In Greek mythology, Echidna (Ancient Greek: Ἔχιδνα, "she viper") was half woman half snake, known as the "Mother of All Monsters" because most of the monsters in Greek myth were mothered by her. Hesiod's Theogony described her as:
[...] 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. And there she has a cave deep down under a hollow rock far from the deathless gods and mortal men. There, then, did the gods appoint her a glorious house to dwell in: and she keeps guard in Arima beneath the earth, grim Echidna, a nymph who dies not nor grows old all her days.
According to Apollodorus, Echidna was the daughter of Tartarus and Gaia, while according to Hesiod, either Ceto and Phorcys or Chrysaor and the naiadCallirhoe were her parents. Another account says her parents were Peiras and Styx (according to Pausanias, who did not know who Peiras was aside from her father). Echidna was a drakaina, with the face and torso of a beautiful woman (depicted as winged in archaic vase-paintings) and the body of a serpent, sometimes having two serpent's tails. She is also sometimes described, as Karl Kerenyi noted, in archaic vase-painting, with a pair of echidnas performing sacred rites in a vineyard, while on the opposite side of the vessel, goats were attacking the vines: thus chthonic Echidnae are presented as protectors of the vineyard.
Although to Hesiod, she was an immortal and ageless nymph, according to Apollodorus, Echidna used to "carry off passers-by", until she was finally killed where she slept by Argus Panoptes, the hundred-eyed giant.
Echidna was the mother by Typhon of many monstrous offspring, including:
Scylla - According to Hyginus, Scylla is the daughter of Echidna.
The Teumessian fox - A fox that was destined never to be caught. It was sometimes called the Cadmean vixen.
Also included as the offspring of Echidna by Typhon, by some, are the Sphinx and the Nemean lion. However Hesiod's genealogy here is unclear, he says these two were fathered by Orthrus, but he has been read variously as saying that Echidna, the Chimaera, or even Ceto, was their mother.
^Spenser's Errour in The Faerie Queene resembles Echidna in this hybrid nature, as John M. Steadman notes, in "Sin, Echidna and the Viper's Brood", The Modern Language Review56.1 (January 1961:62-66) p. 62.
^Hesiod, Theogony270-305. This passage has been read variously as saying that Ceto (Grimal, p. 143; Caldwell, p. 46) or Callirhoe (Morford, p. 162; Smith "Echidna") was the mother of Echidna. Athanassakis, p. 44, says that Phorcys and Ceto are the "more likely candidates for parents of this hideous creature who proceeded to give birth to a series of monsters and scourges ..." Herbert Jennings Rose says that it is "not clear which parents are meant". However, according to Clay, p. 159, note 32, "the modern scholarly consensus ... assigns the role to Keto".
Kerenyi, Karl, The Gods of the Greeks, Thames and Hudson, London, 1951.
Morford, Mark P. O., Robert J. Lenardon, Classical Mythology, Eighth Edition, Oxford University Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0-19-530805-1.
Pausanias, Pausanias Description of Greece with an English Translation by W.H.S. Jones, Litt.D., and H.A. Ormerod, M.A., in 4 Volumes, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1918.
Rose, Herbert Jennings, "Echidna" in The Oxford Classical Dictionary, Hammond and Scullard (editors), Second Edition, Oxford University Press, 1992. ISBN 0-19-869117-3