When Samantha has to learn about the geography of Sicily, Nanny Piggins tells her the real story of how Mount Etna formed. A story which just happens to feature one of her distant cousins, Cadmus Piggins as well as Zeus and a really horrible monster called Typhon.
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The Legend of Typhon as told by Nanny Piggins
Samantha was sitting at the coffee table in the living room struggling with her geography homework.
‘Are you alright, Samantha?’ asked Nanny Piggins kindly. ‘You know I am all to happy to bite your geography teacher for you. You just say the word. I’ve always maintained that homework is cruel and unusual punishment that should be outlawed under the Geneva convention. So you don’t even need a reason for me to bite him. The fact that he even set an assignment is just cause enough already. No jury in the land would convict me.
‘I’m pretty sure they would,’ muttered Derrick.
‘Well yes, maybe they would,’ conceded Nanny Piggins. ‘Human’s are so pedantic with their laws and their concerns for personal safety, and their prevention of cruelty-to-human laws.
Obviously, I don’t believe in cruelty to humans. But I’m not convinced some of these teachers are 100% human. Biting them on the shin may not get them to change their ways, but at least it would allow me to ascertain once and for all if they were a robot clone sent from a distant galaxy to slowly take over our planet by boring the children of the world to death.
‘You did promise the police sergeant you would stop testing people to see if they were robot clones,’ Michael reminded her.
‘I know,’ grumbled Nanny Piggins. ‘It’s not fair though. I only do it for the good of community. People should be grateful.’
‘Geography can be alright,’ said Samantha. She was a kind girl. She was not lying when she said this, except perhaps to herself. ‘I liked learning all about Italy’s imports and exports,’ said Samantha. ‘That was fun. Because there was a lot of talk about food. And for some reason I find it easier to remember food. But now we’re supposed to be learning about the geological formations on the island of Sicily.’
‘The geology of the island of Sicily!’ exclaimed Nanny Piggins. ‘Why didn’t you say so? I know all about that!’
‘You do?’ asked Derrick.
This was somewhat surprising. Geography was not Nanny Piggins strongest subject. She had travelled all around the world many times during her years as a travelling circus star. But she learned most of her facts about those countries from other circus stars. As a results she had some unusual ideas.
For example, her explanation of why the country Turkey was called turkey, bore absolutely no relation to the truth, although it was a fantastic tale about a great great great aunt of hers who was a turkey with elite chainsaw juggling skills.
‘Oh yes, said Nanny Piggins. I know all about the formation of Sicily because ome of my relatives was there when it happened,’ said Nanny Piggins.
‘Really?’ said Michael.
‘But the mountains formed millions of years ago,’ said Samantha.
‘Yes, my relatives go back a long way,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘In fact, my cousin Cadmus Piggins had a great deal to do with the course of events. You could say that - if it weren’t for her epic levels of heroic duplicity Mount Etna on the island of Sicily would not exist.’
‘Okay, you’re going to have to tell us the story from the beginning,’ said Derrick. ‘I’m confused already.’
‘Sit there while I whip up some Bougatsa,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘If I’m going to tell you a story about Ancient Greece, we’ll need the appropriate snacks.’
‘But Sicily is in Italy not Greece,’ said Samamtha. ‘It is isn’t it?’
‘It is now,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘But it wasn’t always. Loads of different kings, the vast majority of them wicked, have ruled Sicily over the years. It’s right slap bang in the middle of the Pacific surrounded by Italy, Greece, North Africa and Spain. Throughout history it’s been treated like the prize in pass the parcel.
Beside,s when you go far back enough into the history of story telling – you get to the Ancient Greek Gods and they had egos so huge they were not going to let little things like national boundaries hinder their movements.
In fact. I don’t think national boundaries were invented til much later, probably by a boring geography teacher who liked drawing maps.
Twenty minutes later, after much hasty cooking in the kitchen – Nanny Piggins returned with two trays of Bougatsa, shoved seven large pieces in her mouth and sat down ready to beging her tale.
‘As I said, it all started back in the Ancient Greece story days,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘I’ve told you stories about Zeus and Podseiden and Hera and all the other gods up on Mount Olympus. They really could be shockingly wicked people…’
‘They weren’t people,’ Derrick pointed out.
‘Yes, I know,’ said Nanny Piggins testily. She did not like being interrupted. ‘But they spent half their time pretending to be people or swans or bulls or other hair brained things – excuse me if I find it hard to keep track.’
She glared hard at Derrick, shoved another five bougasta in her mouth and continued with her story.
‘Anyway, as I was staying,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘Those Gods were carrying on having their adventures in the Ancient Story Days, but if you go even further back in time... Before the Ancient Greek Story Days were the Really Ancient Greek Story days.
