The name comes from delphis which means “dolphin” in Greek, so named because the unopened buds look like little mini-dolphins, swimming in all directions.
It is also believed that the plant is named after Apollo’s Delphi, the city where the oracles–the voices of Apollo– worked hard to decipher and interpret the future, probably under the influence of halucinogenic steam. One legend has it that Apollo first came to Delphi in the guise of a dolphin carrying priests from Crete on his back.
When Achilles was killed in the Trojan War, his magical armor (forged by Hephaestus on Mt. Olympus) was to be given to the most heroic soldier in that war. The top two were Odysseus and Ajax who then spent some days competing for it. They were tied in their valor and the Greek Council decided to award the armor to Odysseus whose verbal presentation before them was the most eloquent. Ajax had expected the armor to go to him. He was so distraught, he killed himself, falling on his own sword. It is said that from the blood of this suicide the delphinium sprung, its leaves imprinted with the first two letters of his name, Ai, the greek word expressing grief. This is repeated down the center of the leaf. (Look carefully at the picture on the left. The “A” is large with the “I,” the stem, running through the middle of it.)
In between clumps of anise hyssop and behind the sweet peppers, burst dolphins and oracles and despair— in all their assertive, spiky, and richly-hued selves.