The belly button of the world lies eighty miles northwest of Athens, where the southern slope of Mount Parnassus, cut deeply by cascades feeding the River Pleistos, drops precipitously into the Gulf of Corinth. High above the ravine in a cleft between the Phaedriades, or “Shining Rocks,” a natural amphitheater was shaped by wind, erosion, and tectonic turbulence over the intersection of two underground faults. This is the omphalos—the spot believed by ancient Greeks to be Gaia’s own navel. Homer called it “Pytho,” because it was here that the Earth Mother gave birth to a female serpent.
“Why is it the serpent is always a woman?”
The goddess/serpent appears in everyone’s mythology, I remind KB as we approach six massive columns re-erected where the western pediment of Apollo’s temple once stood.
“Yeah,” she replies, kicking a loose a chunk of limestone across the weathered foundation, “along with the ‘hero’ who kills her.” KB’s sinewy, suntanned legs straddle one of the pedestals at the entrance to the sekos—Apollo’s inner sanctum—and her belly button taunts me between the waistband of low-slung hiking shorts and the hem of her tank top.
“Both Apollo and his twin sister, Artemis, whacked the serpent goddess,” I remind her. “Naturally, the locals erected a temple here to commemorate his bravery. It was named after a cult that worshiped the sun god in the form of a dolphin—Delphinios—Delphi for short.”