The Serpent Pillar of Delphi

Most of us have heard of the Delphic Oracle, a line of prophetic priestesses in ancient Greece. They bore the title of Pythia, "Snake Woman," and the site itself was previously known as Pytho, Place of the Snake. You may have read about the legend in which Apollo overthrew Python (or in earlier stories, the female Drakaina who lived in the spring there). Under whatever name, he killed the Snake and took over the shrine, as he did most of the prophetic sanctuaries in Greece and the Greek colonies.

Yet very few people know that a bronze serpent pillar once stood at Delphi, in its hillside temple complex beneath Mt. Parnassos. Part of it survives the christian destruction of pagan statues and temples, because the first christian emperor of Rome, Constantine I, took it away and put it in the Hippodrome—a racetrack in Byzantium / Constantinople.

What you see above is a replica which has been restored at modern Delphi.

The real Delphic Serpent Column, moved to the Hippodrome in 324 CE.

The Serpent head, fragmentary survival, from the Hippodrome in Byzantium > Constantinople > Istanbul.

Apollo slaying Python, with the tripod upon which the Pythia sat to prophesy. Silver stater from Kroton, southern Italy. People from all over the Mediterranean came to Delphi to consult the oracle.

Ceramic painting showing the Pythia seated in the tripod cauldron, holding a phiale of water from the sacred Castalian spring close to the holy of holies, the underground prophetic chamber. More on the Castalian and Kassotis springs.

In her other hand she holds laurel leaves, which like Delphi itself was appropriated by Apollo, a late-comer god from Asia Minor. He chased the nymph Daphne intending to rape her, but she called on her mother Gaia who transformed her into a laurel tree (daphni in Greek).

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