This movie from 2010 may be familiar for many younger viewers; however, I shan’t be discussing this cash-grab because, as one reviewer said: “The film is a sham, with good actors going for the paycheck and using beards and heavy makeup to hide their shame.” It had good actors (Ralph! How could you do this to us!), most certainly special effects and, I’m guessing, someone with boobs. I will also not speak of the “original” from 1981, which I DESPERATELY wanted to see when it came out but it never happened and now the effects are…dated, to say the least. Not even Lawrence “of Arabia” Olivier can fix that.
Instead, I will remind readers that before this was filmed, the story was, like, a book. It had everything! Bloody battle scenes. Superpowered deities. A human side, pain and love experienced in wholesome, bite-sized morsels. Cool and horrifying creatures. And boobs. You know those Greeks..
The original story is known as the Titanomachy-or the War of the Titans. In it the evil Titans rise from the underworld and, despite Zeus being the most powerful member of the Greek pantheon, sure give the Olympians a run for their money.
Typhon attempted to overthrow Zeus for the supremacy of the cosmos. The two fought a cataclysmic battle, which Zeus finally won with the aid of his thunderbolts. Defeated, Typhon was cast into Tartarus, or buried underneath Mount Etna, or in later accounts, the island of Ischia.
One of the reasons the Titans were so fierce is because they have Typhon, or Typhoeus, fighting on their side. Typhon is known as the “father of all monsters,” and, if you are into that sort of thing, he could beat Godzilla like a dog. He is described as a “monstrous, serpentine giant,” a fire-breathing dragon, and “terrible, outrageous and lawless” (by Hesiod).
“Strength was with his hands in all that he did and the feet of the strong god were untiring. From his shoulders grew a 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. And there were voices in all his dreadful heads which uttered every kind of sound unspeakable; for at one time they made sounds such that the gods understood, but at another, the noise of a bull bellowing aloud in proud ungovernable fury; and at another, the sound of a lion, relentless of heart; and at another, sounds like whelps, wonderful to hear; and again, at another, he would hiss, so that the high mountains re-echoed.”
Perhaps the most important description of this creature comes from the Homeric Hymn to Apollo, in which it is said the being is “like neither gods nor men.”
So what was he then?
Google tells us that the beast: “Typhon was … the personification of volcanic forces.”
Volcanic forces…Hmm-that doesn’t sound much like religion anymore. But let’s get back to it for now; I quote Wikipedia:
“Typhon attempted to overthrow Zeus for the supremacy of the cosmos. The two fought a cataclysmic battle, which Zeus finally won with the aid of his thunderbolts. Defeated, Typhon was cast into Tartarus, or buried underneath Mount Etna…
Typhon mythology is part of the Greek succession myth, which explained how Zeus came to rule the gods. Typhon’s story is also connected with that of Python (the serpent killed by Apollo), and both stories probably derived from several Near Eastern antecedents…”
These points are not only interesting, they contain hints which describe a handful of more relevant truths. Number one-there is nothing more cataclysmic than a volcanic eruption. Secondly many eruptions also include the phenomenon of lightning storms (see above*), which usually occur after the eruption has petered itself out. It would be very easy to assume that one’s own thunder god defeated the Titan with thunderbolts after seeing this.
I will not mention “Typhon being cast into Tartarus” or “buried beneath a mountain”–these mirror actual geological events which have been repeated at intervals throughout history (most recently in 2006 (Mt St Helens)–except to point out that although Greece has volcanoes, none have played a role in its cultural history, which explains why the Greeks desired to bury the giant under an active, Italian volcano.
Which leads is to the gist.
Why not under Mt. Olympus, where Zeus lived? And where the battle was fought, presumably? Others say it was fought in Anatolia–but that’s an even farther trip to lug a dead behemoth. Why schlepp the giant all the way to Italy to bury him? The only possible explanation here, which the last sentence of the quote above supports, is that these stories were not native to Greece.
Eastern Anatolia is home to a vast volcanic landscape, and the Bronze Age culture living there–the Hurrians–composed the original stories after one (or more) eruptions around 5,000 years ago. In fact, all of the people of the region told their own tales of a singular behemoth that attacked the heavens–“Titan” means to grow swiftly, and they are known as very naughty boys (and girls)–in earlier traditions. All of these stories had the same eerie similarities, and, in fact, there is really only one variant in these themes, one occasion where the plot does not play out like the others.
In the Greek version, as in all preceding Near Eastern versions, as well as the nearly identical Swedish AND Indian versions (!!); in all of these stories the thunder god was victorious, and the beast lay smote. The one exception?
Here Ninurta kicked everyone’s ass.
For those who do not understand the significance of this, I’ll have you remember that western civilization were based on the Mesopotamian model. Which also means that we have all adopted a way of life based on that of a civilization who worshipped the very real, fiery, underworld demon who rose up and overthrew the gods of the heavens.
Well that’s not a comforting thought, is it?
*-Photo by Marc Szeglat on Unsplash