Typhon (Ancient Greek: Τυφῶν, Tuphōn), also Typhoeus Τυφωεύς, Tuphōeus), Typhaon Τυφάων, Tuphaōn) or Typhos (Τυφώς, Tuphōs) is the final son of Gaia, fathered by Tartarus, and is the most deadly monster of Greek mythology. Typhon attempts to destroy Zeus at the will of Gaia, because Zeus had imprisoned the Titans.
Typhon was described in pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheke, as one of the largest and most fearsome of all creatures. His human upper half reached as high as the stars. His hands reached east and west and had a hundred dragon heads on each. He was feared even by the mighty gods. His bottom half was gigantic viper coils that could reach the top of his head when stretched out and made a hissing noise. His whole body was covered in wings, and fire flashed from his eyes.
Typhon was defeated by Zeus, who trapped him underneath Mount Etna.
Hesiod narrates Typhon's birth in this poem:
- But when Zeus had driven the Titans from Olympus,
- mother Earth bare 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 was the last child of Gaia. After the defeat of his brothers, the Gigantes, Gaia urged him to avenge them, as well as his other brothers, the Titans.
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). 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. Selene, the moon goddess, adored the beast. 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. According to Hesiod, he was the son of Orthrus and Echidna.
Orthrus, a fearsome, two-headed hound. According to Hesiod, he mated with his mother, Echidna, to sire Cerberus, the Nemean Lion, the Lernaean Hydra, the Sphinx and the Chimera. 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.
Ladon was a serpentine dragon. 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 Hera, who appointed him the garden's 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 and her crab were slain by Heracles as the second of his Twelve Labors (the crab being accidentally crushed underneath Heracles' heel).
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 challenged Zeus for rule of the cosmos. The earliest mention of Typhon, and his only occurrence in Homer, is a passing reference in the Iliad to Zeus striking the ground around where Typhon lies defeated. Hesiod's Theogony gives us the first account of their battle. According to Hesiod, without the quick action of Zeus, Typhon would have "come to reign over mortals and immortals". In the Theogony Zeus and Typhon meet in cataclysmic conflict:
[Zeus] thundered hard and mightily: and the earth around resounded terribly and the wide heaven above, and the sea and Ocean's streams and the nether parts of the earth. Great Olympus reeled beneath the divine feet of the king as he arose and earth groaned thereat. And through the two of them heat took hold on the dark-blue sea, through the thunder and lightning, and through the fire from the monster, and the scorching winds and blazing thunderbolt. 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. Hades trembled where he rules over the dead below, and the Titans under Tartarus who live with Cronos, because of the unending clamor and the fearful strife.
Zeus with his thunderbolt easily overcomes Typhon, who is thrown down to earth in a fiery crash:
So when Zeus had raised up his might and seized his arms, thunder and lightning and lurid thunderbolt, he leaped from Olympus and struck him, and burned all the marvellous heads of the monster about him. But when Zeus had conquered him and lashed him with strokes, Typhoeus was hurled down, a maimed wreck, so that the huge earth groaned. And flame shot forth from the thunderstricken lord in the dim rugged glens of the mount, when he was smitten. A great part of huge earth was scorched by the terrible vapor and melted as tin melts when heated by men's art in channelled crucibles; or as iron, which is hardest of all things, is shortened by glowing fire in mountain glens and melts in the divine earth through the strength of Hephaestus. Even so, then, the earth melted in the glow of the blazing fire.
Flight to Egypt
Epimenides (7th or 6th century BC) seemingly knew a different version of the story, in which Typhon enters Zeus' palace while Zeus is asleep, but Zeus awakes and kills Typhon with a thunderbolt. Pindar calls Typhon the "enemy of the gods", apparently knew of a tradition which had the gods transform into animals and flee to Egypt, says that Typhon was defeated by Zeus' thunderbolt, has Typhon being held prisoner by Zeus under Etna, and in Tartarus stretched out under ground between Mount Etna and Cumae. However, the historian Herodotus (5th century BC), equating Typhon with the Egyptian god Set, reports that Typhon was supposed to be buried instead under Lake Serbonis in Egypt, near the Egyptian Mount Kasios, (modern Ras Kouroun).
