Zeus' Second Round in the Theogony of Hesiod
When researching Greek mythology, it's generally a good idea to trace a story to its earliest known versions. This means looking through the writing of Archaic Age poets, particularly those known by the names of Homer and Hesiod, before studying more recent variants. Hesiod's Theogony is an account of the coming into existence of the gods, and the episodes leading to lightning-wielding Zeus' supremacy. Towards the end of the poem, when Zeus is almost firmly enthroned with top-billing among the deathless ones, he faces a savage fight with a creature who is close to his equal.
This episode, beginning at line 820 of Theogony, follows Zeus' imprisoning the Titans in Tartarus, at the end of the 10-year battle known as the Titanomachy. (Yes, 10-years is the length of the Trojan War and the same number of years it took Odysseus to reach Ithaca from Troy in the Odyssey. It is a nice round number, not to be taken too literally.) A new force, the youngest offspring of Zeus' Grandma Gaia when she mated with Tartarus, threatens gods, men, and Zeus' still fragile tenure. Other writers name the mother as Hera, who, angered by the parthenogenic birth of Athena, produced him on her own. In Hesiod, Hera is not yet Zeus' wife.
Typhoeus (or, in non-Hesiodic sources, sometimes Typhon or Typhaon), is an extremely powerful, hundred-headed, bellowing monster:
"From his shoulders grew an hundred heads of a snake, a fearful dragon, with dark, flickering tongues, and from under the brows of his eyes in his marvellous heads flashed fire, and fire burned from his heads as he glared."
"Typhon was a mixture of man and beast, the largest and strongest of all Ge's (Earth's) children. Down to the thighs he was human in form, so large that he extended beyond all the mountains while his head often touched even the stars. One hand reached to the west, the other to the east, and attached to these were one hundred heads of serpents. Also from the thighs down he had great coils of vipers, which extended to the top of his head and hissed mightily. All of his body was winged, and the hair that flowed in the wind from his head and cheeks was matted and dirty. In his eyes flashed fire. Such were the appearance and the size of Typhon as he hurled red-hot rocks at the sky itself, and set out for it with mixed hisses and shouts, as a great storm of fire boiled forth from his mouth."
~ Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 39
The fight between Typhoeus and Zeus raged all over the world, with one monster using the stormy, treacherous wind and fire-driven powers of nature, while the other lashed out and scorched with lightning.
At least in later versions, both contenders seem to have been able to hurl mountains. Zeus decided to try some hand-to-hand combat, switching out his lightning bolts for the sickle his father, Cronus, had used to permanently un-man and therefore deprive Uranus, his own father, of power. This wasn't the smartest move, but fortunately, Typhoeus doesn't seem to have been smarter. Wresting the weapon from the hands of Zeus, Typhoeus went for the god's extremities rather than his private parts. Sure, severing hands and fingers from the god inflicted damage, but it wasn't permanent. The mythographer known by the name Apollodorus describes the encounter and the other gods' fear in this passage:
"And through the two of them heat took hold on the dark-blue sea, through the thunder and lightning, and through the fire from the monster, and the scorching winds and blazing thunderbolt. The whole earth seethed, and sky and sea: and the long waves raged along the beaches round and about, at the rush of the deathless gods: and there arose an endless shaking."
Theogony op. cit.
This completely, but temporarily incapacitated Zeus, until Hermes and Aegipan, who may or may not be a version of Pan, retrieved the missing extremities. Zeus then finished destroying Typhoeus. Hesiod says Zeus threw Typhoeus into Tartarus. Apollodorus has Zeus laying him out with Mt. Aetna, in Sicily.
"When the gods saw him rushing toward the sky, they headed for Aigyptos [Egypt] to escape him, and as he pursued them they changed themselves into animal shapes. But Zeus from a distance hurled thunderbolts at Typhon, and when he had drawn closer Zeus tried to strike him down with a sickle made of adamant. Typhon took flight, but Zeus stayed on his heels right up to Mount Kasium, which lies in Syria. Seeing that he was badly wounded, Zeus fell on him with his hands. But Typhon entwined the god and held him fast in his coils, and grabbing the sickle he cut out the sinews from Zeus' hands and feet. Then, placing Zeus up on his shoulders, he carried him across the sea to Kilikia, where he deposited him in the Korykion (Corycian) cave. He also hid away the sinews there in the skin of a bear, and posted as guard over them the Drakaina Delphyne, a girl who was half animal."
Theoi - Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 39 - 44 (trans. Aldrich)
Typhoeus' eventual destruction by the king of the gods, produced all our destructive winds. (In Hesiod and the Bestiary, I mention that Typhon, mating with Echidna, produced such monsters as Orthus, Cerberus, the Crommyon sow, the Lernaean hydra, Chimaera, and the Sphinx.) After this second battle, Zeus is in charge, except in later theogonies, like Apollodorus 1.6, where there is a third battle, one against the giants, called, not surprisingly, a gigantomachy. It is pretty much a pale twin of the titanomachy. Hesiod does not describe the gigantomachy, but says the gods asked Zeus to rule over them:
Not wishing to be ousted, as previous generations in his family had been, Hesiod says Zeus swallowed his first wife Metis who was predicted to bear a son who would surpass his father. This left him free to marry Hera later.
"[T]hey pressed far-seeing Olympian Zeus to reign and to rule over them...."
Theogony (ll. 881-885)
- "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.