Typhoeus

Published February 19, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros

Sorry this is a day late.  It’s been busy here of late.  (Having my class on Wednesday actually seems to make getting the myths ready harder instead of easier; Thursday has become reserved for trying to clean my house, doing laundry, and, naturally, for the first big push to get through my reading for the week.  Maybe I should move these to Tuesdays for the remainder of the semester…)

Anyway, this follows pretty soon after last week’s myth.  Er, it starts then, anyway.  Then it sort of skips ahead to after the birth of Apollo and Artemis…and the birth of Hermes, for that matter.


Every time Hera looked at her new step-daughter, Athene, she felt herself filling with a jealous rage.

There was a beautiful, perfect goddess, born from her husband’s head without the aid of a woman at all (or so Hera thought, as Zeus hadn’t admitted Metis’ role),  and yet look at the son Hera had borne him!  Hephaistos was a sweet child, but so ugly to look at, and deformed as well!  How could a mere male have produced a more perfect child than Hera herself?!

The more she thought about it, and the more she saw her husband preferring his daughter to their son, the more she grew to hate everything, and she began to quarrel with Zeus more and more often.

The final blow was, perhaps, when the children tried to intervene in the fight.

It wasn’t a quarrel over anything serious, not anything more serious than usual, at any rate.  By the time the other gods became aware of it, Hera and Zeus were screaming at each other with barely contained hatred, and the other gods could only gather around them in fear and uncertainty.

But Hephaistos wasn’t afraid, and he limped his way in between them, facing Zeus.  “Father, please stop this,” he said.  “Mother’s right; you — ”

He wasn’t allowed even to finish his thought.  Zeus’s face contorted even further with rage, and he grabbed hold of Hephaistos by his throat, and flung him down from Mt. Olympos, towards the sea far below.

Naturally, that only made Hera more angry, and the argument became even more vitriolic.

But then Athene stepped between them.  “Father, stop it!” she exclaimed.  “What good is quarreling going to accomplish?  You need to calm down and think about this matter rationally.  Anger never solved anything.”

And did he fling her down to the mortal realm as well?

No, of course not!

No, Zeus nodded, still glaring at Hera.  “You’re right, my daughter,” he agreed.  “We’ll put an end to this.  For the moment,” he said, then stormed off into the depths of the palace.

Hera stood there seething for some time before she was able to recover even the slightest bit of composure.  Once she finally did, she headed down to the surface, looking for her son.  She descended to the island of Lemnos, landing near a rough-hewn harbor.

She hadn’t been standing there long before a woman’s head emerged from the waters within the harbor.  Even before her face was visible, Hera knew it had to be Thetis, eldest daughter of Nereus, because she’d never seen flame-red hair like that on anyone else.  “What is going on in Olympos?” Thetis asked her, looking concerned.  “Everything was peaceful and quiet in the sea, then before we knew it this happened,” she said, gesturing toward the harbor.  “That poor man fell right through the island into the sea.”

“Is he all right?” Hera asked.

“One of his legs was badly damaged when his impact made this harbor,” Thetis told him.  “I doubt it will ever heal.”

“Oh, no, he was born that way,” Hera sighed.

Thetis scowled, and shook her head.  “No, this was his good leg that got smashed.  He’s very upset about that.”

“That treacherous, lechrous…!  He ruins everything he touches!”

“Who does?” Thetis asked, appalled.  Surely Hera couldn’t be speaking about poor Hephaistos!  He seemed such a nice young god…

“My husband,” Hera growled.  “I’m going to make sure he suffers for this outrage!”

Thetis’ brow furrowed.  She had heard stories from her father about the power Zeus could wield against his enemies, and she wasn’t eager to see her unfortunate friend Hera made to suffer the same kind of fate.  “Is that really wise?” she asked.  “Shouldn’t you be more concerned with taking Hephaistos back up to Olympos for healing?”

Hera frowned, and shook her head.  “Zeus would only throw him back out again.  Can he stay with you until Zeus is ready to accept him back?”

“It should be all right,” Thetis agreed.  “My father’s palace has plenty of room.  But you’re not going to do something rash, are you?”

Hera smiled tightly.  “Of course not,” she assured her friend.

But as soon as Thetis had disappeared back under the waves of the wine-dark sea, Hera began to contemplate just such a rash action.

No matter how much she contemplated, though, she couldn’t think of a proper solution.  How was she to put Zeus in his place?  What comeuppance could she deliver unto him that he wouldn’t be able to prevent?  The fact was that, for whatever reason, he was far stronger than she — or any other god — was, and since he had swallowed Metis, he had become much  more clever as well…though you might not think it to look at his lustful actions.

Eventually, she sank to her knees on the ground in a state of despair, seeing no possible solution to her dilemma.  Zeus was just too powerful!

“Oh, Gaia!” Hera shouted furiously.  (To a god or goddess, this was much the same thing as when a mortal cries out “oh, god!” without meaning anything specific by it.)  “If only there was someone even stronger than Zeus!  If I could just produce someone like that…!”  Rather than finish her thought, Hera struck the ground with her palm.

