Typhon was a monstrous giant snake-like creature of ancient Greek mythology who fathered many monsters with his mate Echidna. He is also called Typhoeus, Typhaon or Typhos.
According to Hesiod, Typhon was born of Gaia and Tartarus after the Titanomachy. He is often referred to as “Earth-born” and the child of Gaia, without reference to his paternity. According to Apollodorus1, Gaia conceived him to wreak vengeance for the death of her sons the Giants. According to Homer,2Typhon was brought forth by the will of Hera after Zeus birthed Athene from his head. In this version, he was fostered by Python. Pindar, Apollodorus, Aeschyus3 and Nonnus all reference his homeland as Cilicia, now a region of Turkey that lies North of Cyprus.
Typhon is described by Hesiod as a fearful beast with strong hands and feet and 100 firey snakeheads, each bellowing in the language of a different sort of beast. Other descriptions give him snakelike coils below, instead of feet and some say he was winged. Apollodorus says that fire flashed from his eyes, and vipers from his feet and indicated that the 100 snakeheads issued from his hands. Nonnus describes Typhon was having the heads of many different animals, all bellowing in their own tongues, with snakes for hair and snakey feet and describes them as spewing poison rather than fire. Many say that he has many hands, and all agree that he is huge, cruel and terrible.
He and his mate Echidna are named the parents of many monsters including Cerberus, Orthrus, the Lernaean Hydra, Chimera, the Caucasian Eagle, Ladon, the Sphinx, the Nemean Lion, the Crommyonian Sow, the Colchian Dragon, Scylla, Gorgon, the Harpies, and various sea serpents.
Typhon challenged Zeus’s rule and Zeus defeated him with thunderbolts, burning his many heads and casting him down into Tartarus, scorching and melting huge areas of the Earth in the process. According to Hesiod’s Theogony4, Zeus defeated Typhon with a swift pre-emptive strike, but Epimenides says that Typhon snuck into Olympus while Zeus and the other Gods slept and Pindar and Ovid5 say that the other Gods changed themselves into animals to escape to Egypt. The fish that Aphrodite and Eros changed into was immortalized in the constellation Pisces. (Though Nicander says Ares was the fish.) Either way, it was Zeus who defeated him using his thunderbolts and cast him down to Tartarus or trapped him beneath Mt. Aetna6. The most detailed version of the fight Nonnus in his Dionysaiaca7.
Many later and Roman poets name Typhon as one of the Giants. Horace lists him as one of Athene’s foes during the Gigantomachy and Virgil8 lists him among Gaia’s giant offspring.
Typhon is equated with the Egyptian God Set and you will see him inserted into Egyptian myths in later tellings. Much of the idea of the worship or propitiation of Typhon as a God comes via the later Egyptian sources.
- Drakon: Dragon Myth and Serpent Cult in the Greek and Roman Worlds by Daniel Ogden (Hardcover on Amazon.com) or On Google Books