The Myth of Typhon – the Most Feared Monster in Greek Mythology
In Greek mythology, there are a myriad of monsters and beasts, but many of those creatures pale in comparison to Typhon. Described as the youngest offspring of the primordial goddess of the Earth Gaia and Tartarus (the abyss), Typhon is portrayed as a fire-breathing monster with hundred dragons’ heads. He is an important character in Greek mythology, as he features prominently in the period that saw the Olympians take the reins of power from the old gods (i.e. the Titans). In the Typhonomachy, Typhon challenges Zeus for the supremacy of the universe.
What is Typhon’s origin story? And how did he come to be known as the deadliest creature in Greek mythology?
Below, WHE dive right into the birth story, family, depiction, and powers of Typhon. It also includes Typhon’s famous earth-shattering battle with Zeus, the King of the Olympians.
Typhon’s birth story and parents
According to the Theogony, an 8th to 7th century epic written by Greek poet Hesiod, Typhon was the offspring of primordial deities Gaia (Earth) and Tartarus (abyss). Saddened by the Titans’ loss of power to the new gods (Olympians), who were led by Zeus, Gaia is believed to have gone ahead to fuse with Tartarus, the embodiment of abyss and darkness, to create Typhon. The monster that Gaia created was tasked to halt Zeus and his band of Olympian gods from becoming rulers of the cosmos.
It’s also been stated in the myths that Gaia bore Typhon from the love she had for Tartarus. She did this with the help of the Greek goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite. However, some accounts, including the mythographer Apollodorus, state that Gaia rather bore Typhon out of deep hatred and disgust she had for the Olympians. The Earth goddess was said to be furious because Zeus and his Olympian gods had forced the Titans from heaven.
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Typhon – the product of Hera’s answered prayer?
In one account of the myth, Typhon is the offspring of Hera, queen of the Olympian gods, alone. This story is contained in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo, a 6th-century BC compilation of Greek myths. In the story, Hera had grown very jealous because her husband Zeus gave birth to the goddess Athena by himself.
Wanting to outdo Zeus, Hera prayed steadfastly to Gaia and other Titans to bless her with a son that would be more powerful than Zeus. Hera’s prayers were answered, and she conceived Typhon, a monster whose strength and abilities almost matched that of Zeus.
Also in this story, Hera is said to have placed the infant Typhon in the care of the fierce serpent Python. Typhon would then grow to become the ferocious monster that he came to be most known in Greek mythology.
Cronus’s seamen-smeared eggs
According to some parts of Homer’s Iliad, however, the mad Titan Cronus is the father of Typhon. That would then make Typhon the sibling of Zeus and the Olympian gods and goddesses. In this story, Cronus presents the goddess Hera with two eggs that had been smeared with the Titan’s own seamen. Cronus orders Hera to bury the eggs in the ground in Cilicia. From one of those eggs came forth Typhon.
The Cilician cave
Cilicia, a geo-cultural region in southern Anatolia (present-day Turkey), is commonly referred to as the birthplace of Typhon in the myths. This explains why ancient Greek lyric poet Pindar described Typhon as a Cilician. According to Pindar, Typhon was born deep in the Cilician cave. It’s also believed that he grew up in those caves.
Similarly, Aeschylus, the famous Greek tragedian and author of Prometheus Bound, describes the serpentine monster as the “dweller of the Cilician caves”.
The father of monsters in Greek mythology
Born with one singular purpose of taking out the Olympian gods, Typhon was a terrible monster who in some cases was described as having innumerable number of heads and arms.
Typhon’s love for carnage and destruction is what made him pursue fellow monster Echidna, a petrifying creature half-woman and half-snake. By Echidna, Typhon gave birth to many, many monsters in Greek mythology. Those mighty offspring of Typhon would go on to wreck untold damage and destruction, just like Typhon did.
According to the Greek poet Hesiod, Typhon and Echidna gave birth to many monsters, most famous among them:
- Orthrus, the two-headed dog that guarded the Cattle of Geryon on the island Erytheia.
