What is Typhon?
Typhon is a monster. It cannot get any simpler than that. He is not known to be a deity of any kind, but he was produced by them.
Which deities produced Typhon typically varies. The version that I personally think to be the most accurate has him as the child of the two primordials, Gaea and Tartarus.
Typhon from Gaea
In the version of Typhon’s story that has him come from Gaea, he is known to be Gaea’s last son and was her attempt to overthrow Zeus. Hesiod and Apollodorus give the most well known accounts of this depiction of Typhon.
Bear with me here because there is a lot of backstory that I now have to go over in order to cover the importance of Typhon here. We need to cover the changing of hands for the cosmic throne, it’s very important to Typhon’s motivation.
Gaea is one of the primordial gods, and she was able to give birth to other primordial gods such as Uranus and Pontus. With the two of them, Gaea would have more children but mostly with Uranus who she took as a husband.
Gaea and Uranus produced three different types of children while they were together. The Titans, the Hecatoncheires, and the Cyclopes. Uranus was a very bad father though.
Uranus locked up the Hecatoncheires and the Cyclopes in Tartarus for being too ugly looking and treated his Titan children like slaves. On top of being a bad father, Uranus was also a very cruel and dreadful ruler for the cosmos.
Gaea was not happy about any of this and so she left Uranus and devised a plan to have him taken out of the picture. She recruited five of her six male Titan sons to overthrow their father, only Oceanus–the eldest–refused to join in on the plot.
Led by the youngest son, Cronus, the five of them subdued their father and castrated him. Uranus’s physical form was mutilated and defeated by the power of Cronus’s adamantine scythe created for him by Gaea.
The blood from Uranus’s defeat fell upon Gaea and she became pregnant with the first generation of Giants (there would be more Giants later born from other reasons). As well, Uranus’s castrated genitalia fell into the water and turned into sea foam that would birth Aphrodite later.
As the reward for beating his father, Cronus took on the new role of being the supreme ruler of the gods and gave portions of his territory to each of his four brothers that aided him to lord over for him. Gaea believed Cronus would do better than Uranus and free his non-Titan siblings, but Cronus kept them locked away because he recognized their great power.
This made Gaea very angry, because Cronus was turning out to be just like his father and now he had all of his brothers going with him. So, Gaea devised a new plan and prophesied that Cronus would be overthrown by his own child like he overthrew Uranus.
Cronus was driven absolutely paranoid by this and so, every time his wife Rhea gave birth, he ate the child. Rhea was greatly upset by this, and Gaea came to her and devised a plan with her to betray Cronus and save the youngest child, Zeus.
Rhea switched Zeus out with a rock and Cronus fell for it. Zeus would then grow up, rescue his siblings, and go to war with his father and his father’s allies. Zeus led a new generation of deities known as the Gods.
The Gods and Titans faced off in a war known as the Titanomachy. It took ten whole years, and for a while it seemed as though the Titans were going to win.
Zeus managed to take the advantage by freeing the Hecatoncheires and Cyclopes and getting their help. The Hecatoncheires helped in the fighting with their incredible strength and the Cyclopes forged powerful items to aid Zeus and his brothers: Poseidon and Hades.
With this extra help, Zeus defeated the Titans with the might of thunderbolts and cut Cronus up with his own scythe. With the exception of Atlas who was given a special punishment, the Titans that fought on the side of Cronus were locked away in Tartarus and the Hecatoncheires became their guards.
Zeus was now cemented as the new ruler of the cosmos and the ruler of the Olympian Gods, who were now the leaders of this next cycle. However, not that long after this victory he would find his rule challenged by the Giants.
The Gigantomachy would be the next great war between higher powers and this time it was the Gods and the Giants. The Giants, as mentioned previously, were produced by Gaea and the blood of Uranus following his castration and mutilation.
Leading the Giants was the great and mighty Porphyrion who was very ambitious. Porphyrion sought the cosmic throne and Gaea believed through visions that he would be victorious so she supported him.
Though Porphyrion was the greatest of the Giants and was their King and he sought the throne of Zeus, the war was actually started between Alcyoneus and Helios when the former stole the latter’s cattle.
This event spiraled into fighting at Phlegra, the place of fire, where the Giants hurled rocks and burning trees at the Gods and at the heavens above. Porphyrion, with his great might, even lifted an island and threw it at them.
According to prophecy, the Gods would need the aid of a strong mortal to defeat the Giants and that mortal ended up being Heracles. Heracles defeated Alcyoneus, who could only be killed by special means, and aided the Gods as they too began killing Giants.
Gaea was still convinced that the Giants would win and motivated Porphyrion by convincing him that he would be able to take Hebe, the daughter of Zeus and Hera, as his wife. Porphyrion set out for her, but was confronted by Zeus, Hera, and Heracles.
The three of them fought Porphyrion for a long time but his strength was so great that it potentially surpassed even Cronus and Atlas. So, Zeus used trickery by manipulating Porphyrion and causing him to become infatuated with Hera instead.
