Dragon Myths: Python

There are a number of dragons in Greek mythology, most of them with a lot of heads and even more staying power.  Hydra, for example, would, in some stories, grow two new heads for every one that got cut off.

However, because I’ve been noticing a theme with these dragon tales so far, I’ll talk a little bit about Python.  Very little is certain about Python in general.  Here are the only facts I’m pretty sure of after doing a relatively short search.

  • Python is tied to the omphalos, also known as the navel of the world (and yes, it has its own story as well).
  • Python’s gender wasn’t entirely clear to me when I read the Homeric Hymn (you’ll have to scroll down to find it) devoted to Pythian Apollo.  It seems I’m not alone.  His/her gender changes.  According to the Encyclopedia Brittanica, it started out female and only became male later on.
  • Python is a dragon or serpent.  According to Wikipedia, the name comes from the verb pythein: to rot, a reference to what its body did after it died.
  • Apollo, associated with the sun, killed him.  Her.

Now, in some stories, like the Homeric Hymn, Python creates random chaos through the countryside.  In another version, Hera sent him specifically to Leto, Apollo’s mother, to keep her running so she couldn’t give birth.  All the stories make it clear it killing the dragon is a good thing.

In all the stories, Apollo decides to take over the temple and part of that means killing Python (who either created chaos or gave bad memories to Apollo).  In the Homeric Hymn, the sacred spring near the temple is mentioned as another item the dragon guards (water, again).

Unlike Marduk, who was hailed as a hero, or Ra, who continued on his business, it isn’t entirely clear if Apollo is considered a hero by the gods or not afterward.  However, he does get the temple.  He names the oracle he’s claimed after the dead serpent:  Pythia.

The closest he got to a celebration was the Pythian Games.  Whether a hero or not for the deed, he took on the name Pythian Apollo, in remembrance of his victory.  The temple at Delphi and its Oracle became the center for Greek civilization for many years.  Her last recorded prophecy was in 393 AD.

Photo by Jay Bergesen

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