Echidna, also called the serpent woman, is primarily referred to as the mother of monsters in Greek mythology. She has a half-woman and half-snake appearance. And she is denoted as a sexually exciting or captivating woman and depicted with a serpent’s tail. The origin of the snake or serpent has different stories or beliefs associated with it.
She also majorly symbolizes the sin and unrighteousness on earth in the form of illness, disease, immorality, and wickedness.
The name Echidna originates from the Greek word called “ekhidna” (Pronunciation: Ek-id-nuh), meaning ‘viper’ as she had the upper body of a woman and the lower body resembling a serpent.
Let’s look at this mother of all Greek monsters in greater detail.
The Origin of Echidna
The origins of Echidna are vague as there exist several different accounts and beliefs.
According to Hesiod’s Theogony, where she was mentioned for the first time in the history of Greek mythology, Echidna is the daughter of the sea deities Phorcys and Ceto. There are some other beliefs, too, where she is said to be the daughter of Gaea and Pontus or Gaea and Tartarus, according to mythographer Apollodorus.
Here’s the extract depicting Echidna:
Even the goddess fierce Echidna who is half a nymph with glancing eyes and fair cheeks, and half again a huge snake, great and awful, with speckled skin, eating raw flesh beneath the secret parts of the holy Earth.
She was born in a cave and lived a covert life, alone, undercover in it. Hesiod believes that this cave is a secret place appointed by gods, away from the mortals deep under the Earth in a place called Arima.
However, Homer’s Illiad mentions that the same place, Arima is the land of Arimoi where Zeus attacks with a thunderbolt, and it’s the couch or bed or a mating place of Echidna and her husband, Typhoon.
Echidna didn’t particularly live a lonely life in her cave as it was believed that she had the knack for tricking and bringing back male passers-by to the cave and devouring them. She tricked them by showing the beautiful woman-like upper half of her body out of the cave. The foolish ones succumbed to Echidna’s charms and got killed by her once they entered the cave. She killed them by strangulating them with her serpent tail lower body before devouring them.
Bonus Read: Explore the King of all the Olympian gods; here’s Greek Mythology Gods: Zeus, The God Of Thunder – Dreams and Mythology
The Family Tree of Echidna
Echidna is the wife of the 100-headed Typhon, the mammoth monster who challenged and almost defeated the Olympian gods. When Typhoon suppressed Zeus and pulled the tendons of the supreme god, Echidna was responsible for protecting them. Hermes, the ultimate messenger of gods, the son of Zeus and Maia, stole the tendons and returned them to his father, Zeus, restoring his power and strength.
Zeus then imprisoned Echidna’s husband, Typhon, under a volcano. But Typhon and Echidna had already given birth to numerous monster-like children. They are considered some of the terrifying creatures in Greek mythology.
Echidna with Typhon had conceived many ghastly-looking creatures, namely Cerberus, Lernaean Hydra, Sphinx, Colchian Dragon, Orthus, the Harpies, the Dragon of Ladon, the Scylla, Caucasian Eagle, Crommyonian Sow, and Chimera.
Cerberus, the three-headed dog of Hades, Cerberus, protects the entrance to the underworld. And he makes sure you are taken into hell as well as prevented or barred from ever leaving it. The three heads of the dog represent the past, present, and future simultaneously.
The second child was the Hydra of Lerna was a creature with several invincible heads that could not be destroyed ever. Legend says that if one of her heads were cut or severed, two more new heads would emerge in the same place.
Echidna also gave birth to Sphinx, a creature that swallowed all those who didn’t resolve their enigmas.
The Chimera was another fire-breathing monster child of Echidna who was a hybrid creature with a lion’s body, a serpent’s tail, dragon’s wings, and multiple heads.
Did you know? Echidna was also grandmother to the Sphinx and the Nemean Lion through Orthus and the Chimera.
Echidna even birthed the Colchian dragon who protected the Golden Fleece. Her children were feared all over ancient Greece. But most of them were defeated by Greek heroes such as Hercules, Jason, and Heracles. Besides being the mother of the most dreaded monsters, she was also a dangerous goddess by herself. She swallowed up the travelers who came close to her lair.
