Python (mythology)

Python (mythology)

In Greek mythology Python, "serpent", was the earth-dragon of Delphi, always represented in sculpture and vase-paintings as a serpent. She resided at the Delphic oracle, which existed in the cult center for her mother, Gaia, "Earth", Pytho being the place name. The site was considered the center of the earth, represented by a stone, the "omphalos" or navel, which Python guarded.

"Pytho" became the chthonic enemy of the later Olympian deity Apollo, who slew her and remade her former home and the oracle, the most famous in Classical Greece, as his own. (But also see, Dodona, for the earlier traditions.) Changes such as these in ancient myths may reflect a profound change in the religious concepts of the culture. Some were gradual over time and others occurred abruptly following invasion.

Versions and interpretations

There are various versions of Python's birth and death at the hands of Apollo. In the "Homeric Hymn to Apollo", now thought rather to be composed in 522 BC during Classical times, [Walter Burkert, 'Kynaithos, Polycrates and the Homeric Hymn to Apollo' in "Arktouros: Hellenic studies presented to B. M. W. Knox" ed. G. W. Bowersock, W. Burkert, M. C. J. Putnam (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1979) pp. 53-62.] little detail is given about Apollo's combat with the serpent or her parentage. The version related by Hyginus ["Fabulae" 130.] holds that when Zeus lay with the goddess Leto, and she was to deliver Artemis and Apollo, Hera sent Python to pursue her throughout the lands, so that she could not deliver wherever the sun shone. Thus when Apollo the infant was grown he pursued the python, making his way straight for Mount Parnassus where the serpent dwelled, and chased it to the oracle of Gaia at Delphi, and dared to penetrate the sacred precinct and kill her with his arrows beside the rock cleft where the priestess sat on her tripod. Robert Graves, who habitually read into primitive myths a retelling of archaic political and social turmoil, saw in this the capturing by Hellenes of a pre-Hellenic shrine. "To placate local opinion at Delphi," he wrote in "The Greek Myths", "regular funeral games were instituted in honour of the dead hero Python, and her priestess was retained in office." The politics are conjectural, but the myth reports that Zeus ordered Apollo to purify himself for the sacrilege and instituted the Pythian Games, over which Apollo was to preside, as penance for his act.

Erwin Rohde wrote that the Python was an earth spirit, who was conquered by Apollo, and buried under the Omphalos, and that it is a case of one god setting up his temple on the grave of another. [cf. Rohde, "Psyche", p.97.]

The priestess of the oracle at Delphi became known as the Pythia, after the place-name Pytho, which was named after the rotting (πύθειν) of the serpent's corpse after she was slain. ["Homeric Hymn to Apollo", 363-369.]

Kerenyi points out ["The Gods of the Greeks" 1951:136.] that the older tales mentioned two dragons, who were perhaps intentionally conflated; the other was a female dragon ("drakaina") named Delphyne in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo, with whom dwelt a male serpent named Typhon: "The narrators seem to have confused the dragon of Delphi, Python, with Typhon or Typhoeus, the adversary of Zeus". The enemy dragoness "... actually became an Apollonian serpent, and Pythia, the priestess who gave oracles at Delphi, was named after him. Many pictures show the serpent Python living in amity with Apollon and guarding the Omphalos, the sacred navel-stone and mid-point of the earth, which stood in Apollon's temple" (Kerenyi 1951:136).

ee also

*Apollo Belvedere
*Dragons in Greek mythology
*Serpent (symbolism)
*Greek Mythology



*Burkert, Walter, "Greek Religion" 1985.
*Deane, John Bathurst, "The Worship of the Serpent", 1833. Cf. Chapter V., p.329. [] []
*Farnell, Lewis Richard, "The Cults of the Greek States", 1896.
*Fontenrose, Joseph Eddy, "Python; a study of Delphic myth and its origins", 1959.
*Goodrich, Norma Lorre, "Priestesses", 1990.
*Guthrie, William Keith Chambers, "The Greeks and their Gods", 1955.
*Hall, Manly Palmer, "The Secret Teachings of All Ages", 1928. [ Ch. 14 cf. Greek Oracles] , [ www] , [ PRS]
* Harrison, Jane Ellen, "Themis: A Study of the Social Origins of Greek Religion", 1912. cf. Chapter IX, p.329 especially, on the slaying of the Python.
*Kerenyi, Karl, (1951) 1980. "The Gods of the Greeks" especially pp 135-6. [] []
* [ Homeric Hymn to Pythian Apollo]
*Rohde, Erwin, "Psyche", 1925.
* Smith, William, "Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology", 1870, article on Python, []

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