In Greek mythology, Echidna (//; Greek: Ἔχιδνα, "She-Viper") was a monster, half-woman and half-snake, who lived alone in a cave. She was the mate of the most fearsome monster Typhon, and known primarily for being the mother of monsters, and many of the more famous monsters in Greek myth were said to be her offspring.
Echidna's family tree, varies by author. The oldest genealogy relating to Echidna, Hesiod's Theogony (c. 8th – 7th century BC), is unclear at several points. According to Hesiod, Echidna was born to a "she" who was probably meant by Hesiod to be the sea goddess Ceto, making Echidna's father (presumably) the sea god Phorcys, although the "she" might possibly refer instead to the naiad Callirhoe, which would make Chrysaor Echidna's father. Pherecydes of Leros (5th century BC) has Echidna as the daughter of Phorcys, without naming a mother.
Other authors give Echidna other parents. According to the geographer Pausanias (2nd century AD), Epimenides (7th or 6th century BC) had Echidna as the daughter of the Oceanid Styx (goddess of the river Styx) and one Peiras (otherwise unknown to Pausanias), while according to Apollodorus (1st or 2nd century AD), Echidna was the daughter of Tartarus and Gaia. In one account, from the Orphic tradition, Echidna was the daughter of Phanes.
Hesiod's Echidna was half beautiful maiden (presumably the upper half) and half fearsome snake. Hesiod described "the goddess fierce Echidna" as a flesh eating "monster, irresistible", who was like neither "mortal men" nor "the undying gods", but was "half a nymph with glancing eyes and fair cheeks, and half again a huge snake, great and awful, with speckled skin", who "dies not nor grows old all her days." Hesiod's apparent association of the eating of raw flesh with Echidna's snake half, suggests that Hesiod may have supposed that Echidna's snake half ended in a snake-head. And Aristophanes (late 5th century BC), who makes Echidna a monster of the underworld, gives her a hundred heads (presumably snake heads), matching the hundred snake heads Hesiod says her mate Typhon had.
In the Orphic account (mentioned above) Echidna is described as having the head of a beautiful woman with long hair, and a serpent's body from the neck down. Nonnus, in his Dionysiaca, describes Echidna as being "hideous", with "horrible poison".
According to Hesiod's Theogony, the "terrible" and "lawless" Typhon, "was joined in love to [Echidna], the maid with glancing eyes" and she bore "fierce offspring": first there was Orthrus, the two-headed dog who guarded the Cattle of Geryon, second Cerberus, the multiheaded dog who guarded the gates of Hades, and third the Lernaean Hydra, the many-headed serpent who, when one of its heads was cut off, grew two more. The Theogony may also have given Echidna as the mother of the Chimera, a fire-breathing beast that was part lion, part goat, and had a snake-headed tail, though possibly the Hydra or even Ceto was meant as the mother of the Chimera instead. Hesiod next mentions the Sphinx and the Nemean lion as having been the offspring of Echidna's son Orthrus, by another ambiguous "she", read variously as the Chimera, Echidna herself, or even Ceto. In any case, the sixth-century BC lyric poet Lasus of Hermione, has Echidna and Typhon as the parents of the Sphinx, while the fifth-century BC playwright Euripides, has Echidna as her mother, without mentioning a father. To this list of offspring of Echidna and Typhon, the sixth-century BC mythographer Acusilaus (along with mentions of Cerberus and "other monsters") adds the Caucasian Eagle, that every day ate the liver of Prometheus, and Pherecydes also names Prometheus' eagle, and adds Ladon, the dragon that guarded the golden apples in the Garden of the Hesperides (according to Hesiod, the offspring of Ceto and Phorcys).
Later authors mostly retain these offspring of Echidna and Typhon while adding others. Apollodorus, in addition to having as their offspring Orthrus, the Chimera (citing Hesiod as his source), the Sphinx, the Caucasian Eagle, Ladon, and probably the Nemean lion (only Typhon is named), also has the Crommyonian Sow, killed by the hero Theseus (unmentioned by Hesiod). Hyginus in his list of offspring of Echidna (all by Typhon), retains from the above: Cerberus, the Chimera, the Sphinx, the Hydra and Ladon, and adds "Gorgon" (by which Hyginus means the mother of Medusa rather than Hesiod's three Gorgons, daughters of Phorcys and Ceto, of which Medusa was one), the Colchian Dragon that guarded the Golden Fleece and Scylla. The Harpies, in Hesiod the daughters of Thaumas and the Oceanid Electra, in one source, are said to be the daughters of Typhon, and so perhaps were suppossed also to be the daughters of Echidna.
