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Echidna was a half-snake half-woman monster, known as the Mother of Monsters in Greek mythology, so called because she gave birth to many of the mythical Greek monsters. Her husband was Typhon, the Father of All Monsters, also a dangerous and ferocious monster.
Echidna is a somewhat obscure figure in Greek mythology. Not much is known about her except for what was established in TheogonyandThe Iliad, some of the oldest known records that describe her.
Who Was Echidna?
Echidna’s exact origins aren’t known and there are several accounts of who her parents are. In some accounts she’s said to be the daughter of the sea gods Phorcys and Ceto. In the Bibliotheca, it’s mentioned that her parents were Tartarus (Underworld) and Gaia (Earth). She is said to have been born in a cave and lived there on her own. This cave is supposedly in a region called Arima.
Although she’s a monster, Echidna is described as being as beautiful as a nymph, with the torso of a beautiful woman. From the waist down she had either a double or single tail of a serpent. She had ferocious, monstrous characteristics, with poison that could easily kill her targets. Some sources say that she enjoyed the taste of human flesh. Echidna is supposedly immortal and doesn’t grow old or die.
Echidna and Typhon
Echidna found herself a partner in Typhon, a hundred-headed monster with similar characteristics as herself. Also known as Typhoeus, he was also the son of Gaia and Tartarus.
Typhon was more ferocious than Echidna and is described as having snake feet, snake hair, wings and fiery eyes.
The Monstrous Offspring
In some accounts, Typhon and Echidna are said to be the parents of all the Greek monsters. Although it’s not exactly clear which monsters were the offspring of Echidna and Typhon, they were known to have seven in general. These were:
- The Colchian Dragon
- Cerberus – the three headed dog guarding the entry to the underworld
- The Lernean Hydra – a serpentine monster with several heads
- The Chimera – a terrible hybrid creature
- Orthus – the two headed dog
- The Caucasian Eagle that tormented Prometheus by eating his liver each
- The Crommyonian Sow – a monstrous pig
Through the Chimera and Orthus, Echidna became grandmother to the Nemean Lion and the Sphinx.
The Fate of Echidna’s Children
In Greek mythology, monsters were meant to be opponents for gods and heroes to overcome. As such monsters, many of Echidna’s children encountered Greek heroes and most were killed. Some of the heroes who faced off with Echidna’s children include Heracles, Bellerophon, Jason, Theseus and Oedipus.
Echidna and Typhon’s War Against the Olympians
Echidna was angry with Zeus for her children’s deaths, since most of them were killed by his son, Heracles. As a result, she and Typhon decided to go to war against the Olympian gods. As they approached Mount Olympus, the Greek gods and goddesses were frightened at the sight of them and many left Olympus and fled to Egypt. The only god that remained in Olympus was Zeus and in some accounts it’s said that Athena and Nike stayed behind with him.
An epic battle took place between Typhon and Zeus and at one point Typhon had the upper hand until Zeus managed to hit him with a thunderbolt. Zeus buried him under Mount Etna where he still struggles to free himself.
Zeus was merciful toward Echidna and taking her lost children into account, he allowed her to remain free, so Echidna returned to Arima.
Echidna was said to be immortal so according to some sources, she still continues to reside in her cave, often devouring those who unwarily passed it.
However, other sources say that Hera, the wife of Zeus, sent Argus Panoptes, a giant with a hundred eyes to slay her for feeding on unsuspecting travellers. Echidna was killed by the giant while sleeping. Some myths have Echidna living in Tartarus, keeping Typhon company as he struggles under Mount Etna.
Echidna the Mammal
The spiny mammal echidna, commonly found in Australia, is named after the monster Echidna. Like the monster who is half woman half serpent, the animal also has the qualities of both mammals and reptiles.
FAQs About Echidna
Echidna’s parents are the primordial deities, Gaia and Tartarus.
Echidna marries Typhon, another fearsome monster.
No, she’s a fearsome monster.
Descriptions of Echidna’s powers vary. Ovid mentions that she can produce a terrible poison that can make people go mad.
Echidna is half-woman half-snake.
Most stories that mention Echidna deal with other more prominent figures. She mostly exists as a sidekick, a background character or an antagonist in many of these myths. Despite her secondary role, as the mother of some of the most fearsome monsters ever imagined, Echidna remains an important figure in Greek myth.