According to Pherecydes of Leros, during his battle with Zeus, Typhon first flees to the Caucasus, which begins to burn, then to the volcanic island of Pithecussae (modern Ischia), off the coast of Cumae, where he is buried under the island. Apollonius of Rhodes (3rd century BC), like Pherecydes, presents a multi-stage battle, with Typhon being struck by Zeus' thunderbolt on mount Caucasus, before fleeing to the mountains and plain of Nysa, and ending up, as in Herodotus, buried under Lake Serbonis.
Like Pindar, Nicander has all the gods but Zeus and Athena, transform into animal forms and flee to Egypt: Apollo became a hawk, Hermes an ibis, Ares a fish, Artemis a cat, Dionysus a goat, Heracles a fawn, Hephaestus an ox, and Leto a mouse.
The geographer Strabo (c. 20 AD) gives several locations which were associated with the battle. According to Strabo, Typhon was said to have cut the serpentine channel of the Orontes River, which flowed beneath the Syrian Mount Kasios (modern Jebel Aqra), while fleeing from Zeus, and some placed the battle at Catacecaumene ("Burnt Land"), a volcanic plain, on the upper Gediz River, between the ancient kingdoms of Lydia, Mysia and Phrygia, near Mount Tmolus (modern Bozdağ) and Sardis the ancient capital of Lydia.
No early source gives any reason for the conflict, but Apollodorus' account seemingly implies that Typhon had been produced by Gaia to avenge the destruction, by Zeus and the other gods, of the Giants, a previous generation of offspring of Gaia. According to Apollodorus "Zeus pelted Typhon at a distance with thunderbolts, and at close quarters struck him down with an adamantine sickle" Wounded, Typhon fled to the Syrian Mount Kasios, where Zeus "grappled" with him. But Typhon, twining his snaky coils around Zeus, was able to wrest away the sickle and cut the sinews from Zeus' hands and feet. Typhon carried the disabled Zeus across the sea to the Corycian cave in Cilicia where he set the she-serpent Delphyne to guard over Zeus and his severed sinews, which Typhon had hidden in a bear skin. But Hermes and Aegipan (possibly another name for Pan) stole the sinews and gave them back to Zeus. His strength restored, Zeus chased Typhon to mount Nysa, where the Moirai tricked Typhon into eating "ephemeral fruits" which weakened him. Typhon then fled to Thrace, where he threw mountains at Zeus, which were turned back on him by Zeus' thunderbolts, and the mountain where Typhon stood, being drenched with Typhon's blood, became known as Mount Haemus (Bloody Mountain). Typhon then fled to Sicily, where Zeus threw Mount Etna on top of Typhon burying him, and so finally defeated him.
Oppian (2nd century AD) says that Pan helped Zeus in the battle by tricking Typhon to come out from his lair, and into the open, by the "promise of a banquet of fish", thus enabling Zeus to defeat Typhon with his thunderbolts.
The longest and most involved account of the battle appears in Nonnus's Dionysiaca. Zeus hides his thunderbolts in a cave, so that he might seduce the maiden Plouto, and so produce Tantalus. But smoke rising from the thunderbolts, enables Typhon, under the guidance of Gaia, to locate Zeus's weapons, steal them, and hide them in another cave. Immediately Typhon extends "his clambering hands into the upper air" and begins a long and concerted attack upon the heavens. Then "leaving the air" he turns his attack upon the seas. Finally Typhon attempts to wield Zeus' thunderbolts, but they "felt the hands of a novice, and all their manly blaze was unmanned."