Nonnus makes Echidna the mother of an unnamed, venom spitting, "huge" son, with "snaky" feet, an ally of Cronus in his war with Zeus, who was killed by Ares. The sea serpents which attacked the Trojan priest Laocoön, during the Trojan War, were perhaps supposed to be the progeny of Echdna and Typhon. Echidna was also supposed to be the mother by Heracles, of Scythes, an eponymous king of the Scythians, along with his brothers Agathyrsus and Gelonus (see below).
According to Hesiod, Echidna was born in a cave. And apparently she lived alone (in that same cave, or perhaps another), as Hesiod describes it, "beneath the secret parts of the holy earth ... deep down under a hollow rock far from the deathless gods and mortal men", a place appointed by the gods, where she "keeps guard in Arima". (Though Hesiod here may possibly be referring to Echidna's mother Ceto's home cave instead). It was from this cave, apparently, as Apollodorus tells us, that Echidna used to "carry off passers-by".
Hesiod locates Echidna's cave in Arima (εἰν Ἀρίμοισιν). Presumably this is the same place where, in Homer's Iliad, Zeus lashes, with his thunderbolts, the land about Echidna's mate Typhon, described as the land of the Arimoi (εἰν Ἀρίμοις), "where men say is the couch [bed] of Typhoeus", Typhoeus being another name for Typhon. But neither Homer nor Hesiod say anything more about where this Arima might be. The question of whether an historical place was meant, and if so, its possible location, has been, since ancient times, the subject of speculation and debate.
The geographer Strabo (c. 20 AD) discusses the question in some detail. Several locales, Cilicia, Syria, Lydia, and the Island of Pithecussae (modern Ischia), each associated with Typhon in various ways, are given by Strabo as possible locations for Hesiod's "Arima" (or Homer's "Arimoi").
The region in the vicinity of the ancient Cilician coastal city of Corycus (modern Kızkalesi, Turkey) is often associated with Typhon's birth. The poet Pindar (c. 470 BC), who has Typhon born in Cilicia, and nurtured in "the famous Cilician cave" an apparent allusion to the Corycian cave, also has Zeus slaying Typhon "among the Arimoi". The fourth-century BC historian Callisthenes, located the Arimoi and the Arima mountains in Cilicia, near the Calycadnus river, the Corycian cave and the Sarpedon promomtory. The b scholia to Iliad 2.783, preserving a possible Orphic tradition, has Typhon born "under Arimon in Cilicia", and Nonnus mentions Typhon's "bloodstained cave of Arima" in Cilicia.
Just across the Gulf of Issus from Corycus, in ancient Syria, was Mount Kasios (modern Mount Aqraa in Turkey) and the Orontes River, said to be the site of the battle of Typhon and Zeus. According to Strabo, the historian Posidonius identified the Arimoi with the Aramaeans of Syria.
For some Arima was instead located in a volcanic mountainous area called the Catacecaumene ("Burnt Land"), situated between the ancient kingdoms of Lydia, Mysia and Phrygia, near Mount Tmolus (modern Bozdağ) and Sardis the ancient capital of Lydia. According to Strabo, some placed the Arimoi, and the battle between Typhon and Zeus at Catacecaumene, while Xahthus of Lydia added that "a certain Arimus" ruled there. Strabo also tells us that for "some" Homer's "couch of Typhon" (and hence the Arimoi) was located "in a wooded place, in the fertile land of Hyde", with Hyde being another name for Sardis (or its acropolis), and that Demetrius of Scepsis thought that the Arimoi were most plausibly located "in the Catacecaumene country in Mysia". The third-century BC poet Lycophron, placed Echidna's lair in this region.
