A Mythological Family of Monsters
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Greek mythology is filled tales of heroes and monsters. The heroes are often demigods who go on quests to protect or avenge their mortal families. These quests usually involve slaying monsters. But what they never stop to think about is whether the monsters have families too. As it turns out, they do have a family – one big not-so-happy family.
The “father of all monsters” in Greek mythology was Typhon, sometimes called Typhoeus. The last son of Gaea and Tartarus, he was a fire-breathing dragon with a hundred heads. He was born after the Olympians had defeated the Titans because Gaea wanted revenge against Zeus for imprisoning her children. During their first battle, Typhon ripped out Zeus’s tendons, though they were eventually retrieved and returned to him by Hermes. Typhon was ultimately defeated by Zeus’s lightning bolts and imprisoned beneath Mount Etna. But not before he could marry Echidna and sire many of the most famous monsters of Greek mythology.
Echidna, the “mother of all monsters” was half woman, half snake. Like Typhon, she was a child of Gaia and Tartarus, though her genealogy varies by author. She lived in a cave and would prey upon anyone unfortunate enough to pass by it. She was eventually killed in her sleep by Argus Panoptes.
The oldest child of Typhon and Echidna was a two-headed dog named Orthus, who guarded the cattle of a giant named Geryon. During his trials, the demigod Heracles was asked to take Geryon’s cattle as his tenth labor. In the process, Heracles killed both Orthus and Geryon.
The next child, and one of the more well-known monsters of mythology was Cerberus, also known as the “hound of Hades.” A multi-headed dog, he was charged with guarding the gates of the Underworld. He is usually depicting as having three heads, but some accounts claim he had as many as a hundred. Like his brother, Cerberus also came up against Heracles, who was to bring the beast up from the Underworld as his twelfth and final labor. Heracles managed to strangle him until he passed out and then used adamant chains to drag him before Eurystheus. Afterward, Cerberus was returned to the Underworld. Cerberus was defeated again when Orpheus came to the Underworld to seek his lover Eurydice who had died. Rather than fighting, Orpheus used music to charm Cerberus into submission. When Aeneas visited the Underworld, he was also able to get past the dog, but he did so by feeding him a drugged honey-cake which put Cerberus to sleep.
Another famous and formidable beast born to Typhon and Echidna was the Lernaean Hydra. Not only did this creature have multiple heads but, if one head were to be cut off, it would grow two more in its place. This was a fact Heracles would discover when he battled the hydra as his second labor. But Heracles outsmarted the beast by cauterizing the stump after cutting off the head, which prevented new heads from growing. Despite Hera’s attempt to help the hydra by sending a giant crab as the back-up, Heracles managed to kill the beast, destroying the final head with a golden sword given to him by Athena. After their deaths, Hera turned both the hydra and the giant crab into the constellations, Hydra and Cancer.
The Chimaera was another offspring of the mother and father of all monsters. It had two heads, one of a lion and one of a goat, the body of a lion, and a snake for a tale. Also, it breathed fire. The Chimaera was killed by Bellerophon, who flew in on the winged horse, Pegasus, and shot the Chimaera with arrows.
Typhon and Echidna were also the parents of two of the Gorgon sisters, Stheno and Euryale. The most famous Gorgon, Medusa, was the daughter of Phorcys and Ceto. Unlike Medusa, the other two Gorgons were immortal. All three of them had snakes instead of hair and anyone who looked into their eyes would be turned to stone.
The Sphinx, a monster with a human head on a lion’s body, appeared in both Egyptian and Greek mythology. The Greek version was yet another of Typhon and Echidna’s offspring. She also had wings like an eagle and a serpent tail. She lived on the outskirts of Thebes and anyone wishing to pass by her would have to answer a riddle. Anyone who failed to answer correctly would be eaten. When Oedipus was able to correctly answer not one but two riddles, the Sphinx killed herself.
Another lion-like creature in this monstrous family was the Nemean Lion, whose fur was impenetrable. He was the first of his siblings to be killed by Heracles during the first labor. Heracles strangled him and then used the lion’s own claw to pierce and remove the lion’s skin.
The Caucasian Eagle, named for the Caucasus Mountains, was less monstrous than his siblings; however, he was still quite fearsome considering the role he played in the torment of Prometheus. After creating mankind and giving them abilities stolen from the gods, Prometheus was chained to the Caucasus Mountains by Zeus. Being immortal, he could not die, but his liver was eaten by the Caucasian Eagle every day, only to regenerate at night. One account of the myth claims that this went on for thirty thousand years. Finally, Heracles obtained permission from Zeus to kill the eagle, ending the punishment of Prometheus.
Another daughter of Typhon and Echidna was the Crommyonian Sow, a huge pig which was known for destroying the land around the village of Crommyon until it was killed by Theseus. And another son was the Colchian Dragon. The dragon lived in the garden of Ares and guarded the golden fleece. It was killed when Jason came after the fleece.
The last son to be killed by Heracles was Ladon, though there are several variations in which characters other than Typhon and Echidna are listed as his parents. He was responsible for guarding the Golden Apples in the Garden of the Hesperides. During his eleventh labor, Heracles came to steal the apples, killing Ladon in the process.
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