Before Zeus and all the other gods, or the ‘imortals’ as they liked to be known. ‘Before the immortals were born, the world was rules by terrible monsters called Titans.’
‘Where did they come from?’ asked Michael.
‘I don’t know,’ snapped Nanny Piggins. ‘I don’t know everything. Just most things. Especially about cake, I know almost everything about cake, but there is always room for improvement. But I do know these Titans were horrible. They were great big monsters, like trolls or ogres, with horrific features like snake tales or horned heads and really bad breath.’
‘I though the Ancient Story Days were bad,’ said Samantha. ‘The Really Ancient Story days must have been awful.’
‘Yes, they were,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘The whole world was full or brutal savage chaos. Needless to say, if you’re running away from snake tailed giant trolls your whole life you’re never going to be able to pause long enough to enjoy a bit of cake, let alone take the time to bake one. It was a horrible time in history.’
‘So, when Zeus, Posiedan and Hades were born,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘They were brothers, you know. They decided things needed to be sorted out. They wanted to create a world where there was peace and prosperity and beauty. I think even though cake had not been invented yet, on some deep level they were yearning for it.
They wanted to create a world where people would have time to experiment with flour, sugar, butter and eggs. And that is what they did. They spent years going around fighting all the Titans. They fought some, they killed some and they drove some off – when the Titans were all gone - Greece was finally at peace.
‘What about the rest of the world?’ asked Derrick.
‘What do you mean?’ asked Nanny Piggins.
‘Well you said that Zeus and his brothers drove the Titans out of Greece,’ said Derrick. ‘But what about the rest of the world. Who saved them?’
‘Oh, I see what you mean,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘They didn’t count. You see back in the Ancient Story Days the Greek people thought Greece was the entire world. It’s a common delusion most people in most countries suffer to this very day. If you ever want to hear the end of this story, you’d better just accept that as it is – if we start having a philosophical discussion about mans inhumanity to man we’ll never get through the tale before you have to go to school tomorrow.’
Derrick didn’t particularly wanted to have a philosophical discussion either. ‘Sorry, continue,’ he urged.
‘But there was one particular Titan who was born a long way from Greece, all the way over in Asia,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘He heard that Zues was driving all the Titans away from Greece, so this Titan decided to keep clear of Greece until he had grown to his full size. This Titan was called Typhon.’
‘What like Typhoon?’ asked Michael.
‘Yes,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘Except it’s spelled with just one ‘o’. It’s probably where we get the word typhoon from. So many words we use today come from the ancient Greek story days. The people who make up words can be dreadfully lazy, they just keep reusing old ones.’
‘So what was Typhon like?’ asked Samantha. ‘Was he like a typhoon? Did he spin around in a raging wind and storm.’
‘No, but good guess,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘That would have been impressive. No, Typhon was a massive huge enormous giant.’
‘Gosh,’ said Michael.
‘With clawed hands, bat like wings and most horrifically of all he had 100 heads with forked tonues that breathed fire!’
The children didn’t say anything to this they were so horrified they almost wished they hadn’t asked their nanny to tell the story. But Nanny Piggins was enjoying herself.
‘Typhon was so huge that when he wadeed out into the Mediterraenean sea, the water only came up to his knees and when he stood on land the stars became entangled in his hair.’
‘Hang about I thought you said he had 100 dragon heads,’ said Derrick. ‘Dragons don’t have hair, they’re a type of lizard.’
‘Also, the nearest star, other than the sun is 40 trillion kilometres away – surely he wasn’t that tall,’ said Samantha.
‘Stop applying logic and reason to my hyperbole,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘If we start applying scientific logic to stories the entire world of make-believe will collapse under very little scrutinity and all you’ll have to read you to bed at night is the periodic table.’
‘Sorry Nanny Piggins,’ said Derrick.
‘So, Typhon was big and horrible and when he was fully grown – he waded across the sea from North Africa – determined to climb Mount Olympus and kill all the immortals.
‘Now, the immortals can be very silly sometimes with all their wine drinking and partying and vengeance plots – but they were not total nincompoops. When the enormous hundred headed monster came for them they all ran away.
‘But they were gods,’ said Michael.
‘Even gods have to know their limitations,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘And they all did. So they ran away to Eygpt where they hid themselves as animals. You may have seen ancient Eygptian pictures of a man with the heads of an eagle or a man with the head of a bull. That was the gods in disguse. They weren’t very good at disgusing themselves. Not very subtle. But in their defence costume shops had not been invented yet. The only immortal to remain was Zeus himself – king of the gods. He promised to kill Typhon so it would be safe for everyone else to return.