With Hera distracting him, Zeus was able to land a devastating blow to the king of the Giants with a thunderbolt and then Heracles finished him by shooting him with an arrow from Apollo’s bow just like the prophecy had said would happen.
Gaea was furious. Her Giants had been slain. So she began scheming a new plan.
Finally back to Typhon
Now that the previous affairs building up to Typhon have been covered, as well as how coveted the cosmic throne is, we can finally get into Gaea’s Typhon.
Following her breakaway from Uranus, Gaea did not stop making children. She had already had some other children with Pontus, but once Pontus passed on his responsibility for the waters over to Oceanus he went into an eternal slumber. This left Gaea with few options besides her own brother Tartarus.
With Tartarus, Gaea produced a number of horrifying monsters that would be much trouble for many Gods and heroes who fought against them in various myths. Enraged by the defeat of her Giants, Gaea sought to produce a child so powerful that he would surely overthrow even Zeus.
So, in union with Tartarus, Gaea gave birth to her last known son… Typhon. He was absolutely massive in size, it was said that he was as tall as the sky itself was from the ground and that his head would brush by the stars.
Typhon had a humanoid upper body with wings but his lower body was snake tails. He also had a hundred heads that could breathe powerful fires and his eyes were also able to produce fire and flashes of light.
The Father of Monsters
Typhon would find the time to have a lot of children who were also monsters. He took Echidna to be his mate, Echidna was another monster born from Tartarus. According to Hyginus, Typhon and Echidna produced Cerberus, the Chimera, the Sphinx, the Hydra, Ladon, the Harpies, the Gorgons (although Hesiod disagrees with this), the Colchian dragon, Scylla, the sea serpents that killed Laocoön and his sons during the Trojan War, and the destructive storm winds.
Many of his children are powerful monsters of their own right and were very dangerous and even deadly to the beings that faced them. This is all a testament to how truly powerful their monstrous parents were, but none of them were truly quite as mighty as Typhon was.
Gaea devised a plan with Typhon to weaken Zeus by stealing his thunderbolts. Typhon finds them with Gaea’s help and takes them away from the cave that Zeus left them in. Once the bolts were hidden away from where Zeus could find them, Typhon began his attack upon the Heavens.
Typhon directly attacked Olympus and caused great havoc that no one was able to resist, and then turned his wrath upon the seas and attacked them as well. Typhon brought the land, the air, and the sea into submission to his great fiery wrath. He tried to wield Zeus’s thunderbolts as well, but they did not answer to him and instead hurt him to try to use.
Zeus arrived and fought with Typhon and their battle was quite intense. Remember how Porphyrion was the only Giant able to lift up an island and throw it at the gods? Typhon was hurling mountains and islands at Zeus like an absolute freak of nature.
Zeus managed to wound Typhon even without his bolts by using the adamantine scythe to cut him whenever he got close. Typhon fled to Syria after being wounded, where Zeus was forced to wrestle him at constant close range in the Syrian mountains.
Typhon used this to stop Zeus from pulling back after cutting him, then wrapped himself around Zeus and forced him to let go of the adamantine scythe so that Typhon could take it for himself. He took the scythe and cut the sinews from Zeus’s hands and feet.
Typhon then discarded Zeus’s disabled body in a cave to be guarded by she-serpents while he also hid the sinews inside of a bearskin. But luckily for Zeus, Hermes and Pan defeated the she-serpents to rescue him and even stole back his sinews as well.
Zeus was able to restore himself to full strength, and began to chase down Typhon who was now battling Athena–the daughter of Zeus and Metis. While Typhon was still battling Athena in Zeus’s place, the Gods fled after being attacked with Typhon’s great fire and went to Egypt in the form of animals that seemed to coincide with their believed Egyptian counterparts.
Apollo became a hawk, Hermes became an ibis, Ares became a fish, Artemis became a cat, Dionysus became a goat, Heracles became a fawn, Hephaestus became an ox, and Leto became a mouse. The only one that does not really fit anything is that Heracles became a fawn. The connection is not clear.
Athena fought Typhon as hard as she could, but he was too powerful for her obviously since he had beaten Zeus and now also had the adamantine scythe at his disposal. However, now Zeus was back and had arrived to relieve her.
Zeus continued to wrestle with Typhon, but, without his thunderbolts and now without the scythe as well, the fight was too stacked in Typhon’s favor. So a plan was devised by Pan and Cadmus to distract Typhon. The two of them played music that enchanted the monster and caused him to stop fighting Zeus and go looking for them.
While Typhon was looking for the source of the music that he was enchanted by, Zeus began looking for his thunderbolts. Typhon found Cadmus, disguised as a shepherd by Pan, and offered him any goddess that he wanted as a wife if he would play that music for him forever.
Zeus got his bolts back during all of this distracting and was now back to his true full strength and power. Gaea realized what was going on and snapped Typhon out of Cadmus’s spell and Cadmus and Pan fled.
