Many years ago when the world was still young, Echidne was born in a hidden cave located deep below the earth. Though the identity of her parents is not always made clear, Hesiod seems to conclude that she was the daughter of Ceto and Phorcys. There are also other accounts which proclaim her to be the offspring of Gaia and Tartarus or sometimes Styx and Peiras.
The location of the cave has always been a mystery. Most stories place it beneath the Isle of Arima, but unfortunately no one has been able to determine where this ancient land could once be found. All we can say for sure is that Echidne's abode was concealed inside of the darkest hollows of the earth and invisable to both the eyes of gods and men.
Large in size, Echidne was a site to behold. Though her upper body was that of a enchantingly beautiful woman, from her waist down she bore the form of a speckled snake. Her most frightful aspect was the serpent's head found growing from the tip of her tail, as this was used to consume the raw flesh of all those who met her acquaintance.
Echidne is probably known best for having brought into the world a host of nightmarish creatures. It is generally believed that her offsping were sired by her husband Typhon, but there are rumors that a few may have been fathered by her own son Orthrus.
One of the most famous children of Echidne and Typhon is the Chimaera. This abomination had the upper body of a lion, the torso of a goat and the back end of a dragon. After many violent attacks on the Lycian countryside, the Chimaera was eventually killed by the hero Bellerophon.
Another member of Echidne and Typhon's family was known as the Lernaean Hydra. Near the spring of Amymone in the city of Lerna, stood a wondrous plane tree. It was here in the cool shade that Echidne rested before giving birth to the Lernaean Hydra. The Hydra had the body of a dog and a multitude of snake-like necks, each topped with a frightful head. When one head was cut off, two would grow back in its place. This beast was so deadly that just one puff of its venomous breath was fatal. The Hydra appears in quite a few of the Greek tales but it is best known for the battle it waged against Heracles during his second labour.
The next two siblings are Cerberus, the three headed hound that guarded the gates of the underworld and Orthrus, a two headed watchdog used by Eurytion to help guard the cattle of Geryon. Before he was the companion of Eurytion, Orthrus once belonged to the Titan Atlas.
Ladon is thought to be the last of Echidne's children fathered by Typhon. He was a dragon type serpent who bore one hundred heads. Each head spoke a different language, thus giving him the name of Ladon With The Many Tongues.
Because he never slept, Hera placed him inside the Garden of The Hesperides to guard the golden apples. Some legends say that he was killed by Heracles and placed among the stars by Zeus as the constellation Draco.
The Sphinx, The Nemean Lion and the Crommyonian Sow are usually thought to have been conceived through an incestuous relationship between Echidne and her son Orthrus.
The Sphinx was born with the body of a lion, the wings of an eagle and the head and breasts of a woman. She was sent by Hera to bring pain and ruin to the Greek city of Thebes. It was the Sphinx's duty to sit high upon Mount Phicium and wait for those who attempted to travel in or out of the city gates. Before they would be permitted to pass it would be required that they give the correct answer to an ancient riddle posed to them by the Sphinx. All those who responded incorrectly would be immediately swallowed up by the beast.
This went on until the riddle was finally solved by Oedipus, causing the Sphinx to frantically hurl herself over the side of the mountain. Please see my pages on Oedipus for the full story of the Sphinx.
According to some accounts the Nemean Lion was not the child of Echidne at all, but instead was born to the moon goddess Selene. Shortly after his birth she placed him in a double mouthed cave located outside of the city of Nemea. When the townspeople offended the goddess she turned the lion loose to ravage the land. The first labour assigned to Heracles by Eurytheus was to rid the town of this monstrous beast. You can read about this in full by going to my pages dedicated to Heracles.
The Crommyonian Sow, sometimes known as Phaea, was a gigantic wild pig that guarded one of the six entrances to the underworld. She dwelled just north of the Isthmus of Corinth in a town called Crommyon. She was killed by young Theseus during his first journey to Athens.
Though Echidne never grew old she was not immortal. One day the hundred-eyed giant Argus Panoptes (which means all seeing) happened to come upon Echidne as she slept near her cave. He approached the beast and slew her, thus bringing an end to her Arcadian reign of terror. In a twist of irony Argus Panoptes was later killed by the god Hermes when he too was fast sleep.
To read more about the death of Argus Panoptes please read the story of Io found on my page dedicated to The Loves of Zeus.
Medea's Lair Of Greek Mythology © 1999-2016.