The Delphic oracle: a multidisciplinary defense of the gaseous vent theory

J Toxicol Clin Toxicol. 2002;40(2):189-96. doi: 10.1081/clt-120004410.


Ancient historical references consistently describe an intoxicating gas, produced by a cavern in the ground, as the source of the power at the oracle of Delphi.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.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Amnesia / chemically induced
  • Amnesia / history
  • Anesthesia / history
  • Ethylenes / history*
  • Ethylenes / pharmacology
  • Greece, Ancient
  • History, Ancient
  • Humans
  • Mythology*
  • Volcanic Eruptions / history*


  • Ethylenes
  • ethylene