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N.S. Gill

Myth Monday: Zeus, the Recent Victor of the Titanomachy, Wins Once More in Hesiod's 'Theogony'

By August 13, 2012

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Typhon. Detail of the side B from a Chalcidian Black-figured Hydria, c. 550 B.C.
Typhon. Detail of the side B from a Chalcidian Black-figured Hydria, c. 550 B.C. Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Munich, Germany
PD Courtesy Bibi Saint-Pol at Wikipedia.

After Zeus defeated the Titans and put them in Tartarus, his angered grandmother Gaia, according to Hesiod, in the Theogony, ll 820ff produced a new son, a hideous monster and definitely Zeus's equal. The clever young hundred-headed creature could toss mountains and create raging storms. Although it doesn't occur in Hesiod's version, in some stories, the Olympic gods and other deathless ones were so frightened they fled to Egypt where they tried to hide by metamorphosing themselves into animals.

Where does this story of a fit challenger to Zeus come from?

P. Walcot ("The Text of Hesiod's Theogony and the Hittite Epic of Kumarbi") suggests the battle between Zeus and Typhoeus is of ancient Near Eastern origin. There, ritual combat symbolized the defeat of the old year -- represented by a dragon-like creature -- by the new -- in the form of a god-like creature. Walcot says there are such close similarities between this episode from Hesiod's Theogony and the Hittite Epic of Kumarbi and Song of Ullikummi that it may be that the Greek writer deliberately copied the Near Eastern scheme. Divergences include the use of only three generations in Hesiod's genealogy - Uranus, Cronus, and Zeus, compared with four in the Hittite legend. While the Hittite version contains notes recognizable from the fate of Uranus and Cronus, another significant difference between Hesiod's version and the Hittite one is that the Hittite storm-god Ea (parallel to Zeus), uses the same saw that had cut off Heaven from Earth, to sever the connection between the monster Ullikummi and Earth. In the Greek version, Cronus, not Zeus, separates Earth and Sky, using an adamantine sickle, while Zeus in Hesiod's version wields only lightning bolts, to burn and even as a whip to lash the monster. Walcot says the later Greek writer Apollodorus puts a sickle in Zeus' hands for the close-range work. This brings the Greek story back in line with the Hittite one. Then in Apollodorus' version, without parallel in the surviving sections of the Near Eastern version, Typhon grabs the sickle and cuts through the sinews in Zeus' hands and feet.

Read more about Zeus' battle against Typhoeus in Zeus Defeats Typhoeus.

References:

  • "Bhīṣma and Hesiod's Succession Myth," by Nicholas J. Allen; International Journal of Hindu Studies, Vol. 8, No. 1/3 (Jan., 2004), pp. 57-79.
  • "Nonnos' Typhoon: Dionysiaca, Books I and II," by Gordon Braden; Texas Studies in Literature and Language, Vol. 15, No. 5, A Special Classics Issue onMyth and Interpretation (1974), pp. 851-879.
  • "The Mythological Paradigm in Greek and Latin Poetry," by H. V. Canter; The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 54, No. 3 (1933), pp. 201-224. "Divine Names in Classical Greece," by H. J. Rose; The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 51, No. 1 (Jan., 1958), pp. 3-32.
  • "Mythological Scraps," by H. J. Rose; The Classical Quarterly, Vol. 24, No. 2 (Apr., 1930), pp. 107-108.
  • "The Origins of 'Centaurs,'" by Alex Scobie; Folklore, Vol. 89, No. 2 (1978), pp. 142-147.
  • "The Text of Hesiod's Theogony and the Hittite Epic of Kumarbi," by P. Walcot; The Classical Quarterly, New Series, Vol. 6, No. 3/4 (Jul. - Oct., 1956), pp. 198-206.

Previous 2012 Myth Mondays:

  1. Hercules Hurls His Guest
  2. Scylla
  3. Olympics Origins II: Myrtilos
  4. Hercules the Giant-Killer
  5. The First Tyrant
  6. The King and the Harpies
  7. The Dawn Goddess Loves a Mortal
  8. Vediovis
  9. Even a Boar Wishes to Kiss Adonis
  10. Hero and Leander
  11. Who Were the Argonauts?
  12. The Chimera
  13. Narcissus and Echo
  14. How Perseus Fits In
  15. Hesiod and the Bestiary
  16. The First Olympics Origins I
  17. Dionysus and the Return of Hephaestus
  18. Zeus, the Recent Victor of the Titanomachy, Wins Once More in Hesiod's 'Theogony'
  19. Atlas, the Titan Who Didn't Shrug
  20. Troilus and ... Polyxena
  21. Who Is the Virgo?

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