- Cerberus, the three-headed hellhound and Hades’ lap dog
- The Lernaean Hydra, the multiheaded water serpent whom for every head that was cut off, two grew in its place.
- The Chimera, a powerful fire-breathing creature that was half lion and half goat with a snake’s tail
- The Nemean lion, the beast of impenetrable skin that Heracles was asked to kill as part of his twelve labors.
Some authors also state that the Sphinx and the Crommyonian Sow are the offspring of Typhon. The latter was slayed by the Athenian hero Theseus.
Typhon and his mate Echidna are the parents of many, many monsters in Greek mythology, including famous ones like Orthrus, the Lernaean Hydra, Cerberus, the Chimera, and the Prometheus’ eagle. Typhon is also the father of creatures like the sphinx, the Colchian dragon, Scylla, the three Gorgons (which includes the snaky-haired Medusa), and the Ladon creature.
In some versions of the story, Typhon is believed to be the father of the Caucasian Eagle, the powerful eagle that ate Prometheus’ liver on a daily basis. As a result, this eagle is sometimes known as the Prometheus’ eagle.
Also, the Ladon creature has been said to be the offspring of Typhon. Ladon is the fire-breathing dragon that guarded the golden apples in the Garden of the Hesperides.
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Typhon’s title as the fiercest monster in Greek mythology is certainly deserved. Homer describes the monster as having hundred snake heads, with each head spewing out very hot fire. As he moves, Typhon makes a shrieking sound that is deafening at best. The mighty beast possessed an enormous strength. Aside snakes, many heads of animals sprouted from his shoulders, including heads of dragons. Every one of those heads created an earsplitting sound that could be heard from far and wide.
Many of the depictions of Typhon portray him as nothing but evil and cruel. His cruelty surpassed anything that was in the cosmos. This is because he was born for one thing only: to annihilate the Olympian gods.
In some accounts, Typhon is said to have wings, making him an even fiercer opponent to contend with. This description of his is supported by the stories of Apollodorus and Aeschylus. It was said that when he walked his head would touch the stars. His arms could stretch in both directions to reach the east and the west. And from his eyes spewed fire that could incinerate targets from distance.
In terms of sheer size and strength, no monster in Greek mythology could rival Typhon. This means that wherever Typhon went misery, pain and devastation soon followed. He was probably Gaia’s greatest and most powerful child.
According to Nonnus of Panopolis, the Roman era poet who composed the Dionysiaca, Typhon is best described as the snaky-feet, snaky-haired and winged monster.
Being the son of the primordial earth goddess Gaia, Typhon has been described as “earth-born”. In that epithet of his, it is implied that he is the son of Gaia alone. Ancient Greek tragedian Aeschylus called Typhon “the dweller of the Cilician caves”. This epithet is in reference to Cilicia, Typhon’s place of birth.
Nonnus calls Typhon the “poison-spitting viper” because of the monster’s ability to rain down all manners of poison on its opponent. Pindar, on the other hand, describes Typhon as the “enemy of the gods”.
Another very common epithet used for Typhon is “Serpent of the Deep”. This epithet is in reference to the manner in which he was born.
Typhon and Seth
In the ancient Egyptian pantheon, Typhon’s equivalent can be seen as the dreadful and chaos-spreading god Seth. Also known as the god of the desert regions of outer Egypt, Seth infamously murdered his brother Osiris in order to usurp the throne of Egypt. He was ultimately defeated by his nephew, the falcon-headed god Horus.
Typhon vs. Zeus in the Typhonomachy
When the Olympians first gazed upon the terrifying eyes of Typhon, many of the gods transformed into animals and fled, with some gods going as far as Egypt. One of the few gods that stood their ground against the monster was Zeus. Zeus and Typhon then battled each other for the right to rule the cosmos, according to Hesiod’s Theogony.