Unbeknownst to Hera, Gaia was listening to her, and mistook her exclamation of furious despair for a request.

Soon after, Hera realized she was pregnant…but it had been far too long since she had lain with Zeus for the child to be his.

Horrified — and perplexed, since she had never lain with anyone other than her husband — Hera remained on the surface until she gave birth, at which time she was even more horrified, for the creature she had produced had a hundred heads, all but one of them the heads of serpents, and bony wings covered with thin, web-like flesh.

Not knowing what to do with such a monstrous child, Hera took it to Delphi, and spoke to Python, the prophetic guardian of the site.  Since Python was itself a gigantic serpent, it took no issue with the child’s appearance, and since it was not one of the gods, it also saw no reason to object to the fact that this being was destined to rise up against the gods.

“What…what is it?” Hera asked Python, having laid the infant down before the serpent.

“It is the son you asked Gaia for,” Python told her, honestly a bit perplexed that she didn’t realize that.

“Asked…?  That wasn’t a request!  That was…that was just idle…”  Hera sighed deeply.  “It doesn’t matter.  Zeus must never know about this.  I want nothing to do with this monstrosity.”  Imagine how much more Zeus would hate her if he knew she had birthed such a dreadful creature!  He already detested her for Hephaistos’ ugliness…  “I’m going to leave it here and go home.  You can do what you like with it,” she told Python, before hurrying away.  In truth, she rather hoped Python was going to eat the creature and have done with it.

But Python had no intention of eating the infant.  Instead, Python raised him, calling him Typhoeus.  Python told him of his origins, but didn’t share Typhoeus’ destined fate of contesting with Zeus himself for primacy over the world.  Such actions should never be entered into simply because someone is told that is their fate, after all.  If it was truly his destiny, Typhoeus would do it of his own accord.

Eventually, Typhoeus left home, and made his way into the world, learning for himself what it was like.  He met a lady monster, Echidna, who he found very attractive — the snakish part of him found her serpentine legs very appealing indeed — and they had a large brood of delightfully monstrous offspring together.

But then Typhoeus heard news of home.

Mere days after she had given birth to her twins, Leto had gone to Delphi, and the infant Apollo had used his newly made plaything, a bow, to fire arrows from her arms, slaying Python.

Worse, rather than a penalty for this crime, Apollo was receiving Delphi as his own shrine, even though he already shared the island of Delos with his sister.

What right had that insolent child to kill the innocent Python, Typhoeus demanded?  (He neither knew nor cared that Python had tried to kill Leto while she was still pregnant with Apollo.)  If the impertinent Olympians were so callous, then they could not be permitted to rule over the earth!

Typhoeus decided he was going to slay Zeus and take over his throne.

Since Python had told him that Hera was his mother, Typhoeus was willing, for her sake, to allow the other gods to live, so long as they accepted his rule.  But he would destroy anyone who tried to stop him, even his own mother.

He rose up into the sky on his terrible wings, and flew towards the palace on Mt. Olympos, his many heads letting out such monstrous shrieks that most of the gods ran in terror at the sounds alone, without even seeing the beast that was making them.

When Typhoeus arrived on Mt. Olympos, only Zeus and Athene remained to face him.  Zeus prepared his thunderbolt in one hand and a sickle in the other, and Athene prepared her spear, but as Typhoeus drew near to them, he breathed fire at them from his serpentine heads — even he hadn’t realized he could do that, until his anger at Zeus grew so white hot on seeing him that it had to escape through his mouths — and the flames heated up both weapons to the point where they were too hot to hold, and the gods dropped them.

Seizing his chance, Typhoeus grabbed up the sickle, and used it to slay Zeus!

…or so he thought.  But the god didn’t die.

Frustrated, Typhoeus cut the sinews out of Zeus’ legs, and hurled him down to earth.

Once he had done that, even Athene fled before him, and Typhoeus installed himself on the throne of Mt. Olympos.

The gods regrouped on the surface, gathered around the helpless Zeus, and Hera found herself tearfully admitting what she had done.  Seeing his sister’s tears, Zeus’ heart softened, and he accepted her apologies, but he wouldn’t forgive Typhoeus for what he had done.  (And, indeed, Hera didn’t want him to forgive Typhoeus.)

The gods began to plan their assault on Typhoeus, but no matter what plan they came up with, it always required that Zeus be able to wield his thunderbolt, as he had never taught any of the other gods how to harness its great power.  (Though after this debacle, both Poseidon and Athene decided that it was imperative that they force him to teach them, at all costs!)

Eventually, Hermes sighed.  “There’s no point in just arguing about it,” he said.  “We can’t do anything while Father’s immobile like this.  I’ll just have to go get his sinews back.”

“How could you possibly do that?” Ares demanded furiously.  “Even I couldn’t fight that beast alone!”

“Believe me, I have no intention of fighting him,” Hermes laughed.  “Everyone just wait here.  I’ll be back soon.”