Another place, mentioned by Strabo, as being associated with Arima, is the volcanic island of Pithecussae, off the coast of ancient Cumae in Italy. According to Pherecydes of Leros, Typhon fled to Pithecussae during his battle with Zeus, and according to Pindar, Typhon lay burried beneath the island. Strabo reports the "myth" that when Typhon "turns his body the flames and the waters, and sometimes even small islands containing boiling water, spout forth." The connection to Arima, comes from the island's Greek name Pithecussae, which derives from the Greek word for monkey, and according to Strabo, residents of the island said that "arimoi" was also the Etruscan word for monkeys.
Quintus Smyrnaeus locates her cave "close on the borders of Eternal Night".
Although for Hesiod, Echidna was immortal and ageless, according to Apollodorus, Echidna continued to prey on the unfortunate "passers-by", until she was finally killed, while she slept, by Argus Panoptes, the hundred-eyed giant who served Hera.
The Scythian echidna
From the fifth century BC historian Herodotus, we learn of a creature who, though Herodotus does not name as Echidna, is called an echidna ("she-viper") and resembles the Hesiodic Echidna in several respects. She was half woman half snake, lived in a cave, and was known as a mother figure, in this case, as the progentitor of the Scythians (rather than of monsters).
According to Herodotus, Greeks living in Pontus, a region on the southern coast of the Black Sea, told a story of an encounter between Heracles and this snaky creature. Heracles was driving the cattle of Geryones through what would later become Scythia, when one morning he awoke and discovered that his horses had disappeared. While searching for them, he "found in a cave a creature of double form that was half maiden and half serpent; above the buttocks she was a woman, below them a snake." She had the horses and promised to return them if Heracles would have sex with her. Heracles agreed and she had three sons by him: Agathyrsus, Gelonus and Scythes. She asked Heracles what she should do with his sons: "shall I keep them here (since I am queen of this country), or shall I send them away to you?" And Heracles gave her a bow and belt, and told her, that when the boys were grown, whichever would draw the bow and wear the belt, keep him and banish the others. The youngest son Scythes fulfilled the requirements and became the founder and eponym of the Scythians.
The Viper in the Acts of Philip
A possibly related creature to the Hesiodic Echidna is the "Viper" (Echidna) cast into an abyss in the apocryphal Acts of Philip. Called a "she dragon" (drakaina) and "the mother of the seprents", this Echidna ruled over many other monstrous dragons and snakes, and lived in a gated temple, where she was worshipped by the people of that land. She, along with her temple and priests, was swallowed up by a hole in the ground that opened beneath her, as the result of Philip's curse.
Echidna was perhaps associated with the monster killed by Apollo at Delphi. Though usually this monster is the serpent Python, in the oldest account of this story, the Homeric Hymn to Apollo, the god kills a nameless she-serpent (drakiana), subsequently called Delphyne, who had been Typhon's foster-mother. Echidna and Delphyne share several similarities. Both were half-maid and half-snake, and a plague to men. And both were intimately connected to Typhon, and associated with the Corycian cave.
No certain ancient depictions of Echidna survive. According to Pausanias, Echidna was depicted, along with Typhon, on the sixth century BC Doric-Ionic temple complex at Amyclae, known as the throne of Apollo, designed by Bathycles of Magnesia. Pausanias identifies two standing figures on the left as Echidna and Typhon, with Tritons standing on the right, with no other details concerning these figures given.
- Echidna, a monotreme mammal of Australia and New Guinea named after the mythological monster.
- Nāgas, a race of water-dwelling beings of Hindu mythology who are also half-serpent.
- Nüwa, a goddess in ancient Chinese mythology best known for creating mankind and repairing the wall of heaven, often depicted as having the body of a snake, or the lower part of her body being that of a snake.
- Variant of ἔχις, also meaning "viper" from Proto-Indo-European *h1eǵhi- (see R. S. P. Beekes, Etymological Dictionary of Greek, Brill, 2009, p. 489).
- Ogden 2013a, p. 81.
- For a discussion of Echidna's varying genealogy see Ogden 2013a, pp. 148–150.
