Dragons in Greek Mythology
- Dracones: giant snakes, usually with deadly venom and many heads.
- Cetea: sea monsters that often appear in myths where the hero saves a princess.
- Dracaena: These creatures have the characteristics of a female and a snake, or a female dragon.
Heroes are probably the best known part of Greek mythology, but what makes a hero? In the mythological sense, a legendary hero is distinguished by his actions and feats. One must fight and defeat monsters at the risk of his life to make a mark.
By chance (or misfortune), the myths of Ancient Greece are full of creatures and monsters, each stranger than the next. Both fantastic and terrifying, these mythical beings are very numerous. Ranging from Dragons, Giants, Demons and Ghosts, to hybrid creatures like the Sphinx, Minotaur, Centaurs, Manticores and Chimera. 🐉
In this article, we will look at dragons in Greek mythology. Their stories, their appearances, their relationship with the gods and their purposes. You will learn facts and remarkable elements about these many mythical monsters of Ancient Greece.
THE TYPHON DRAGON
In Greek mythology, Typhon was considered the most powerful and deadly evil deity. He is the last offspring of the Goddess Gaia and the God Tartarus. He was conceived to prevent the Olympian gods from defeating the Titans during the Titanomachy. According to some myths (Homeric Hymns), he is an evil being born by Hera with the only purpose of defeating Zeus.
Known as the "father of all monsters", Typhon was a fire-breathing being whose name alone was enough to arouse fear and awe. In Greek legends, the physical description of the dragon Typhon differs from one account to another.
Typhon was a colossal winged beast whose head and body were that of a man. He was a giant so huge that he grazed the stars. Typhon had a hundred dragon heads sprouting from his shoulders, he also had snake heads on his fingertips. From the waist up, a hundred poisonous snakes formed the mass of his body. Typhon's ears were pointed, his hair and beard were matted and dirty.
From the eyes, mouths and nostrils of each of his heads flames shot out. Each mouth had its own horrible voice and its eyes never closed. Typhoon's form was nebulous in nature. In summary, most descriptions give Typhon a giant size, a serpent's tail, multiple dragon or snake heads, dark tongues, eyes of fire, and a thunderous voice.
Gaia was furious with Zeus for imprisoning her children, the Titans, in Tartarus. She rallied her other children, the Giants, to avenge the injustice, but they too were defeated. Therefore, she created Typhon as the ultimate opponent of Zeus. For this reason, Typhon is sometimes classified as a giant. In one version of the story, Typhon defeated the supreme god head on.
When the gods of the Pantheon saw Typhon approaching, they fled in terror. One of the traditions is that they ran to Egypt, where they were transformed into animal figures that symbolize the Egyptian deities, or that they were transformed into animals. Athena, the goddess of wisdom, persuaded them to return to Greece, while Zeus stayed behind to confront the dragon Typhon.
Typhon, the living nightmare of the Olympian gods, never slept. He wanted to acquire the sovereignty of the gods and mortals, but he was subdued by the lightning of Zeus, after a frightening struggle. Zeus locked him under Mount Etna, a volcano where the forges of the god Hephaestus are located.
If Typhon took over Olympus, the home of the gods, he would have become the master of the world, and Zeus could not allow that. Typhon was married to Echidna, who was considered the "mother of all monsters". They both had many famous offspring, including:
- The Sphinx
- The Nemean Lion
- The Cerberus
THE LERNAEAN HYDRA
In Greek mythology, the Hydra of Lerna was a gigantic nine-headed water snake that haunted the Lerna marshes. It is one of the twelve works of Heracles. Sent to defeat the creature, for every head he decapitated, two more grew. He enlisted the help of his nephew, Iolaos, who applied burning firebrands to the severed heads, cauterizing the wounds and preventing the regeneration of the Lernaean Hydra.
