Pýthon, Leto with Apollo and Artemis

In Greek mythology, Python was the oracular serpent of Delphi. It was the offspring of Gaia and the mud that was left over after the flood of Deucalion, or in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo Python was the offspring of Hera, the Olympian Lady, who bore him, to spite Zeus, out of her own being, parthegenetically, in the manner of Gaia. Apollo killed it and remade its former home his own oracle, the most famous in Greece. (But see also Dodona.)

When Zeus lay with the goddess Leto, and she was to deliver Artemis and Apollo, Lady Hera sent Python to pursue her throughout the lands, so that she could not be delivered wherever the sun shone. Thus when 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 it with his arrows beside the rock cleft where the priestess sat on her tripod. Robert Graves, who often 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 his 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.

Silver stater of Croton (about 400 B.C.). Obv. Heracles, the Founder.
Rev. Apollo shooting the Python by the Delphic Tripod

Apollo and Python, J. M. W. Turner

Mythology Images

The priestess of the oracle at Delphi became known as the Pythoness.

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