- Hesiod, Theogony 270-300. Though Herbert Jennings Rose says simply that it is "not clear which parents are meant", Athanassakis, p. 44, says that Phorcys and Ceto are the "more likely candidates for parents of this hideous creature who proceeded to give birth to a series of monsters and scourges". The problem arises from the ambiguous referent of the pronoun "she" in line 295 of the Theogony. While some have read this "she" as referring to Callirhoe (e.g. Smith "Echidna"; Morford, p. 162), according to Clay, p. 159, note 32, "the modern scholarly consensus" reads Ceto, see for example Gantz, p. 22; Caldwell, pp. 7, 46 295–303; Grimal, "Echidna" p. 143.
- Fowler 2001, p. 278 fr. 7; Hošek, p. 678.
- Epimenides apud Pausanias, 8.18.2.
- Apollodorus, Library 2.1.2. According to the sixth century AD neoplatonist Olympiodorus, Typhon, Echidna, and Python were all the progeny of Tartarus and Gaia, with each being a cause of a specific kind of disorder, in Echidna's case, "a cause revenging and punishing rational souls; and hence the upper arts of her are those of a virgin, but the lower those of a serpent", see Taylor 1824, pp. 76–77 n. 63.
- Orphic Fragment 58 Kern = Athenagoras, Apology 20 (p. 397); van den Broek, p. 137 n. 20; Fowler 2013, p. 9.
- Hesiod, Theogony 295-305.
- Ogden 2013a, p. 81.
- Aristophanes, Frogs 473–474; Hošek. p. 678. Ogden 2013a, p. 81, calls Aristophanes' description "exuberant", which "need not relate to canon", see also Ogden 2013b pp. 65–66. For the hundred-headed Typhon see Hesiod, Theogony 825; see also Aeschylus (?), Prometheus Bound 351; Apollodorus, 1.6.3. Pindar, Pythian 1.16; 8.15–16, and Olympian 4.7, all give Typhon a hundred heads, but Pindar, fragment 93 (Race, p. 319 = Strabo, 13.4.6) gives Typhon fifty.
- Orphic Fragment 58 Kern = Athenagoras, Apology 20 (p. 397); van den Broek, p. 137 n. 20; Fowler 2013, p. 9.
- Nonnus, Dionysiaca 18.273 ff. (II pp. 82–83).
- Hesiod, Theogony 306–314.
- Compare with Lycophron, Alexandra 1351 ff. (pp. 606–607), which refers to Echidna as Typhon's spouse (δάμαρ).
- Apollodorus, Library 2.5.10 also has Orthrus as the offspring of Echidna and Typhon. Quintus Smyrnaeus, Posthomerica (or Fall of Troy) 6.249 ff. (pp. 272–273) has Cerberus as the offspring of Echidna and Typhon, and Orthrus as his brother.
- Acusilaus, fragment 6 (Freeman, p. 15), Bacchylides, Ode 5.62, Sophocles, Women of Trachis 1097–1099, Callimachus, fragment 515 Pfeiffer (Trypanis, pp. 258–259), Ovid, Metamorphoses 4.500–501, 7.406–409, Hyginus, Fabulae Preface, 151, and Quintus Smyrnaeus, loc. cit., also have Cerberus as the offspring of Echidna, though only Acusilaus, Hyginus, and Quintus Smyrnaeus mention Typhon as the father.
- Hyginus, Fabulae Preface, 151 also has the Hydra and as the offspring of Echidna and Typhon.
- Hesiod, Theogony, 319
- The referent of the "she" in line 319 is uncertain, see Gantz, p. 22; Clay, p. 159 n. 34.
- The referent of the pronoun "she" in line 326 of the Theogony is uncertain, see Clay, p.159, note 34.
- Lasus of Hermione, fragment 706A (Campbell, pp. 310–311).
- Euripides, The Phoenician Women 1019–1020; Ogden 2013a, p. 149 n. 3.
- Acusilaus, fr. 13 Fowler (Fowler 2001, p. 11); Freeman, p. 15 fragment 6; Fowler 2013, p. 28; Gantz, p. 22; Ogden 2013a, pp. 149–150.
- Pherecydes of Leros, fr. 7 Fowler (Fowler 2001, p. 278); Fowler 2013, p. 28; Gantz, p. 22; Ogden 2013a, pp. 149–150.
- Pherecydes of Leros, fr. 16b Fowler (Fowler 2001, p. 286); Hesiod, Theogony 333–336; Fowler 2013, p. 28; Ogden 2013a, p. 149 n. 3; Hošek, p. 678.
