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Typhon (/, /; Greek: Τυφῶν, Tuphōn [typʰɔ̂ːn]), also Typhoeus (//; Τυφωεύς, Tuphōeus), Typhaon (Τυφάων, Tuphaōn) or Typhos (Τυφώς, Tuphōs) was the most fearsome monster of Greek mythology. The last son of Gaia, fathered by Tartarus, he was known as the "Father of All Monsters"; his mate Echidna was likewise the "Mother of All Monsters."
Typhon was described in Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheke, as the largest and most fearsome of all creatures. His human upper half reached as high as the stars, and his hands reached east and west. Instead of a human head, a hundred dragon heads erupted from his neck and shoulders (some, however, depict him as having a human head, with the dragon heads replacing the fingers on his hands). His bottom half consisted of gigantic viper coils that could reach the top of his head when stretched out and constantly made a hissing noise. His whole body was covered in wings, and fire flashed from his eyes, striking fear even into the Olympians.
Typhon attempts to destroy Zeus at the will of Gaia, because Zeus had imprisoned the Titans. Typhon overcomes Zeus in their first battle, and tears out Zeus' sinews. However, Hermes recovers the sinews and restores them to Zeus. Typhon is finally defeated by Zeus, who traps him underneath Mount Etna.
Hesiod narrates Typhon's birth in this poem:
- But when Zeus had driven the Titans from Olympus,
- mother Earth bore her youngest child Typhoeus of the love of
- Tartarus, by the aid of golden Aphrodite.
- — Hesiod, Theogony 820–822.
In the alternative account of the origin of Typhon (Typhoeus), the Homeric Hymn to Apollo makes the monster Typhaon at Delphi a son of archaic Hera in her Minoan form, produced out of herself, like a monstrous version of Hephaestus, and whelped in a cave in Cilicia and confined there in the enigmatic Arima, or land of the Arimoi, en Arimois (Iliad, ii. 781–783). It was in Cilicia that Zeus battled with the ancient monster and overcame him, in a more complicated story: It was not an easy battle, and Typhon temporarily overcame Zeus, cut the "sinews" from him and left him in the "leather sack", the korukos that is the etymological origin of the korukion andron, the Korykian or Corycian Cave in which Zeus suffers temporary eclipse as if in the Land of the Dead. The region of Cilicia in southeastern Anatolia had many opportunities for coastal Hellenes' connection with the Hittites to the north. From its first reappearance, the Hittite myth of Illuyankas has been seen as a prototype of the battle of Zeus and Typhon. Walter Burkert and Calvert Watkins each note the close agreements. Watkins' How to Kill a Dragon: Aspects of Indo-European Poetics (Oxford University Press) 1995, reconstructs in disciplined detail the flexible Indo-European poetic formula that underlies myth, epic and magical charm texts of the lashing and binding of Typhon.
Typhon fathered several children by his wife-niece, Echidna:
- Orthrus, a fearsome two-headed hound. Theogony, 306ff. Orthrus, and his master, Eurytion, son of Ares and the Hesperid Erytheia, guarded the fabulous red cattle of Geryon. Both were slain, along with Geryon, when Heracles stole the red cattle.
- The Sphinx was sent by Hera to plague the city of Thebes. She was the most brilliant of Typhon's children, and would slay anyone who could not answer her riddles (possibly by strangling them, as her name translates from Greek meaning "to squeeze"). When Oedipus finally answered her riddle, she threw herself into the ocean in a fit of fury and drowned.
- The Nemean Lion was a gigantic lion with impenetrable skin. Another legend claimed that the beast is the son of Selene and Zeus. Heracles was commanded to slay the Lion as the first of his Twelve Labors. First, he attempted to shoot arrows at it, then he used his great club, and was eventually forced to strangle the beast. He would then use the Lion's own claws to skin it, whereupon he wore its invulnerable hide as armor.
- Cerberus, another one of Typhon's sons was a three-headed dog that was employed by Hades as the guardian of the passageway to and from the Underworld.
- Ladon was a serpentine dragon, known as a drakon. According to Hesiod, Ladon was the son of Phorcys and Ceto, instead of Typhon and Echidna. Regardless of his parentage, Ladon entwined himself around the tree in the Garden of the Hesperides at the behest of Hermes, who appointed him its guardian. He was eventually killed by Heracles.
- The Lernaean Hydra, another one of Typhon's daughters, terrorized a spring at the lake of Lerna, near Argos, slaying anyone and anything that approached her lair with her noxious venom, save for a monstrous crab that was her companion. She was originally thought to have nine heads, and any neck, if severed, would give rise to two more heads; her ninth head was immortal. She and her crab were slain by Heracles as the second of his Twelve Labors - he cut off her heads and burnt the stumps so that she could not regenerate, and crushed her ninth head under a rock. (The crab was crushed underneath Heracles' heel when it tried to stop him.)
