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SELEUKID KINGS OF SYRIA. Antiochos III ‘the Great’, 223-187 BC. Tetradrachm (Silver, 29 mm, 17.04 g, 1 h), Antioch, circa 223-211/10 BC. 

The coin above is like the one that sits on the desk of the hero in The Oracle. It depicts the god Apollo perched on the Omphalos, the navel of the world. The Oracle of Delphi was of immense importance in the ancient world, yet its monuments and artifacts have all but vanished. Surviving antiquities—of which coins are the most abundant—offer glimpses of its legends and practices. Coins from all around the ancient Greek world depicted the god Apollo and included visual references to the Oracle of Delphi. Several of these coins crop up in The Oracle

The exquisite silver coin below—about the size of a U.S. half-dollar—is considered one of the most beautiful of antiquity. On the obverse is the head of the god Apollo. On the reverse, the god is conducting a sacrifice. He holds in his hand a shallow dish called a phiale and you see a tiny omphalos at his feet. The hero of The Oracle sees a coin like this in a gallery. 

Aeolis, Myrina Tetradrachm circa 165-150 BC, 32mm, AR 16.55 g. Laureate head of Apollo r. Rev. Apollo of Grynium standing r., holding phiale and laurel branch. All within laurel wreath. Image source: Wikimedia Commons.

The portrait of Apollo calls to mind the profile view and long hair of Washington in the U.S. quarter, shown here.

This next coin, which is on display in a Berlin museum, depicted the founding myth of Delphi recounted in The Oracle. It served as inspiration for the gold dish (phiale) discovered in the story. 

Kyzikos. Electrum stater: two eagles on the Omphalos. 430-410 BC. Berlin MK BM. Image source: Wikimedia Commons. 

The hero of The Oracle also mentions seeing a coin bearing a lyre with seven strings. The number seven is closely associated with the god Apollo and recurs throughout the book. Here's such a coin, with a strikingly beautiful head of the god on the obverse and a lyre struck in crisp detail on the reverse. (The white shapes encroaching on the coin are the plastic tabs of a coin holder.) "Doe, a deer, a female deer. Ray, a drop of golden sun..."

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MACEDON. Chalcidian League. Ca. 432-348 BC. AR tetradrachm (24mm, 14.41 gm, 6h). Olynthus, 383-382 BC. Laureate head of Apollo left, cithara (lyre) with seven strings. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions

Last of all here's the coin featured on the book cover. It's an absolutely exquisite mini-compendium of some of the most important figures and events in the history of ancient Greece. The observe depicts Apollo of Delphi, but its distinctive features in fact are believed by many to be a (posthumous) portrait of Alexander the Great.


This coin was originally issued by Philip II, the father of Alexander. Philip used it to represent himself as the liberator of Delphi. In the bloody Battle of Crocus Field, he defeated the Phocians, local Greeks who had seized and plundered the Delphian sanctuary. Philip had directed his army to wear wreaths of laurel—a tree sacred to Apollo—into battle, "as if he was the avenger... of sacrilege, and he proceeded to battle under the leadership, as it were, of the god." On the coin here, Apollo wears such a wreath. Philip's defeat of the Phocians paved the way for his control of Greece and led to the demise of the autonomous Greek city-states defined so much of ancient Greek history. Alexander the Great would soon thereafter conquer much of the ancient world. 


KINGS of MACEDON. Philip II. 359-336 BC. Stater (Gold, 8.65 g 11), Kolophon, 323-317, but probably before 319. Laureate head of Apollo to right, but with the features of Alexander III. Rev. ΦΙΛΙΠΠΟΥ Charioteer driving galloping biga to right, holding the reins in his left hand and a goad with his right; below right, tripod. Image source: Wikimedia Commons.

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