So Zeus sat alone in his palace on Mount Olympus waiting for Typhon to turn up and when he did they went for it. They had the biggest angriest, roughest, toughest fight ever in history, pre-history or probably the future. They wrestled and punched and kicked and bit each other.
‘They bit each other?’ asked Michael.
‘The Queensbury rules of boxing had not been invented yet,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘Cheating was allowed back then.’
Typhons heads breathed fire at Zeus. And Zeus threw back his lightening bolts. The fight went on for days and days. They both had lots of injuries, but as the fight wore on Zues steadily began to get the upper hand. He had more strength and courage and he was better looking, which always counts for more than it should in stories.
Typhon knew he was about to be beaten so he summoned every ounce of his remaining strength, grabbed hold of a sickle, that Zeus happened to have lying around (the story of the sickle is a whole story in itself, I’ll have to tell you that another time), Typhon grabbed the sickle and with his last spurt of energy, sliced the sinews out of Zeus’ arms and legs.
‘What?’ said Samantha.
‘The sinews?’ said Derrick.
‘What does that mean?’ asked Michael.
‘I don’t have a medical degree,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘Univesities are so picky about who they give those out to, so I’m not sure exactly what the ancient greeks meant by ‘sinews’. I assume they meant the tendons or the ligaments – or perhaps both.
All you need to know is, that once Typhon cut the sinews out of Zeus’ arms and legs, the muscles were not longer attached to the bones, so he couldn’t move. Not at all.
Plus he had lots of other injuries from the fight, so all Zeus could do was lie there fin terrible pain, probably feeling a bit silly, being the most powerful god in Olympus but he couldn’t even more his arm to brush his teeth because he was totally sinew-less.
Typhon had been terribly injured in the fight too. So he grabbed the sinews and ran away. He found a cave and hid the sinews in it, then he collapsed on the ground outside, too weak to do anything but wait for his wounds to heal.
‘He didn’t even put a bandaid on his sore bits?’ asked Michael.
‘He was too exhausted even to eat a slice of medical lemon cake,’ said Nanny Piggins.
‘Meanwhile, the rest of the immortals realised that Typhon was gone and returned to Mount Olympus,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘They were really shocked to find Zeus lying in the middle of the floor.
It was quite a come down for him. Usually Zeus flew about the sky hurling thunderbolts at people and kidnapping any beautiful girls he saw.
‘Oh Zues,’ said Apollo. ‘What do you want us to do?’ They were really hoping he wasn’t going to say, ‘Would you mind killing Typhon for me. Luckily he did not. Lying there on the ground – Zeus had come up with a cunning plan.
‘Typhon will expect one of the immortals to attack him now,’ said Zeus. ‘He will be on his guard against that. So we must send a mortal – a human to approach him.
‘Good idea,’ said Apollo. Deeply relieved it wasn’t going to be him.
‘Do we know anyone stupid enough, I mean brave enough to do that?’ asked Pan.
‘There is a woman,’ said Zeus. ‘Or rather, a pig, but she is so beautiful she is more beautiful than the most beautiful woman. And her name is Cadmus, Cadmus Piggins.’
‘One of your relatives?’ asked Michael.
‘Indeed,’ said Nanny Piggins.
‘I may have wronged her a little bit a few years ago,’ said Zeus. ‘I kidnapped her sister, married her and refused to return her. Cadmus’ family were really cross about it. She has roamed the earth searching for me, so she could kill me and get her sister back. You tell Cadmus, I will forgive her for being cross with me, and I will give her a whole country to rule over, if she does me a favour.’
‘Wait a minute,’ said Derrick. ‘But if Zues kidnapped the sister. Then he was the one in the wrong. Why is he saying he will forgive Cadmus, when he is the one who did the bad thing.’
‘Wicked people often get their morality turned upside down,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘Probably from doing too many hand stands. He point of view was entirely the opposite of what it should have been. It’s quite common umongst the morally bankrupt.
So Apollo and Pan went to Cadmus and told her the plan.
‘You want me to take on a monster so fierce it almost killed Zeus,’ said Cadmus.
‘Yes,’ said Apollo and Pan.
‘Do you have some sort of magical weapon you could lend me?’ asked Cadmus. ‘Something that is good for hurting monsters. Perhaps that sickle he used on Zeus.’
‘Oh,’ said Apollo. ‘We didn’t think to bring that with us.’
‘You could use this,’ said Pan, holding out his pan pipes to Cadmus.
‘Pan pipes?’ asked Cadmus.
Now if you don’t know what pan pipes are. They are a musical instrument, sort of like a whistle. Well a dozen whistles strapped together in a line. They all have different notes. But they are only made of hollowed out reeds, so not really the most fiersome weapon.’