Now Zeus' sinews had somehow – Nonnus does not say how or when — fallen to the ground during their battle, and Typhon had taken them also. But Zeus devises a plan with Cadmus and Pan to beguile Typhon. Cadmus, desguised as a shepherd, enchants Typhon by playing the panpipes, and Typhon entrusting the thuderbolts to Gaia, sets out to find the source of the music he hears. Finding Cadmus, he challenges him to a contest, offering Cadmus any goddess as wife, excepting Hera whom Typhon has reserved for himself. Cadmus then tells Typhon that, if he liked the "little tune" of his pipes, then he would love the music of his lyre – if only it could be strung with Zeus' sinews. So Typhon retrieves the sinews and gives them to Cadmus, who hides them in another cave, and again begins to play his bewitching pipes, so that "Typhoeus yielded his whole soul to Cadmos for the melody to charm".
With Typhon distracted, Zeus takes back his thunderbolts. Cadmus stops playing, and Typhon, released from his spell, rushes back to his cave to discover the thunderbolts gone. Incensed Typhon unleashes devastation upon the world: animals are devoured, (Typhon's many animal heads each eat animals of its own kind), rivers turned to dust, seas made dry land, and the land "laid waist".
The day ends with Typhon yet unchallenged, and while the other gods "moved about the cloudless Nile", Zeus waits through the night for the coming dawn. Victory "reproaches" Zeus, urging him to "stand up as champion of your own children!" Dawn comes and Typhon roars out a challenge to Zeus. And a catyclismic battle for "the sceptre and throne of Zeus" is joined. Typhon piles up mountains as battlements and with his "legions of arms innumerable", showers volley after volley of trees and rocks at Zeus, but all are destroyed, or blown aside, or dodged, or thrown back at Typhon. Typhon throws torrents of water at Zeus' thunderbolts to quench them, but Zeus is able to cut off some of Typhon's hands with "frozen volleys of air as by a knife", and hurling thunderbolts is able to burn more of typhon's "endless hands", and cut off some of his "countless heads". Typhon is attacked by the four winds, and "frozen volleys of jagged hailstones." Gaia tries to aid her burnt and frozen son. Finally Typhon falls, and Zeus shouts out a long stream of mocking taunts, telling Typhon that he is to be buried under Sicily's hills, with a cenotaph over him which will read "This is the barrow of Typhoeus, son of Earth, who once lashed the sky with stones, and the fire of heaven burnt him up".
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-daemon, 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
Since Herodotus, Typhon has been identified with the Egyptian Set. In the Orphic tradition, Typhon leads the Titans when they attack and kill Dionysus, just as Set is responsible for the murder of Osiris. Furthermore, the slaying of Typhon by Zeus bears similarities to the killing of Vritra by Indra(a deity also associated with lightning and storms), and possibly the two stories are ultimately derived from a common Indo-European source. Similarities can be found in the battle between Thor and Jormungand from Norse myths; mythologist Joseph Campbell also makes parallels to the slaying of Leviathan by YHWH, about which YHWH boasts to Job
- W. Porzig, "Illuyankas und Typhon", Kleinasiatische Forschung I.3 (1930) pp 379-86
- Theogony, 306ff.
- Iliad ix.664
- Fontenrose, pp. 70–76; West 1966, pp. 379–383; Lane Fox, pp. 283–301; Gantz, pp. 48–50; Ogden 2013a, pp. 73–80.
- Homer, Iliad 2.780–784, a reference, apparently, not to their original battle but to an ongoing "lashing" by Zeus of Typhon where he lies buried, see Fontenrose, pp. 70–72; Ogden 2013a, p. 76.
- Hesiod, Theogony 836–838.
- Hesiod, Theogony 839–852.
- Zeus' apparently easy victory over Typhon in Hesiod, in contrast to other accounts of the battle (see below), is consistent with, for example, what Fowler 2013, p. 27 calls "Hesiod's pervasive glorification of Zeus".
- Hesiod, Theogony 853–867.
- Hesiod, Theogony 868.
- Epimenides fr. 10 Fowler (Fowler 2001, p. 97); Ogden 2013a, p. 74; Gantz, p. 49; Fowler 2013, p. 27 n. 93.
- Pindar, Pythian 1.15–16.