Hera, who had raised the monster specifically to kill Heracles, sent a giant crab to the Hydra's rescue. During the battle, Heracles crushed the crab under his foot. The Hydra and the Crab were later placed among the stars by Hera as the Constellation of the Hydra and the Constellation of Cancer.
The Hydra of Lerna was the offspring of Typhon and Echidna. This mythical creature was sometimes considered the demon of darkness and drought. The Hydra of Lerna lived in the swamps and marshes of Lerna in Argolid. It ravaged the local province of Argos.
The Hydra was sacred in the eyes of Hera, but the dragon so tormented the inhabitants of Argolid that King Eurystheus ordered Heracles to kill it. The Hydra of Lerna only left its home to consume livestock or destroy crops. Its breath reeked of venom, and its fetid exhalations poisoned the air.
The last head of the Hydra of Lerna, the middle one, was immortal, but Heracles managed to destroy it using the golden sword that the goddess Athena had given him. Heracles placed the head, still alive and writhing, under a large rock on the sacred path between Lerna and Eleonius. Then, he dipped all the tips of his arrows in the poisonous blood of the Hydra.
This action will later mark the end of the hero, because Heracles will wear the Tunic of Nessus on which the blood of the centaur had mixed with the blood of the Hydra of Lerna. This will cause him unbearable pain, and he will end up incinerated on Mount Oeta.
THE DRAGON OF THEBES
In Greek mythology, the dragon of Thebes also called the Ismenian dragon was a giant snake that guarded the sacred spring of Ares near the city of Thebes. According to the Theban legend, the hero Cadmos, after triumphing over the dragon, became the founder and the first king of Thebes.
On the instructions of the oracle of Delphi, Cadmos followed a special cow that he sacrificed to Athena or Zeus. The place of the sacrifice of the animal marked the birth of the city of Thebes and its acropolis, Cadme. To realize this project, he sent some companions to draw water.
Unfortunately, the water source was guarded by a dragon, one of Ares' sons, who killed his men. The dragon of Thebes was in turn killed by Cadmus. Cadmus was ordered by Athena to sow the dragon's teeth in the earth, from which armed warriors, called the Spartans, sprang up. Cadmos, terrified, threw a stone at them. The latter, thinking they were attacked, killed each other and only five survived:
Thereafter, these five Spartans helped Cadmus to build the Greek city of Thebes and the Theban acropolis. They became the founders, then the ancestors of the most noble families of the city of Thebes. The dragon was sacred in the eyes of Ares, so the god imposed on Cadmus to do penance for eight years by serving him. After that, Athena assigned him the government of Thebes, and Zeus offered him Harmony, his daughter, as wife.
THE DRAGON OF COLCHIS
In Greek mythology, the dragon of Colchis, offspring of Typhon and Echidna (or Gaia), was the guardian of the Golden Fleece in the sacred grove of Ares. Jason, a Greek hero, claimed the throne of his father, Eson, former king of Iolcos, from his uncle Pelias, son of Poseidon, who had been dispossessed by the latter. Pelias promised to give it back to him on condition that he bring back the famous Golden Fleece, which was in Colchis.
From then on, Jason embarked on the Argo, a galley, with the Argonauts in search of the coat. Once he arrived, Jason claimed the Golden Fleece from Aeetes, the king of Colchis. Aeetes in turn promised to give it to him only if he could accomplish certain tasks. First, Jason had to plow a field with fire-breathing oxen that he had to harness himself.
Then Jason had to sow the teeth of a dragon in the same field that was the sacred domain of Ares. The teeth sprouted and an army of warriors emerged from the earth. Jason thought about it and before they could attack him, he threw a stone into the crowd. Unable to determine where the projectile had come from, the soldiers clashed and killed each other. This story is quite similar to that of Cadmus and the dragon.
Eventually, Aeetes forced Jason to fight and kill the dragon Colchis, an insomniac creature that guarded the golden fleece. Jason succeeded in defeating the beast, retrieved the fleece and embarked with Medea, a sorceress/magician, daughter of Aeetes. She had helped Jason in his quest and had fallen madly in love with him. Another version says that Jason was swallowed and then spit out before defeating the Colchis dragon.
