Sunday, July 31, 2016

TFBT: Ben's Curriculum, Part VI

9.  Brood of Echidna


 "Men say that Typhoeus the terrible, outrageous and lawless, was joined in love to her Echidna, the maid with glancing eyes. So she conceived and brought forth fierce offspring; first she bare Orthus the hound of Geryon, and then again she bare a second, a monster not to be overcome and that may not be described, Cerberus who eats raw flesh, the brazen-voiced hound of Haides, fifty-headed, relentless and strong. And again she bore a third, the evil-minded Hydra of Lerna, whom the goddess, white-armed Hera nourished, being angry beyond measure with the mighty Herakles . . . She (Echidna) was the mother of Chimera who breathed raging fire, a creature fearful, great, swift-footed and strong, who had three heads, one of a grim-eyed lion; in her hinderpart, a dragon; and in her middle, a goat, breathing forth a fearful blast of blazing fire”  (Hesiod, Theogony 306)


Echidna was the Mother of All Monsters.  Okay not all of them, but so far we have Orthus, Cerberus, the Hydra, and Chimera.  Other authors add; the Crommyon Sow and the Sphinx of Thebes.


In theory much of the struggles in Greek mythology represent the gods (and civilization) creating order out of Chaos and the heroes, especially Heracles, slaying the monstrous representatives of Chaos; the monsters.  Orthus was a two headed dog, Cerberus a multi-head dog, the Hydra a nine-headed poisonous serpent, the Chimera had three different heads and breathed fire, the Crommyon Sow was a giant pig and mother of a similar beast, the man-eating Sphinx was half womanish with a lioness’ body serpent for a tail and wings.  Their mother was a man-eater, half an immortal “maid with glancing eyes”, and half serpent.  And we won’t even describe their monstrous, wild and immortal father.  He almost destroyed the universe.  Here’s the catch, most of them were someone’s pet.[i]


Orthus was a sheep dog for King Geryon.  Geryon was a three-bodied monster from another lineage of monsters.  Geryon wondered if he was divine or mortal.  Heracles made the decision by slaying Geryon and his guard dog. 


Cerberus is the three headed dog is the pet of Lord Hades.  Cerberus guards the gates of Hell.  Sounds pretty ferocious right?  Let’s think about that.  A dog can’t bit a ghost, he’s not keeping them in.  He’s attempting to keep us form accidently wandering.  Dogs are man’s best friend. 


The Hydra was a nine headed poisonous serpent ruining the countryside.  Hera, Queen of the Gods was his wet nurse.  When Heracles cut off one of the Hydra’s heads, two more appeared in its place.  The hulking hero ended up slicing off a head and holding the neck, so his therapon could scorch the stub.  Then on the next.  When they found the immortal invulnerable head, they buried it under a rock.


The Chimera was brought up by Amisodarus, king of Caria.  He used the monster on his enemies in battle.  Talk about a weapon of massive destruction.  It was slain by a hero and another monster from the other monster lineage; Pegasus, the uncle of Geryon.


The Crommyon Sow and her descendants were just giant pigs rutting and tearing up the country-side.  Their lineage was killed off by the heroes, who sacrificed and ate them.


Hera, asked the man-eating Sphinx to lay waste to Thebes.  The Olympian gods didn’t exactly love the Theban deities.  When Oedipus defeated the Sphinx at her own game, she leapt onto the rocks and killed herself, just like the Sirens (who were once beautiful maidens but made some bad life choices.)  Oh wait!  They were all immortal.  Remember no one really dies in Greek mythology.  The Sphinx and the Sirens just became goddesses of the funeral rites living underground sort of like the guard dog Orthus lived above ground and his brother lived below ground in the same role.


Jenny Strauss-Clay (Hesiod's Cosmos) is kind enough to refer to the "monsters" of Greek mythology as "hybrids".  Their "monstrousness" seems due, not to their vastness or evil intent, but because they are not theomorphic like ourselves.  We lucked out.  The gods could have decided they liked their monsters better than us and they would have been the “heroes” hunting us to extinction.

[i] "They say that the Lion of Nemea fell from the moon (Selene). At any rate Epimenides [C6th B.C. poet] also has these words : ‘For I am sprung from fair-tressed Selene the Moon, who in a fearful shudder shook off the savage lion in Nemea, and brought him forth at the bidding of Queen Hera.’" (Aelian, On Animals 12. 7)

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