Dragons in Greek mythology
Learn more about Dragons in Greek mythology
|Topics in Greek mythology|
Dragons play a role in Greek mythology.
Ladon was a dragon-like beast that was slain by Heracles in the garden of the Hesperides during the Twelve Labours required by Eurystheus. He is the hundred-headed dragon that guarded the Garden. He is variously described as the offspring of Phorcys and Ceto or of Typhon and Echidna.
 Pytho or Python
In Greek mythology Python was the earth-dragon of Delphi, always represented in the vase-paintings and by sculptors as a serpent. Pytho was the chthonic enemy of Apollo, who slew it and remade its former home his own oracle, the most famous in Greece.
There are various versions of Python's birth and death at the hands of Apollo. In the earliest, the Homeric Hymn to Apollo, little detail is given about Apollo's combat with the serpent or her parentage. The version related by Hyginus  holds that when Zeus lay with the goddess Leto, and she was to deliver Artemis and Apollo, 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. The priestess of the oracle at Delphi became known as the Pythia, after the place-name Pytho, which was named after the rotting (πύθειν) of the serpent's corpse after she was slain.
Ladon was the serpent-like dragon that twined round the tree in the Garden of the Hesperides and guarded the golden apples. He was overcome and slain by Heracles. The following day, the Argonauts passed by, on their chthonic return journey from Colchis at the opposite end of the world, and heard the lament of "shining" Aigle, one of the Hesperides, and viewed the still-twitching Ladon (Argonautica, book iv).
Ladon was given several parentages, each of which placed him at an archaic level in Greek myth: the offspring of "Ceto, joined in love with Phorcys" (Hesiod, Theogony 333) or of Typhon, who was himself serpentlike from the waist down, and Echidna (Bibliotheke 2.113; Hyginus, Preface to Fabulae) or of Gaia herself, or in her Olympian manifestation, Hera: "The Drakon which guarded the golden apples was the brother of the Nemean lion" asserted Ptolemy Hephaestion (recorded in his New History V, lost but epitomized in Photius, Myriobiblion 190).
The image of the snake-dragon coiled round the tree, originally adopterd by the Hellenes from Near Eastern and Minoan sources, is familiar from surviving Greek vase-painting. In the second century CE Pausanias saw among the treasuries at Olympia an archaic cult image in cedar-wood of Heracles and the apple-tree of the Hesperides with the dragon coiled around it (Description of Greece 6.19.8).
Ladon might be given multiple heads, a hundred in Aristophanes' The Frogs (a passing remark in line 475), which might speak with different voices.
Diodorus Siculus gives a euhemerist interpretation of Ladon, as a human shepherd guarding a flock of golden-fleeced sheep, adding "But with regards to such matters it will be every man’s privilege to form such opinions as accord with his own belief" (4.26.2).
Ladon is the constellation Draco, according to Hyginus' Astronomy.
Other dragonlike beasts were Lernaean Hydra with the ever-growing heads and many other serpentine creatures. Generally, dragons were used to guard treasures such as the golden fleece or the orchard of the Hesperides. Echidna was said to be the mother of all beasts, as she mated with the Titan Typhon: Cerberus, Orthrus, Sphinx and Ladon,amongst others, were all offspring of Echidna.