The fearful serpent Python (sometimes portrayed as a dragon) was the monstrous spawn of Gaea (Mother Earth) that lived at Mount Parnassus. It was charged by Gaea to guard the exact center of the earth, which the Greeks believed to be at Delphi, home of the oracles. Because of its link to Delphi, Python was sometimes called Delphyne.

The site was centered by a stone called the Omphalos, or navel, which was purported to be the stone swallowed by Cronus, who believed it to be his son Zeus. Long story.

Python was described as a male by most sources, but some say that the serpent/dragon living in a cave near Delphi was female. He was said to have been born from the mud and slime left behind after one of Zeus' great floods receded,

Some ancient authors filled in the picture by adding specific features to his description, such as dark eyes, a blue or green body, or even a threefold tongue. His humungous size was said to cover the mountains or enclose them in his coils.

When he needed to drink, he consumed whole rivers. When he needed to eat, he annihilated whole flocks, it was said.

It was Python's task to protect his mother Gaea's influence at Delphi, which was the home of the highly revered oracles. Common people and even kings, would travel to Delphi to seek advice and direction from the oracle.

Others made him the owner of the shrine, while yet others painted Python as a villain who, rather than guarding the site, actually laid waste and devastated the region. Some claim, however, that the region was already a wasteland when Python arrived and took over.

One version of his beastly role says that he was dispatched by jealous Hera to torment and molest the beautiful woman Leto, who had an unwilling affair with Hera's husband Zeus and by him was pregnant with the twin gods Apollo and Artemis.

Hera had forbidden any place on land from harbouring Leto and allowing her to give birth. Python was to prevent Leto from doing so, but finally Artemis and Apollo were born on the island of Ortygia.

Apollo was livid at Python's gross mistreatment of his mother and, at only four days old, the god pursued the serpent all the way to its cave at Mount Parnassus, and then chased it to the shrine at Delphi.

There Apollo killed the monster with a volley of one hundred arrows, beside the rock cleft where the priestess called Pythia would sit on her tripod, and buried him under the Omphalos.

The third Homeric Hymn describes Python's demise:

"Then she, rent with bitter pangs, lay drawing great gasps for breath and rolling about that place. An awful noise swelled up unspeakable as she writhed continually this way and that amid the wood: and so she left her life, breathing it forth in blood."

Apollo had acquired his bow and arrows from the workshop of Hephaestus, the crafty Olympian god of metalwork. The silver bow and arrows represent his defeat of the huge serpent, its blood the first to stain his shafts. In some versions his twin sister Artemis helped Apollo defeat the beast.

 After slaying Python, Apollo built a temple at Delphi and took over the serpent's former home and oracle, establishing it as the most famous and revered in ancient Greece.

Because Python was a son of Gaea, the Earth Goddess, Apollo had to make amends. As penance for the killing of Python, Zeus ordered Apollo to purify himself (for eight years, some say) and to preside over the newly instituted Pythian Games, allegedly named after the rotting corpse of the beast and celebrated every four years.

Others say that Apollo established the Pythian Games to celebrate his own victory over Python. Either way, next to the Olympic Games, they became the second most popular in ancient Greece.




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