- Apollodorus, Library 2.5.10 (Orthrus), 2.3.1 (Chimera), 3.5.8 (Sphinx), 2.5.11 (Caucasian Eagle), 2.5.11 (Ladon), 2.5.1 (Nemean lion), Epitome 1.1 (Crommyonian Sow).
- Hyginus, Fabulae Preface, 151.
- Compare with Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica, 2.1208–1215 (pp. 184–185), where the dragon is the offspring of Gaia by Typhon (Hošek, p. 168).
- See also Virgil, Ciris 67; Lyne, pp. 130–131.
- Hesiod, Theogony, 265–269; so also Apollodorus, 1.2.6, and Hyginus, Fabulae Preface (though Fabulae 14, gives their parents as Thaumas and Oxomene). In the Epimenides Theogony (3B7) they are the daughters of Oceanus and Gaia, while in Pherecydes of Syros (7B5) they are the daughters of Boreas (Gantz, p. 18).
- Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 4.428, 516.
- Nonnus, Dionysiaca 18.273 ff. (II pp. 82–83); Ogden 2013a, p. 150 n. 4; Hošek, p. 678.
- Hošek, p. 168; see Quintus Smyrnaeus, Posthomerica (or Fall of Troy) 12.449–453 (pp. 518–519), where they are called "fearful monsters of the deadly brood of Typhon".
- Hesiod, Theogony 295-305.
- West, p. 250 line 301. οι; Gantz, p. 22.
- Apollodorus, Library 2.1.2.
- Homer, Iliad 2.783; Fontenrose, p. 72; West, p. 251 line 304 εἰν Ἀρίμοισιν; Lane Fox, p. 288; Ogden 2013a, p. 76; Fowler 2013, p. 28. West, notes that Typhon's "couch" appears to be "not just 'where he lies', but also where he keeps his spouse"; compare with Quintus Smyrnaeus, 8.98.
- For an extensive discussion see Lane Fox, espesially pp. 39, 107, 283–301; 317–318. See also West, pp. 250–251 line 304 εἰν Ἀρίμοισιν; Ogden 2013a, p. 76; Fowler 2013, pp. 28–30.
- Strabo, 13.4.6.
- Pindar, Pythian 1.15–17; compare with Pindar, Pythian 8.15–16, which calls Typhon "Cilician", Aeschylus (?), Prometheus Bound 353–356, which calls Typhon "the earth-born dweller of the Cilician caves", and Apollodorus, 1.6.3, which has Typhon born in Cilicia, and deposit the incapacitated Zeus in Typhon's "Corycian cave". See also Nonnus, Dionysiaca 1.140. (I pp. 12–13), 1.154. (I pp. 14–15), 1.258–260 (I pp. 20–23), 1.321 (I pp. 26–27), 2.35 (I pp. 46–47), 2.631 ff. (I pp. 90–91).
- Fontenrose, pp. 72–73; West, pp. 250–251 line 304 εἰν Ἀρίμοισιν.
- Pindar, fragment 93 (Race, p. 319) = Strabo, 13.4.6.
- Callisthenes FGrH 124 F33 = Strabo, 13.4.6; Ogden 2013a, p. 76; Ogden 2013b, p. 25; Lane Fox, p. 292. Lane Fox, pp. 292–298, connects Arima with the Hittite place names "Erimma" and "Arimmatta" which he associates with the Corycian cave.
- Kirk, Raven, and Schofield. pp. 59–60 no. 52; Ogden 2013b, pp. 36–38; Gantz, pp. 50–51, Ogden 2013a, p. 76 n. 46.
- Nonnus, Dionysiaca 1.140. (I pp. 12–13).
- Strabo, 16.2.7; Apollodorus, 1.6.3; Ogden 2013a, p. 76.
- Strabo, 16.4.27. According to West, p. 251, "This identification [Arimoi as Aramaeans] has been repeated in modern times." For example for Fontenrose, p. 71, the "Arimoi, it seems fairly certain, are the Aramaeans, and the country is either Syria or Cilicia, most likely the latter, since in later sources that is usually Typhon's land." But see Fox Lane, pp. 107, 291–298, which rejects this identification, instead arguing for the derivation of "Arima" from the Hittite place names "Erimma" and "Arimmatta".