Typhon rushed back to the caves to discover that the bolts were indeed gone and was enraged. Typhon unleashed a total devastation upon the world. Most of the animals perished, all of the rivers were turned into dust, the seas were dried up, and the land was set ablaze.
Zeus did not chose to approach Typhon and he remained unchallenged, instead he went to the other gods who were now at the Nile. Nike approached Zeus that night and urged him to stand up and face Typhon at dawn.
When dawn came, Typhon attacked Eos herself but Zeus arrived and took his attention. Typhon lifted up many mountains with his uncountable number of arms and began showering Zeus with them. When he ran out of mountains, he threw as many trees and rocks as he could.
However, Zeus weathered through it all and destroyed everything Typhon sent at him. Typhon then took some of the water that still remained on the planet and sent it at Zeus but he annihilated it with thunderbolts.
Zeus then cut off some of Typhon’s arms using frozen winds like knives and then burned even more of his hands away and even a few of his hundred heads with the power of the thunderbolts.
Typhon, in rage and pain, let loose a scorching heat that caused the entire earth, sky, and sea to seethe in pain. All of the deathless gods who were hiding in Egypt could feel the force of the fight. Even in the underworld, Hades trembled from the endless shaking brought on by Typhon. Even in Tartarus, Cronus and the other Titans became fearful of the unending clamor and strife they felt around and above them.
Typhon’s wrath cut against the ground and formed the channels that would later be new rivers. Typhon flees to the Caucasus, but Zeus chases him and strikes him with thunderbolts that also burn up the mountains.
Typhon then flees to Ischia where he is once again struck with more bolts, causing the island to turn into an erupting volcano. Typhon flees again to Cumae where he is buried under the island by Zeus to be sent to Tartarus below, but he reemerges from this.
Typhon flees after reemerging and arrives at the plain of Nysa where he is once again burned by the bolts. Finally, Typhon arrives at Egypt where Zeus smites him into the ground of one of the dried up lakes.
Even still, Typhon manages to not be defeated by this and the battle changes over to a burnt land in where we believe to be the kingdom of Lydia or possibly Phrygia. Typhon was thrown to the ground a maimed wreck, and the force of him hitting the earth caused Gaea to groan in pain.
Typhon performed the last, greatest act of destruction that he could manage and unleashed his great fire upon the earth, melting the whole world in blazing fire. Typhon then got to Thrace where he tried to throw more rocks at Zeus but was pelted with thunderbolts. Zeus then buried Typhon in thunderbolts causing the mountain he stood on to be bathed in his own blood.
Finally, Typhon arrived at Sicily. At this point, Gaea’s most powerful son was a wreck. Many of his heads and arms were gone and his body had been severely hurt and burnt by the bolts and the fighting.
Zeus took Mount Etna and threw it on top of Typhon, burying his body and thus finally defeating him. The Typhonomachy was over.
Other Origins of Typhon
While the origin involving Gaea and Tartarus is the most common origin for Typhon, there are other origins as well. One source leaves Tartarus out completely and says that Typhon is “earth-born” from Gaea alone.
The Homeric Hymn to Apollo suggests that Typhon was actually the child of Hera instead of Gaea and that he was the child of Hera alone. Hera sought to produce him because she was upset at Zeus for creating Athena.
Hera prayed to the Primordial Gods and to the Titans for a son who would be stronger than Zeus, slapped the ground, and found herself pregnant. She gave birth to Typhon and he was raised by Python to grow up to be the great bane to the mortals.
Another story that also involves Hera, and is possibly Orphic in origin, has Typhon be the child of Cronus. Gaea is angry over the defeat of her Giants and turns Hera against Zeus.
Hera, upset with Zeus thanks to Gaea’s persuasion, goes to Cronus and asks him for a way to overthrow his son. Cronus gives Hera two eggs covered in his own semen and has her bury them underground in Cilicia.
Cronus tells Hera that the offspring born from those eggs would be the creature capable of overthrowing Zeus, and later on Typhon is born. However, by the time that Typhon was born, Hera had made amends with Zeus so she informed him of what was coming.
Though Typhon failed in his mission to surpass Zeus, he is part of the constant cycles of the succession story. Uranus became the first ruler of the cosmos, Cronus overthrew him and succeeded him as the second ruler of the cosmos, and Zeus overthrew him and succeeded him as the third ruler of the cosmos.
Though Typhon is not the only person to ever challenge Zeus, his challenge is surely the closest any entity has actually come to being the one who takes the title of ruler of the cosmos from Zeus. His failure is one of the main points that cement Zeus as perhaps the permanent ruler of the cosmos.
Typhon also has quite a lot of connection to similar creatures from the near eastern religions such as Tiamat and Yamm. This shows a link across ancient human mythology that can be very entertaining to explore and unwind.
Also, the story of Typhon and his fight with Zeus is just really incredible. The sheer scale of all the cataclysmic destruction caused by them is beyond perhaps anything else explored in most other myths.