Another dragon, the Dragon of Ladon, was responsible for guarding and protecting the garden of Hesperides, also rightly called the nymphs of the sunset.
Her lower body has serpent-like features, which she passed on to her child, the gorgon. Medusa is one of the most popular gorgons, but she is not directly related to or connected with Echidna. The gorgons could turn any person into a stone.
The Caucasian Eagle troubled and tortured Prometheus, one of the Titans and the god of fire responsible for the creation of all the mortals. According to an ancient Greek myth, the Caucasian eagle ate into the liver of the Titans.
The liver had regenerating capabilities. This is called the Myth of the Tityus, symbolizing the punishments to Prometheus.
However, this myth is also used and referred to by lecturers to link it with the science of liver regeneration well as other sciences.
The Rule of Echidna
Echidna and Typhon together waged a war against the Olympian gods as she blamed Zeus for the death of her children. Heracles, while completing his 12 labors, killed most of Echidna’s offspring. It’s also said that Zeus emerged victoriously but was merciful towards Echidna. So, he didn’t kill her to death. But there are different claims and accounts according to different sources.
For Hesiod, Echidna was eternal and ageless. The reign of Echidna was short-lived. Hera, the goddess of women, marriage, family, and childbirth, and the wife of Zeus, sent her devoted 100-eyed giant, Argos Panoptos, to kill Echidna. Argos waited for Echidna to fall into a deep sleep and exterminate the creature.
A 5th Century BC Historian, Herodotus came up with a term called the “she-viper,” who wasn’t exactly Echidna but closely resembled Hesiod’s representation of Echidna.
The she-viper was half woman half snake, lived all alone in a cave, and was also known as a mother figure. In this account, she is considered the main origin that led to the birth of the Scythians. They were ancient tribes who originally lived in what is now southern Siberia.
Herodotus narrated an account of the encounter between Heracles and the she-viper to the Greeks living in Pontus, a region on the southern coast of the Black Sea.
Heracles was driving the cattle of Geryon, the giant who lived on the island Erytheia of the Hesperides.
One morning he woke up to the fact that his horses were missing. While searching for his horses, he came across a cave and discovered an enormous creature that was half-woman till her waist and half serpent at the bottom. She had the horses and promised to return them only on one condition – She demanded Heracles to have sex with her.
Heracles agreed, and they together birthed three sons: Agathyrsus, Gelonus, and Scythes. She asked Heracles if she could keep her sons with her in the cave or send them to him.
Heracles responded by giving her a bow and a belt. He told her that once the sons are all grown up, keep the ones that wear the belt and draw the bow, evicting others. Their youngest son, Scythes, was successful in this, and thus became the founder and the chief of the Scythians.
Where Does Echidna Live Now?
After Echidna’s husband, Typhon, was defeated and buried under Mount Etna, she wanted to stay closer to him and give him company. So, Echidna is believed to reside permanently in Tartarus after the Olympian gods won the battle. However, Typhon struggles to live under Mount Etna, and it’s widely believed that being buried there has affected his sexual appetite.
Echidna is also worshipped in Phrygia, the ancient Kingdom of Muska as the supreme protector of the Earth’s treasure. It’s said that the constant movement of her swiveling snake-like lower body is the primary cause of earthquakes. So, she is also summoned with respect in rituals to control destruction and damage during such calamities.
According to the ECHIDNA (Ekhidna) – Serpent-Nymph Mother of Monsters of Greek mythology (theoi.com) – Ekhidna was sometimes equated with Python “the Rotting One,” a dragon born of the fetid slime left behind by the great Deluge. Others name her the Tartarean lamprey and place in her the dark, swampy pit of Tartaros beneath the earth. Hesiod makes her a daughter of monstrous sea gods and presumably associates her with rotting sea scum and fetid salt-marshes.
Despite being a sinister, hateful creature in Greek mythology, Echidna, the mother of all monsters, significantly impacted Greek culture and mythology.
Worth Reading – Are you on the lookout for more such captivating stories in Greek mythology?? Here are 11 Famous Greek Mythology Stories – Dreams and Mythology