Python (mythology)

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In Greek mythology, Python (Greek: Πύθων, gen.: Πύθωνος) was the earth-dragon of Delphi, always represented in Greek sculpture and vase-paintings as a serpent. She[1] presided at the Delphic oracle, which existed in the cult center for her mother, Gaia, "Earth," Pytho being the place name that was substituted for the earlier Krisa.[2] Hellenes considered the site to be the center of the earth, represented by a stone, the omphalos or navel, which Python guarded.

Python became the chthonic enemy of the later Olympian deity Apollo, who slew her and remade her former home and the oracle, the most famous[3] in Classical Greece, as his own. Changes such as these in ancient myths may reflect a profound change in the religious concepts of Hellenic culture. Some were gradual over time and others occurred abruptly following invasion.

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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 to have been composed in 522 BCE during Classical times,[4] a small detail is provided regarding Apollo's combat with the serpent, in some sections identified as the deadly Drakaina, or her parent.

The version related by Hyginus[5] 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; there he 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.

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