In what could only be described as a cataclysmic conflict, Zeus threw many thunderbolts in order to bring down Typhon. While those two colossal forces had a go at each other, the earth shook, seas and oceans boiled, and large parts of the ground was scorched. The destruction even went to the nether regions of the underworld. The battle is believed to have raged on for more than 10,000 years, causing destruction almost everywhere in the cosmos.
Typhon countered Zeus’s thunder and lightning with fire and venom from his many mouths. There was endless shaking around the cosmos as Typhon got pelted with a barrage of thunderbolts from Zeus.
The fight would continue for a while until Zeus managed to overpower Typhon and send the beast crashing down to earth. In some of the myths, Zeus set Typhon’s numerous heads ablaze. In a different version, Zeus hurled rocks and mountains at Typhon.
Where is Typhon imprisoned or buried?
The commonly held view is that, after Zeus defeated Typhon, the monster was cast into Tartarus, i.e. the deepest part of the underworld. This view is shared by the likes of Hesiod and Pindar.
In some other version of the story, Zeus confined Typhon in the land of the Arimi in Cilicia or under Mount Etna or the island of Ischia. In Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound, Zeus buried Typhon beneath Mount Etna.
Latin poet Ovid, on the other hand, states that Typhon was buried under all of Sicily. The monsters left and right hands were buried under Pelorus and Pachynus; his feet under Lilybaeus; and his head under Etna.
Origins and family
More Typhon facts
Much of what we know about Typhon comes from two main sources – Prometheus Bound by ancient Greek tragedian Aeschylus, and the Theogony, a poem by ancient Greek poet Hesiod.
According to Apollodorus, Typhon was so powerful that he could hurl a whole mountain. This caused many of the Greek gods to flee, leaving Zeus as the only defender of Mount Olympus, according to Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound. However, according to Pindar and Nicander, only Zeus and his daughter the goddess Athena stood to fight against Typhon.
In one account, Typhon temporarily overpowers Zeus and imprisons the Olympian god at the Corycian cave in Cilicia. Greek gods Hermes and Pan freed Zeus, who then chased Typhon to Mount Nysa. There Typhon became weak after he had been tricked into eating ephemeral fruits by the Moirai. Typhon then fled to Thrace, where Zeus was able to redirect the mountains that Typhon threw at him. Injured and bleeding, Typhon was then captured and later imprisoned by Zeus.
In some variations, the blood that dripped from Typhon mixed with the mountain to become Mount Haemus, also known as “Bloody Mountain”.
There have been a varying number of places suggested as where Typhon is held prisoner. Some ancient authors claim that Typhon was imprisoned in Sicily, where Zeus threw Mount Etna on top of him.
In an account by Epimenides, a 7th or 6th century BC philosopher, Typhon entered Zeus’ palace with the intention of killing the Greek god. However, Zeus woke up just in time to thwart Typhon’s attempt. Ultimately Zeus killed Typhon by striking him down with a series of very powerful thunderbolts.
Pherecydes of Athens also gives multi-stage battle between Typhon and Zeus. The author states that Typhon fled to the Caucasus, causing the mountains there to erupt.
In some accounts of the myths, Typhon was originally a wind god. This would probably explain why his name was associated with the Persian word tūfān, a word used to describe the meteorological term typhoon.
There have been some ancient Roman authors, including Roman poets Horace and Hyginus, that regarded Typhon as part of the giants that Gaia gave birth to earlier. In those stories, Typhon fights alongside giants like Porphyrion, Mimas, and Enceladus against the Greek gods during the Gigantomachy.
Typhon is often depicted as absolutely terrifying monster with many heads (often snake and dragon heads), hands, and tails. The 2nd-century BC Greek poet and grammarian Nicander of Colophon describes the monster as one of unbridled strength and very strange looking.
It is a bit unclear as to whether Typhon was borne out of love or hate. In some accounts, Gaia, with Tartarus, gave birth to Typhon out of love; however, in another account, Typhon emerged as a result of the unbridled hate Gaia had for the Olympian gods, who had just toppled the Titans from power.