The Alabaster Sock

We Will Fight the Threat with Fighting

Posted by Matt on April 4, 2010

Not seeing Clash of the Titans in theaters due to disappointing reviews and tacked-on 3D. Oh well, maybe I’ll wait and see Iron Man 2 as the first movie I see this year.

However, Clash’ release this weekend has put me in Greek mythology and monster mood. So I will now talk about one my favourite parts of the whole crazy enterprise that is Hellenistic myth: the monsters, and the crazy little things about them.

The people who say that superhero comics and classic Greek stories are pretty identical are right. But you already knew that, I’m sure. But even when you get right down to minutia like continuity they are the same, with a general timeline existing, some consistent character traits, and a whole lot of stuff that changes from author to author, even when they create inconsistencies. If we’re comparing them to modern superhero comics, there’s also a lot of moping and rape, although in the case of the myths, they didn’t need Watchmen to decide that was the proper thing to do.

Then there are the monsters. We all know the monsters. Monster Manuals and Final Fantasys the world over would have some gaping holes in them without all those Greek monsters. Some of them go on to become cultural icons, who doesn’t know what a gorgon or a cyclops is these days?, and some of them are left in obscurity, like Python and the fox that can’t be caught and was ultimately destroyed when a guy sent a dog that always catches its game, and Zeus just can’t take the paradox.

One detail about many of the most famous Greek monsters that I’ve always liked is the fact that they were related. And that includes some of the big ones, too, like the Hydra, and Cerberus, and the Sphinx. Yes, despite not looking the least bit similar, they all have the same ma & pa. The father, Typhon, was a giant horrible fire-breathing demon who tried to destroy Zeus because he locked away all his giant horrible siblings. Zeus then threw a volcano on him. This is a long line of awesome, as you can see.

For reference, here’s the family roll call:

-Nemean Lion (One of the Hercules’ twelve tasks involved killing this thing, despite it being nearly invulnerable)

-Ladon, the dragon guarding the golden apples. Hercules had to kill this thing too. See the pattern yet?

-Cerberus, the guardian of entrance to the Underworld and one of the few survivors of the the Herculean labours, only being inconvenienced. This is possibly because he was the only real non-jerk among the monsters.

-Orthus, a two-headed dog that was also a victim of Hercules’ anti-monster killing spree. In true Greek fashion, some sources claim he is in fact the real father of some of the other monsters.

-Lernaean Hydra, who famously had infinitely regenerating heads and poisonous breath. She (yes, she) also had a crab sidekick, sent by Hera to annoy Hercules while he killed the Hydra.

-Theban Sphinx, who guarded the entrance to the city of Thebes by asking riddles. When our future no-eyed hero Oedipus figures out her riddle, she jumped off a cliff, despite having wings. Well, at least she wasn’t killed by Hercules.

-The Lycian Chimaera, who was the youngest and maybe the scariest. She was killed by Bellophron and Pegasus.

Giving all the major antagonistic monsters a single origin certainly makes sense. If there’s one thing older human thinking promotes, its things have a very simple, understandable beginning, even if the rest of it doesn’t make any sense (see also: every other religion ever). The fact that the monster family is completely random doesn’t mean a thing as long as where the monsters came from isn’t.

It’s pretty easy to understand why I like this detail. One, it involves monsters. Two, there’s just something cool and cute about a family of monsters. Three, there’s a interesting dynamic created when most of the monsters are sent out to fuck people up by the same group of Gods who thought it proper to bury their dad under a volcano. Also, the children of the God who buried dear old dad under a volcano have a tendency to kill them. I think I could do something with this.

This has been my profoundly silly post of the month.

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