The History and Significance of Typhon

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Greek mythology is well known for the vast array of gods, goddesses, heroes, men, divine animals and monsters. They reflected the ancient world perceived by the Greeks. Immortal monsters, such as Typhon, were the expressions of the fundamental issues of existence.

According to mythology, Typhon was the offspring of the Titan Gaia when she was banished to Tartarus along with the other defeated Titans. In art and literature, Typhon was described in unflattering terms, depicted as a terrible monster with 100 heads, coiling serpents for legs and hundreds of hands.

His most famous myth concerns the flight of the gods. Wanting to establish himself as the supreme ruler of the world, Typhon tried to take Mount Olympus, the home of the Olympian gods. Due to his monstrous nature, Typhon chased out the Olympian gods, apart from Zeus and Athena, who fled to Egypt in the guise of different animals.

Zeus and Typhon fought in one-on-one combat which resulted in Typhon gaining the upper hand and removing the sinews of Zeus’ hands and feet. Eventually, Hermes returned to Olympus and found Zeus’ sinews who refitted them. Zeus was restored to his former strength and was able, in time, to drive Typhon out of Greece and trapped him under Mount Etna.

With Typhon trapped under Mount Etna, the mountain itself has a dual role; it was both instrument of Typhon’s punishment and the manifestation of his rage that continues to threaten mankind. The fire representing the impious rage of Typhon is described as a liquid hurled up from the depths of the mountain (Skulsky, p.12). The fact that Typhon is trapped under a mountain emphasises that he had been brought low, both literally and figuratively, even as he spews up lava and smoke, the symbols of his continuous rage.

Typhon has been used as the model for many types of artists; he is, portrayed in a monstrous light. In a fragment of a plate, regrettably damaged, that archaeologists uncovered, Typhon was depicted as sickle-winged. “Traces of the beard show that the head faced left. The bands across the shoulders and sleeves are decorated with sharp zigzags. The curved feathers in the sickle wings are individually incised with beautifully rounded tips. The arms are folded across the body, but the hands are not clenched; traces show them flat, one above the other. The forearms are long, and only the elbow is marked with incision. The bodice, not divided vertically, is covered with a finely executed scale pattern” (Hesperia Supplements, p.70).

Typhon is one of the most interesting monsters, or immortals, from Greek mythology and his myths and legends have provided moral guidance and inspiration for all types of artists.

Bibliography:

Cotterell, Arthur & Storm, Rachel (1999) The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Mythology, Hermes House, Anness Publishing House.

Hesperia Supplements (1996) The chimera Group at Corinth, Hesperia Supplements, American School of Classical Studies at Athens.

Skulsky, S. D. (1975) Pollwn Peipata Suntanusias: Language and Meaning in Pythian 1, Classical Philology, The University of Chicago Press.

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