pyth here.

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