- The Bibliotheca described the Crommyonian Sow as an offspring of Typhon and Echidna, but by other accounts it was bred by an old crone named Phaea. Some versions name the sow herself as Phaea.
- Typhon's last child was his daughter, Chimera. Chimera resembled a tremendous, fire-breathing lioness with a goat's head emerging from the middle of her back, and had a snake for a tail. She roamed the ancient kingdom of Lycia, particularly around Mount Chimaera (possibly near Yanartaş), bringing bad omens and destruction in her wake, until she was slain by Bellerophon and Pegasus at the behest of Iobates.
Battle with Zeus
Typhon started destroying cities and hurling mountains in a fit of rage. With the exception of Zeus, Dionysus, and Athena, the gods of Olympus fled from their home to Egypt, where they hid themselves by taking the forms of various animals. When Athena accused Zeus of cowardice, he regained his courage and attacked the monster. The battle raged, ending when Zeus threw one hundred well aimed lightning bolts on top of Typhon, trapping him.
The inveterate enemy of the Olympian gods is described in detail by Hesiod as a vast grisly monster with a hundred serpent heads "with dark flickering tongues" flashing fire from their eyes and a din of voices and a hundred serpents for legs, a feature shared by many primal monsters of Greek myth that extend in serpentine or scaly coils from the waist down. The titanic struggle created earthquakes and tsunami. Once conquered by Zeus' thunderbolts, Typhon was either cast into Tartarus (Hesiod, Theogony), the common destiny of many such archaic adversaries, or confined beneath Mount Etna (Hesiod, Theogony; Pindar, Pythian Ode 1.19–20; Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 370), where "his bed scratches and goads the whole length of his back stretched out against it", or in other volcanic regions, where he is the cause of eruptions. Typhon is thus the chthonic figuration of volcanic forces, as Hephaestus (Roman Vulcan) is their "civilized" Olympian manifestation.
Typhon is also the father of hot dangerous storm winds which issue forth from the stormy pit of Tartarus, according to Hesiod. Likewise, the rumblings of Typhon emitted from deepest Tartarus could be clearly heard within the underground torrent near Seleuceia, now in Turkey, until his presence was neutralized by the building of a Byzantine church nearby.
Origin of name
Typhon may be derived from the Greek τύφειν (typhein), to smoke, hence it is considered to be a possible etymology for the word typhoon, supposedly borrowed by the Persians (as طوفان Tufân) and Arabs to describe the cyclonic storms of the Indian Ocean. The Greeks also frequently represented him as a storm-demon, especially in the version where he stole Zeus's thunderbolts and wrecked the earth with storms (cf. Hesiod, Theogony; Nonnus, Dionysiaca).
Related concepts and myths
As noted by Herodotus, Typhon was traditionally identified with the Egyptian Set, who was also known to the Greeks as Typhon. As early as pre-dynastic Egypt, Set's mascot or emblem was the Set animal; the Greeks and later classicists referred to this unidentified aardvark-like creature as the Typhonic beast. In the Orphic tradition, just as Set is responsible for the murder of Osiris, Typhon leads the Titans when they attack and kill Dionysus, who also became identified with the earlier Osiris.
Comparisons can also be drawn with the Mesopotamian monster Tiamat and her slaying by Babylonian chief god Marduk. The similarities between the Greek myth and its earlier Mesopotamian counterpart do not seem to be merely accidental. A number of west Semitic (Ras Shamra) and Hittite sources appear to corroborate the theory of a genetic relationship between the two myths.
In works of culture
- Dante Alighieri's Inferno mentions him amongst the Biblical and mythological giants frozen onto the rings outside of Hell's Circle of Treachery. Dante and Virgil threatened to go to Tityos and Typhon unless Antaeus lowers them into the Circle of Treachery.
- Typhon appears (as Typhoeus) in Gustav Klimt's 1902 work, the Beethoven Frieze, as part of "the Hostile Forces".
- R. S. P. Beekes, Etymological Dictionary of Greek, Brill, 2009, p. 1522.
- W. Porzig, "Illuyankas und Typhon", Kleinasiatische Forschung I.3 (1930) pp 379–86
- Iliad ix.664
- Entry σφίγγω at LSJ.
- Apollodorus, Library 2.5.11
- Theogony 820–868
- "The whole earth seethed, and sky and sea: and the long waves raged along the beaches round and about, at the rush of the deathless gods: and there arose an endless shaking." (Hesiod, Theogony.)
- Robin Lane Fox, Pagans and Christians, 1989, p. 41
- The Masks of God: Occidental Mythology, Joseph Campbell; P.22.
- Jean-Pierre Vernant, The Origins of Greek Thought. Cornell University Press, 1982. http://books.google.fr/books?id=KktoPGN4JaoC
- Walter Burkert, Greek Religion 1985
- Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, (1955) 1960, §36.1–3
- Karl Kerenyi, The Gods of the Greeks 1951
- Calvert Watkins, How to Kill a Dragon 1995, 448–459
- Typhoeus at Theoi – compiled sources of myth in classical literature