THE LADON DRAGON
In Greek mythology, the Ladon dragon, also known as the Dragon of the Hesperides, was the guardian of the golden apples in the Garden of the Hesperides. This massive hundred-headed dragon was one of the monstrous offspring of Typhon and Echidna. Ladon is linked to the eleventh of the twelve labors of Heracles. Having already defeated many monsters, Heracles took his bow and simply killed the dragon with a poisoned arrow.
This ancient Greek dragon with a hundred heads and a hundred voices had a penchant for gold. The goddess Hera, tired of seeing the Pleiades, daughters of the Titan Atlas, come to the garden and steal golden apples, persuaded the dragon Ladon to watch over the apple tree.
From then on, Ladon wrapped himself around the tree and began to watch in all directions at once. When one of his heads was asleep, the others were awake, so that it was impossible to surprise the Hesperides dragon. Because of Hera's resentful nature, Ladon also had the secondary task of tormenting the Titan Atlas, who stood nearby, holding the sky on his shoulders.
Ladon met his fate when Heracles was charged with bringing golden apples from the garden. The beast was killed with the bow and arrows possessed by the Greek hero. The dragon remained in the throes of death for a long time, and the Hesperides mourned the loss of their protector. This drew Jason and the Argonauts to the garden the very next day, where they witnessed the last moments of the Hesperides Dragon.
Zeus admired the fight so much that he raised Ladon in the night sky as the Constellation of the Dragon (Draco). Another legend says that it was Hera who placed his portrait among the stars for the dragon's dedication to her garden, and his efforts to kill Heracles.
THE CYCHREIDES DRAGON
The Cychreides Dragon was a giant snake that terrorized the island of Salamis, a Greek island located in Attica. According to some, it was killed by Cychreides who became king thanks to this feat. According to others, Cychrea raised the beast which was chased from the island by the hero Eurylochus, a companion of Odysseus. The dragon would then have swum across the sea to Eleusis where he became the pet of the goddess Demeter.
According to another account, Cychrea himself was called dragon because of his wild nature. Banished from Salamis by Eurylochus, he was received by Demeter in Eleusis in order to be appointed priest in her temple. Legend has it that during the battle of Salamis, a dragon appeared on one of the Athenian ships and an oracle declared that this dragon was Cychrea. 🐉
THE PYTHON DRAGON
In Greek mythology, Python was a monstrous dragon-serpent charged by his mother Gaia, the goddess of the earth, to protect the oracle of Delphi. According to some accounts, the creature was born from the decaying sludge left behind by the Deucalion Flood.
According to the Greek legend, Zeus would have laid and impregnated the goddess Leto of twin gods, Artemis and Apollo. The Dragon Python would have been sent by Hera to chase Leto to prevent her from giving birth, because the latter was jealous and mad with rage because of Zeus' infidelity.
Apollo, wanting to avenge his mother for having been pursued by the dragon relentlessly during her pregnancy, armed himself with a bow and arrows made in a forge, near the god Hephaestus. He in turn chased the dragon to its cave, Mount Parnassus, followed a legendary battle between the god and the monster.
Python was not an easy opponent for Apollo to defeat, but by shooting a hundred arrows, Python finally succumbed to his injuries. Afterwards, Apollo claimed the oracle of Delphi which was renamed "Pythia".
Sources tell us that Apollo had to commit himself to a period of servitude of eight years after the murder of Gaia's child, and that he would have established the Pythian Games as an act of penance. The god could also have decreed these Delphic Games as a celebration of his victory over Python. The Homeric hymn to Apollo and some arts of Ancient Greece assimilate Python to Echidna.