- Fowler 2013, p. 29; Ogden 2013a, p. 217; Gantz, p. 49; West 1966, p. 380; Fontenrose, p. 75.
- Pindar, Pythian 8.16–17.
- Pindar, Olympian 4.6–7.
- Pindar, Pythian 1.15–28; Gantz, p. 50.
- Herodotus, 3.5; Lane Fox, pp. 254ff., 288, 289; Fowler 2013, p. 28;
- Pherecydes of Leros, fr. 54 Fowler (Fowler 2001, p. 307); Fowler 2013, p. 29; Lane Fox, pp. 298–299; Ogden 2013a, p. 76 n. 47; Gantz, p. 50.
- Fowler 2013, p. 29; Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica 2.1208–1215 (pp. 184–185).
- Antoninus Liberalis 28.
- Strabo, 16.2.7; Ogden 2013a, p. 76.
- Strabo, 12.8.19, compare with Diodorus Siculus 5.71.2–6, which says that Zeus slew Typhon in Phrygia.
- Lane Fox, pp. 289–291, rejects Catacecaumene as the site of Homer's "Arimoi".
- Apollodorus, 1.6.3. Though a late account, Apollodorus may have drawn upon early sources, see Fontenrose, p. 74; Lane Fox, p. 287, Ogden 2013a, p. 78.
- Perhaps this was supposed to be the same sickle which Cronus used to castrate Uranus, see Hesiod, Theogony 173 ff.; Lane Fox, p. 288.
- Gantz, p. 50; Fontenros, p. 73; Smith, "Aegipan".
- Oppian, Halieutica 3.15–25 (pp. 344–347); Lane Fox, p. 287; Ogden 2013a, p. 74.
- Fontenrose, pp. 74–75; Lane Fox, pp. 286–287; Ogden 2013a, pp. 74– 75.
- Nonnus, Dionysiaca 1.145–164 (I pp. 12–15).
- Nonnus, Dionysiaca 1.164–257 (I pp. 14–21).
- Nonnus, Dionysiaca 1.258–293 (I pp. 20–25).
- Nonnus, Dionysiaca 1.294–320 (I pp. 24–27).
- Nonnus, Dionysiaca 1.510–512 (I pp. 40–41). Nonnus' account regarding the sinews is vauge and not altogether sensible since as yet Zeus and Typhon have not met, see Fontenrose, p. 75 n. 11
- Nonnus, Dionysiaca 1.363–407 (I pp. 28–33).
- Nonnus, Dionysiaca 1.409–426 (I pp. 32–35).
- Nonnus, Dionysiaca 1.427–480 (I pp. 34–37). For Typhon's plans to marry Hera see also 2.316–333 (I pp. 68–69), 1.581–586 (I pp. 86–87).
- Nonnus, Dionysiaca 1.481–481 (I pp. 38–39).
- Nonnus, Dionysiaca 1.507–534 (I pp. 38–41).
- Nonnus, Dionysiaca 2.1–93 (I pp. 44–51).
- Nonnus, Dionysiaca 2.163–169 (I pp. 56–57).
- Nonnus, Dionysiaca 2.205–236 (I pp. 60–63).
- Nonnus, Dionysiaca 2.244–355 (I pp. 62–71).
- Nonnus, Dionysiaca 2.356–539 (I pp. 72–85).
- Nonnus, Dionysiaca 2.540–552 (I pp. 84–85).
- Nonnus, Dionysiaca 2.553–630 (I pp. 84–91).
- Let me now sing the heroic deeds of Indra, the first that the thunderbolt-wielder performed. He killed the dragon and pierced an opening for the waters; he split open the bellies of mountains. (Rig Veda 1.32.1)
- The Masks of God: Occidental Mythology, Joseph Campbell; P.22.
- Walter Burkert, Greek Religion 1985
- Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, (1955) 1960, §36.1-3
- Karl Kerenyi, The Gods of the Greeks 1951
- "Typhoeus" at Theoi compiled sources of myth in classical literature
- "Typhon" at Gods, Heroes and Myth
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