With that, Hermes set off running up towards Mt. Olympos.  Before he got there, though, he took on the illusion of being every bit as monstrous as Typhoeus, so that when he approached the throne, he appeared to have five heads, each in the shape of a different animal, and a long, bushy tail made of live snakes.  It was the hardest illusion he’d ever had to maintain, and he was proud of how completely taken in Typhoeus was.

“What brings you to my palace, friend?” Typhoeus asked him.

“I found this ruined instrument on the ground near here,” Hermes told him, holding up an unstringed lyre he had ‘borrowed’ from Apollo before he left.  “I thought if I could repair it, I might write a fine ballad about your mighty deeds, my lord.”

Typhoeus laughed.  “I have the perfect strings to play such a great song on!” he exclaimed, then pull Zeus’ sinews down off the wall where he had hung them as trophies.  “These should make the most divine strings there have ever been,” he told the disguised Hermes, tossing him the sinews.

“They should indeed,” Hermes agreed, bowing as he accepted them.  “I’ll return to show you my work as soon as it’s ready,” he promised, then hurried out of the palace before the fool could wise up.

On his way back down to the other gods, Hermes abandoned his disguise, and carefully hid the lyre, lest Apollo be distracted by one itty bitty theft.  The gods quickly sewed Zeus’ sinews back into his legs, then they headed down to the forge of the Cyclopes, where Zeus received a new, even more powerful thunderbolt.

This time, Zeus was prepared for Typhoeus, and after calling him out, he hurled his thunderbolt from a distance.

It struck the monster, who fell into the sea near a bit of land shaped rather like an arched foot.

But Typhoeus was still struggling to raise himself up again, so Poseidon picked up a mountain and hurled it down on him.  Even so, Typhoeus refused to accept his defeat, and continued to rage on and on.  Sometimes, his anger would burst through the top of the mountain — which mortals would eventually come to call Mt. Aetna — in a gushing spout of flame and molten rock.


I went with Typhoeus instead of the more familiar version of the name, Typhon, because I used the less familiar version of his origin.  Most people repeat the version in which Gaia gave birth to Typhon — Tiamat-like — in order to avenge her sons the Gigantes.  Aside from the fact that I didn’t want this to be so late that it was after the Gigantomachy (which always involves Heracles, frequently after his death and subsequent deification), I didn’t think it was much in character with Gaia’s personality to do that.  Plus I like going with the lesser known variations on myths.  (And the Tiamat-like version is Hesiod’s.  Have I already mentioned that I’m not a big fan of Hesiod?)

Oh, and I couldn’t resist the temptation to make Thetis have the same bright red hair as her son, Achilles.  (Admittedly, most versions give him blonde or auburn hair (indeed, Homer’s word for his hair is blonde or auburn), but I prefer the flame red version, explaining his other moniker…)  I don’t think there’s actually any particular ancient precedent giving Thetis red hair.  Though if any ancient authors did describe her hair, I’d expect them to have used the same word to describe it as they did Achilles’ hair, not because of their blood relationship, but just because that seems to be the preferred hair color for all divine (and many, if not most, semi-divine) figures in Greek myth.  (Except Poseidon.  His hair is blue.)  I’m not sure if that’s because light hair was abnormal in Greece in the era in which these myths were forming, and thus seemed divine, or if that’s a holdover from the pre-Greek inhabitants, whose ethnicity (and therefore common physical attributes) is unknown.

 

 

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2 comments on “Typhoeus

  • Another awesome installment. 🙂 I have to wonder if that description is what gave Lovecraft the idea for Cthulhu. Also, Hermes is delightfully clever! Though the way the gods lose body parts and then reattach them is always one of the more interesting aspects of mythology. 🙂

    Like

    • I’ve never read any Lovecraft (though I really ought to), so I’m not sure what Cthulhu was like in the original stories, apart from a bit my brother’s told me. It’s certainly possible he was inspired by some of the more monstrous beings from Greek mythology. (Also, if he had any knowledge of Mesopotamian monsters, they had some real doozies…though I have no idea if the pertinent art and texts were discovered/translated in time.) I should probably admit that I fudged Typhoeus’ description just a bit: it’s usually all 100 (or sometimes 50) heads that are serpents, instead of one non-serpent head and 99 serpents, and the one time he also had wings, they were just ordinary wings…but I just couldn’t help myself from adding a little extra to the description. He did always breathe fire and make noises like all the beasts in the world, though.

      Oddly, in the original source material, it was Cadmos, rather than Hermes, tricking Typhoeus into returning Zeus’ sinews, which makes no sense whatsoever, given that Cadmos is a mortal Phoenecian. Why would he risk his life for someone else’s god? (Then again, the myths don’t usually seem to recognize the fact that as Phoenecians, Cadmos and his siblings would have worshiped an entirely different pantheon.) I loved the idea of using Zeus’ sinews for lyre strings (disgusting as it is) but I thought it was such a trickster god type of ploy that it just *had* to be Hermes doing it.

      It is definitely a fascinating aspect of myth, how so many beings can just reattach things that humans can’t. (Sometimes even things that it’d kill us to lose, like heads…) Seems pretty universal, too; I suppose that’s one of the ways that people delineate between mortal and immortal.

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