Pythias were virgins who dedicated their lives to prophesying on behalf of the god Apollo. The first Pythia is said to have been the goddess Themis, who is depicted on a fifth-century B.C. cup (shown here) sitting on a tripod and holding a bowl and a sprig of laurel (Apollo’s sacred tree).

According to Strabo (c. 64 B.C.‒25 A.D.) and other sources, the Pythia was inspired by mysterious vapors, though these accounts have been largely ignored by modern researchers. Now, however, a team of archaeologists and geologists have proved that the Temple of Apollo sat directly above fault lines that likely released intoxicating carbon-based gases into the adyton. Was this the oracle’s secret?