- Lane Fox, pp. 289–291, rejects Catacecaumene as the site of Homer's "Arimoi".
- Strabo, 12.8.19, compare with Diodorus Siculus 5.71.2–6, which says that Zeus slew Typhon in Phrygia.
- Strabo, 13.4.11.
- Strabo, 13.4.6. For Hyde see also Homer, Iliad 20.386.
- Lycophron, Alexandra 1351 ff. (pp. 606–607) associates Echidna's "dread bed" with a lake identified as Lake Gygaea or Koloe (modern Lake Marmara), see Robert, pp. 334 ff.; Lane Fox, pp. 290–291. For Lake Gygaea see Homer, Iliad 2.864–866; Herodotus, 1.93; Strabo, 13.4.5–6.
- Gantz, p. 50; Fowler 2013, p. 29.
- So Strabo, 5.4.9, 13.4.6; Lane Fox, p. 299, Ogden 2013a, p. 76. Pindar, Pythian 1.15–20; has Typhon burried under a much vaster region, than just Pithecussae, though he doesn't mention the island by name, stretching from Mount Etna in Sicily, to the "sea-girt cliffs above Cumae" (Lane Fox, p. 299, argues that the "cliffs" mentioned by Pindar refer to the island cliffs of Ischia). Compare with Pindar, Olympian 4.6–7, which also has Typhon under Etna.
- Strabo, 5.4.9.
- Strabo, 13.4.6; Lane Fox, pp. 298–301; Ogden 2013a, p. 76 n. 47; Fowler 2013, p. 29.
- Quintus Smyrnaeus, Posthomerica (or Fall of Troy) 6.260 ff. (pp. 272–273).
- Hesiod, Theogony 305.
- Apollodorus, Library 2.1.2. Gantz, pp. 201–202 finds "no trace" of such a tale in Archaic literature.
- Herodotus, 4.8–10; Ogden 2013b, pp. 16–17; Ogden 2013a, p. 81 with n. 71. While the Scythian echidna is sometimes identified with the Hesiodic Echidna (e.g. Grimal, "Echidna", p. 143, "Scythes" pp. 414–415), Ogden 2013b describes the Scythian as "seemingly calqued upon" the Hesiodic (p. 13), and asserts that "there is no particular reason to infer" that the two are "fully identifiable" (p. 17).
- For an English translation of the Acts of Philip, see Buvon; for an English translation of selected passages (relating to dragons) see also Ogden 2013b pp. 207–215. For the possible relationship between the "Viper" and the Hesiodic Echidna, see Ogden 2013a, pp. 81–82, 422–425; Ogden 2013b, p. 16, p. 216; Fontenrose, pp. 95–96.
- Acts of Philip, 8.17 (V); Bovon, p. 79; Ogden 2013b, p. 208.
- Acts of Philip, Martyrdom 19 (V); Bovon, p. 99; Ogden 2013b, pp. 213–214.
- Acts of Philip, Martyrdom 26–27 (V); Bovon, pp. 101–102; Ogden 2013b, pp. 214–215.
- Hymn to Apollo (3) 300–306, 349–369; Ogden 2013a, pp. 40 ff.; Gantz, p. 88; Fontenrose, pp. 14–15; p. 94. Apollodorus, 1.6.3, for example, calls her Delphyne.
- Fontenrose, pp. 94–97 argues that Echidna and Delphyne (along with Ceto and possibly Scylla) were different names for the same creature.
- Apollodorus, 1.6.3 calls Delphyne both a drakaina and a "half-bestial maiden"; see Ogden 2013a, p. 44, Fontenrose, p. 95.
- Hymn to Apollo (3) 300–304; see Fontenrose, p. 14.
- According to Apollodorus, 1.6.3, Typhon set Delphyne as guard over Zeus' severed sinews in the Corycian cave; see Ogden, 2013a, p. 42; Fontenrose, p. 94.
- Hošek, p. 169. The identification of Echidna fighting Heracles on a restoration of a pediment from the Athenian Acropolis, (see for example Gardner, p. 159) is now rejected.
- Gardner, p. 78; Pausanias, 3.18.10.
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