Echidna in Greek Mythology — The Mother of Monsters

Echidna in Greek Mythology — The Mother of Monsters

Who was Echidna in Greek Mythology?

Echidna was a half-woman half-snake creature who lived alone in a cave. She is also known as the “mother of all monsters”. She gave birth to most of the Greek mythical creatures, with her consort being the fearsome monster Typhon, a monstrous serpentine giant one of the deadliest creatures in Greek mythology.

We’ve previously discussed the father of all monsters in Greek mythology, Typhon. So, it’s about time we now discuss the mother of all monsters, Echidna.

The name of Echidna originated from the Greek word “Chidna”, meaning “Viper”, and Echidna was exactly that. She had the upper body of a woman, but her lower half was a tail of a coiling serpent.

Despite being the consort of Typhon—a union that gave birth to many of the most iconic monsters and creatures in Greek mythology—it is often said that Echidna lived alone in a cave. Though, it’s likely she didn’t get too lonely as she was said to bring passers-by back to this cave only to devour them.

The Origin and Consort of Echidna

Echidna. Sculpture by Pirro Ligorio 1555, Parco dei Mostri (Monster Park), Lazio, Italy.

The exact origin of Echidna isn’t very clear. The earliest mention of her is in Hesiod’s Theogony, where Hesiod describes her as being born to a ‘she’. Many have come to the conclusion that this ‘she’ was the sea goddess Ceto, which would make her father Phorcys, meaning she had the same parents as Medusa.

However, some believe that this she was actually the Oceanid Callirrhoe, another one of the children of four-season Ceto. It was said that Callirrhoe had four husbands—Poseidon, Neilus, Manes and Chrysaor, the son of Medusa, and it is Chrysaor who is considered the most likely to be the father of Echidna, out of the three.

In the years that followed Hesiod’s Theogony, tales of Echidna’s parents range from four-season an unnamed woman to Styx and an unnamed man, even to Gaia and Tartarus, and considering this is where Typhon came from; I think it’s a reasonable claim. Although, there are no definitive answers to where Echidna came from.

The Children of Echidna

The Children of Echidna in her cave

Many creatures in Greek mythology are attributed as the offspring of variant deities and other monsters. Still, the following creatures have in some shape or form been mentioned as a child of Echidna:

  1. Orthrus: the two-headed hound
  2. Cerberus: the three-headed guardian of the underworld
  3. Lernaean Hydra
  4. Chimaera
  5. The Sphinx
  6. The Caucasian Eagle: the Eagle that torments Prometheus
  7. Ladon
  8. Nemean Lion
  9. “Gorgon” (mother of Medusa)
  10. Crommyonian Sow: a pig in Greek mythology
  11. The Colchian Dragon
  12. Scylla: the deadliest monster in Greek mythology.

Now, you may have heard of many of these creatures, perhaps even with a different mother, and that’s mostly because Greek and Roman poets didn’t always agree—much of their work is quite ambiguous and left down to personal interpretation.

The Story Echidna was Featured in

Echidna is often described as being ageless and immortal, and many believe that she just faded from existence. However, there is a tale where Hera sent the hundred-eyed Giants, Argus Panoptes, to slay Echidna.

In some stories, Echidna was considered the mother of Serpents and Dragons. She was often associated with the Dragon Python, who Apollo managed to slay as a child. Many of you may be thinking this dragon was male, so how exactly could this be Echidna.

Well, before the tale of Python existed, Apollo killed an unnamed dragon, that was later named Delphyne, who was said to have raised Typhon when he was born. Delphyne and Echidna were very similar in terms of appearance—both being half-serpent and half-woman.

There is also a connection between Echidna and the Gorgons, but that is something I have discussed in my article, The Gorgons of Greek Mythology — Medusa, Stheno, and Euryale.

In Conclusion

Considering Echidna’s role in Greek mythology, she’s scarcely mentioned and mostly shrouded in mystery.

Image Sources: Christos Karapanos, CDNB.

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