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When he first exhibited this painting Turner appended lines adapted from the Hymn to Apollo by the Greek poet, Callimacchus. That text recounted the sun god Apollo’s quest to build a temple for his oracle at Delphi, which first necessitated that he overcome the giant dragon, Python, which lived nearby.

Turner interprets Apollo’s slaughter of the creature as a conquest of good over evil. He shows it, in pictorial terms, as the triumph of light over darkness. However, he also includes a smaller snake emerging from the dragon’s wound, perhaps hinting at the inescapable cyclical regeneration of brutal natural forces.

February 2010