ANDROMEDA AND THE SEA MONSTER
In Greek mythology, Andromeda is an Ethiopian princess, daughter of King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia. Her mother boasted that she and her daughter were the most beautiful among the Nereids, the nymphs and daughters of the old sea god Nereus. The latter went to complain to Poseidon, which provoked the anger of the God of the sea, on the kingdom of Ethiopia.
The punishment took the form of a great tsunami that destroyed many properties and farmlands. Poseidon also sent Ceto, a sea monster that swept away the most reckless on the shore. Desperate, king Cephaeus consulted the oracle of Amon, who told him that no respite could be found until he had sacrificed his daughter to the sea monster. Andromeda was chained to a rock while waiting for her death.
However, luckily, the hero Perseus was close by and prevented Andromeda's imminent death. When the monster emerged from the sea, he managed to kill it, either with his sword or by exposing it to Medusa's head and turning it into stone.
Thus, Andromeda was saved from the sea monster. Perseus married her and she followed him on his journey back to Greece. They had nine children together. After her death, the goddess Athena placed her in the sky as the Constellation of Andromeda, near her beloved husband Perseus and his mother Cassiopeia.
HESIONE AND THE DRAGON
In Greek mythology, Hesione is a princess, she is the daughter of the king of Troy, Laomedon and the nymph Strymo. She is also the granddaughter of Ilus, the mythical founder of Troy. She was to be sacrificed to the ceto, a sea monster sent by Poseidon, which devastated the country until Heracles freed her from her chains. This legend is very similar to that of Andromeda and the sea monster.
The main myth of Hesione and the dragon tells that the gods Apollo and Poseidon were angry with king Laomedon. The latter, not having recognized the deities, had not paid them as promised their dues, after they had built the walls of Troy. In retaliation, Apollo sent the plague on Troy, while Poseidon sent a sea monster, nicknamed the Trojan Ceto, to terrorize the coast.
To appease the sea monster, the Trojans were forced to sacrifice a young girl, leaving her chained to a rock on the shore. The sacrifices being drawn by lot, it is the name of Hésione which was designated to be the next victim of the sea monster of Troy.
Heracles, back from the country of the Amazons, promised that he would save Hesione and kill the sea monster on condition that Laomedon give the divine horses. Zeus had given them to Laomedon, in compensation for the kidnapping of Ganymede. Laomedon accepted the deal without hesitation.
Thus, Heracles killed the sea monster and broke the chains of Hesione, then gave her back to Laomedon. But once again, the Trojan king refused to pay for the services rendered. Heracles had no time to deal with the king at that time, but the Greek hero vowed to return.
THE DRAGONS OF MEDEA
In Greek mythology, Medea was the daughter of Aeetes, king of Colchis, and the wife of the mythical hero Jason. According to the legend, the witch Medea had a chariot, the Chariot of Medea, which was harnessed by dragons. The dragons of Medea were two dragons that pulled the flying chariot of the witch. She summoned them to take her away from Corinth after the murder of King Creon, his daughter Creuse and her children with Jason.
THE CHIMERA DRAGON
In Greek mythology, the Chimera is a hybrid monster, child of Typhon and Echidna. He is the brother of Cerberus and the Hydra of Lerna. This fantastic creature was evil, its body was that of a lion and a goat. It had a lion's head and a goat's head on its back and its tail was shaped like a snake or a dragon.
Famous and fearsome, the Chimera was a female, and according to Hesiod's genealogy of Greek deities (Theogony), the Chimera would mate with Orthos to give birth to two other monsters, the Lion of Nemea and the Sphinx.
He resided in Lycia, a place in Asia Minor, where he ravaged the lands with his fire breath. He was killed by Belerephon, assisted by Pegasus, when the latter was requested by king Iobates of Lycia. Belerephon rode on the back of Pegasus, a horse that could fly, and shot arrows at the Chimera from the air.
This list about dragons in Greek mythology is coming to an end. You will have learned a little more about the famous creatures, deities and monsters of Ancient Greece. If you want to go even further, you can tame the beast by appropriating the dragon chimera. 🐉