A to Z: Python

Published April 18, 2018 by Iphis of Scyros

Okay, I know I said I wasn’t going to do any Greek stuff, but…I wasn’t really feeling most of the other “P” choices.  Besides, I have a…well, I’m not sure a “funny story” is quite the right way to put it…a “minor anecdote that I happen to find amusing because I’m anal like that” is probably the more accurate way to describe it.  (Really, I ought to do Pele for this.  But…I just wasn’t feeling it.)

Image copyright Atlus, but provided by the MegaTen Wiki. Click for link.

Yup, that dino skull with a snake-like cloud of smoke behind it is how they usually depict Python in these games.  Though I’ll have another image for you in a minute.  But first, here’s the game text describing Python in Shin Megami Tensei IV/IV Apocalypse:

A gigantic, black snake god born from the Greek goddess Gaea with no father.

He has unparalleled prophetic abilities and has protected oracular shrines since days of old.  Python is said to have been the guardian of Delphi, site of Delphic oracles.  He is sometimes called “the king of deceitful spirits” and gave prophecies that would only be in his favor, but he never gave prophecies that went against Gaea’s will.

The same text was also used in the two Devil Survivor games, except without the word “deceitful.”  Which is a pretty freakin’ big change, I must say!  Those of you with some knowledge of who Python is in Greek myths may be agog at the massive omissions there.  But before I address those, let me show you the other version of Python I promised.  This is what you see in Persona 2:  Eternal Punishment when you face Python as an enemy.  (This, of course, being the way I first saw him in a MegaTen game.)

A bit more like it, except for the, y’know, wings and legs.  (Though as I posted once already, it’s hard for us to know what exactly the ancient Greeks had in mind when they used words that get translated to English words like “serpent” and “dragon,” so maybe this isn’t as far off as it might be.)  Python’s inclusion in Eternal Punishment has stuck with me all these years for a very specific reason:  Eternal Punishment was the first game (translated into English) to include a compendium giving the player access to little summaries of what the original myths/folktales/etc. were.  I can’t quote you specifically what it said, because goodness only knows where the heck my memory card is, but I can paraphrase it for you.  It said that Python was a monstrous snake sent by Hera to kill Ret.

It took me way too long to realize that “Ret” was a translation error made by people who didn’t know Greek mythology, and that it was supposed to say “Leto.”

But let’s set the games aside now and talk about the real Python.  (Not the one with the Flying Circus…)

Though there are other versions, the most familiar one is that Hera, as is always the case, was furiously jealous that her brother/husband Zeus had taken a mistress.  The mistress in this case was the Titaness Leto.  Now, Hera knew better than to try to attack her rival directly.  Zeus didn’t find jealousy a turn-on (which explains a lot of their marital troubles, really), and besides, Leto was a Titaness, and just as immortal as the gods.  Instead, Hera used her power as a goddess of childbirth to ensure that no land beneath the sun would shelter Leto long enough to give birth.

And then she set the serpent Python to hunting Leto down.  Maybe Python couldn’t have actually killed Leto, as such, but she surely couldn’t ever give birth if she spent all eternity in a giant snake’s gullet!

Leto spent seemingly forever wandering the world, unable to rest and give birth to her twins, until she came upon the unfixed islands of Ortygia and Delos.  On Ortygia she birthed Artemis, and on Delos she gave birth to Apollo.  Once she had given birth, Python gave up the chase, and the two islands became fixed, and soon had temples to the twin gods built on them.

When Apollo grew to manhood (godhood?), he set off to avenge his mother’s suffering, and slew Python.  However, as Python was the guardian of the holy site of Delphi, Apollo had to be purified of the dishonor of having slain the serpent, and to that end he started the Pythian Games.  He also took over Delphi as his cult center, and provided prophetic visions to priestesses always given the title of Pythia, in honor of the former protector of the site.

All that remains of Apollo’s temple at Delphi. By Skyring [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

In the past, I gave a rather different version of Python’s death, too, though it was still Apollo who killed Python, of course.

……and I can’t actually think of anything else to say about Python, actually.


Perplexing Mention

Yeah, this one is too weird to leave out.

Image copyright Atlus, but provided by the MegaTen Wiki. Click for link.

So, this little guy’s name is given as Porewit, and here’s what it says about him in Shin Megami Tensei IV/IV Apocalypse:

A beast that breathes fire, causing havoc in towns and in the mountains. Fires with unknown causes are said to be this creature’s work. When fires occur out of nowhere today, they are written off as spontaneous combustions, but in older times they were said to be caused by the anger of the Porewit. Whenever a fire like that occurred, the people would immediately go to Porewit’s altar and sacrifice cows and sheep. They must never laugh about it, for if they did, the fire would spread to their houses as well.

You may be wondering what’s perplexing about him?  Well, for starters, I found it odd that the description didn’t say where he’s from.  They usually do, y’know?  Based on the name, I was guessing eastern Europe, but there are a lot of cultures there to choose from!  I went to look him up on the MegaTen wiki, and found this to be the first paragraph of what it had to say about him:

Porewit is a West Slavic deity in Wendish mythology. He was the second god revered in Chareneza with Rugiewit and Porenut. Porewit has been depicted with five heads and no arms.

Yay for guessing the right region of the world for the name!  And yet…this is where it goes from there…

The Fōbi is a fictional spirit of Yugoslavia. It is a beast with seven heads that blows billowing flame from its necks. In 1960, it burned a police officer and his family to death when he tried to stop it.

It has no basis in real-life mythology, and was instead created for Toshiya Nakaoka’s 1968 book “Witchcraft of the World” (世界の魔術・妖術). It was eventually incorporated into other Japanese books on world mythology under the mistaken perception that it was a real European folk story.

And what’s a Fōbi?  In short, the thing in that picture is a Fōbi.  That’s what this demon is called in Japanese.  But because it’s a made up demon that was mistakenly believed by many (in Japan) to be real folklore, apparently Atlus USA didn’t want to include the name Fōbi, and instead decided to use the name of something real from the same region.  They probably picked Porewit because his appearance sounded about as close as they were going to get to what was in the drawing.  (Though it really, really isn’t the least bit close.  The only pages I could find on Wikipedia to talk about the actual Porewit didn’t say much, but what it did say had nothing whatsoever to do with that flaming puffball thing.)

Honestly, if it had been my decision, I would have used the original text, and then followed it up with the fictional beast invented for “Witchcraft of the World” etc.

Obviously, it wasn’t up to me.

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