THE PYTHIAN ODES.
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OF THE PYTHIAN GAMES.
The Pythian Games were instituted in honour of Apollo. Conjectures vary with respect to the origin of the word, which some imagine to have been named from the serpent Python slain by that god. So Ovid (Met. i. 445) describing the generation and death of this monster:—
"Neve operis famam possit delere vetustas,
Instituit sacros celebri certamine ludos;
Pythia de domito serpentis nomine dictos."
Others derive the term απο του πυθεσθαι, because the serpent lay and putrefied there; others again απο του πυνθανεσθαι, from inquiry, because men in doubt went to consult the Pythian Apollo, out the most probable conjecture is that which derives them from Pytho, the ancient name of the town Delphi, situated in a valley of Mount Parnassus, the scene of their celebration, as the other Grecian games, the Olympian, Nemean, and Isthmian, were denominated from the spot on which they were held. The Pythian contests, which the Greeks regarded with the highest reverence, were instituted many years after the Olympic, and before the Isthmian.
Some authors maintain that they were established by Adrastus, king of Argos, B. C. 1263. At first they were held every ninth, but afterward every fifth year. It is said that in the first Pythiad the gods themselves were combatants; and that Castor won the prize in the stadic course, Pollux in boxing, Hercules in the pancratium, Calais in the foot race, Zetes in fighting with armour, Telamon in wrestling, and Peleus in throwing the quoit; and that the victor's reward was a laurel crown bestowed by Apollo, afterward changed for a garland of palm leaves. Ovid (loc. cit.) says that the wreath was arbitrary.
"His juvenum quicumque manu, pedibusve, rotave
Vicerat, esculeæ capiebat frondis honorem.
Nondum laurus erat; longoque descentia crine
Tempora cingebat de qualibet arbore Phœbus."
The exercises at these games were originally the same as at the Olympic, with the exception of the chariot race, which, however, was at length added. The songs by which the praises of Apollo for his victory over the serpent Pytho were celebrated were, according to Strabo, divided into ανακρουσις, the prelude; an allusion to which is probably contained in the opening of the Pythian odes: εμπειρα, the first experiment; κατακελευσμος, collecting courage and rousing for the fight; ιαμβος και δακτυλος, the insults of the god over his prostrate enemy; συριγγες, a shrill air expressing the hisses of the expiring serpent.
According to some authors, these games were introduced into Rome under the title of Ludi Apollinares.