‘What do you want me to do with that?’ asked Cadmus. ‘Throw it at his head. Because Typhon got a hundred heads, so you’d need to lend me another ninety nine panpipes.’
‘No, said Pan. ‘Use it to play him a tune. My pan pipes play a melody so beautiful it will soothe even the most savage beast.’
‘Fine,’ said Cadmus. ‘But I’ve no idea how you all came to be immortals when you are so bad at planning and preparation.’
‘So Cadmus, dressed up as a shepherd and wandered down into the valley where they knew Typhon was recovering and she played the pipes as she wandered.
At this stage Typhon was feeling really sorry for himself. Waiting for wounds to heal without the help of band aids was really horrible and boring. When he heard the pipes it made his soul lift. It put a smile on all one hundred of his faces.
‘Come here shepherd,’ Typhon called out. ‘And play to me some more. I can bear my pains better when I hear such a sweet tune.
‘So Cadmus came closer and played some more.
‘Aaah, that is beautiful,’ said Typhon. ‘He was a great music appreiationist, surprising what with being a horrible monster.’
‘Oh, I am glad to cheer you up,’ said Cadmus. ‘I’m just sorry that you can’t hear my lyre.’
What?’ said Typhon.
‘Well you’re obviously such a great music affcienado,’ said Cadmus. ‘You have impeccable taste. So you would really like my lyre because the sonds I can play on that are even more beautiful than the music I make with the pipes.
‘You must play this lyre for me,’ demanded Typhon.
‘Of course, I’d be glad to,’ said Cadmus. ‘Sadly, there was an avalanche and a boulder fell on my lyre last week. It totally destroyed the strings. I can’t play it until I restring the lyre and to do that I would need to find some sinews. Sinews make the best lyre strings, you know.’
‘Why, I happen to have some sinews,’ said Typhon.’
You do,’ said Cadmus. ‘What a coincidence. Could I borrow them?’
‘Yes, so long as you promise to play it for me,’ said Typhon.
‘Of course,’ said Cadmus. ‘It will take me a while to restring the lyre. It’s a tricky job. But if you give them to me now. I’ll take them back to my shack, restring the lyre tonight and come back to play to you tomorrow.
‘That would be lovely,’ said Typhone. He hobbled over to the cave, found Zues’ sinews, brought them out and handed them over to Cadmus.
See you tomorrow,’ said Typhon.
Oh yes, of ourse,’ said Cadmus.
‘She didn’t mean that at all did she?’ asked Michael.
‘No,’ agreed Nanny Piggins. ‘But in her defence. Typhon was a terrible murderous monster, Zeus was pretty terrifying as well, and she did have her trotters crossed behind her back the whole time just to be on the safe side.
She literallty had to decide between a hundred dragon headed monster (admittedly with impeccable taste in music) and the king of the gods who had kidnapped her sister. So she picked Zeus – king of the gods. You may have heard the expression two heads is better than one. But that’s just not true. One head is way better than a hundred heads if those hundred heads breath fire and have pointy dragon teeth.
She gave the sinews to Apollo who rushed them back to Zeus. Zeus popped his sinews back in… and before you ask – no I have no idea how he did it. He was King of the Gods so I just assume he knew more about orthopaedic surgery than anyone else in ancient history. Either that or he used magic. He was a God after all so he had a few tricks up his sleeve.
The next morning when Cadmus did not return with the lyre, Typhon realised he had been tricked.
Also because there was a lightening storm up on Mount Olympus where Zeus was warming up for round two. So Typhon, made a run for it. He knew Zeus would be really steamed about the whole stealing his sinews thing.
Typhon ran as fast as he could. His plan was to wade back across the Mediterranean, run across Africa and hide in far East Asia again. But Zeus caught up with him just as he was wading into the sea. The fight was on again. They wrestled and lunged and pocked and punched each other – there were nipple cripples and wedgies galore - it was tremendously undignified.
Zeus was really well rested, having not been able to move for a week due to his sinewlessness. And he was super cross that Typhon had played such a rotten trick on him. He threw thunderbolt after thunderbolt at Typhon, until he totally ran out of thunderbolts, but he was still angry so he grabbed the next nearest thing to throw.
And since he was in the middle of the Mediterranean sea – the nearest thing to hand was –the Island of Sicily. So Zeus picked that up.
‘Wait a second,’ said Samantha, ‘the Island of Sicily covers 25,711 square kilometres!’ She knew this because her geography textbook was open to exactly that page.’
‘Yes, and they didn’t have the metric system back then, so it would have been even more,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘But Zeues was super strong and super angry. He lifted up the whole island and threw it at Typhon.’
‘Wow,’ said Michael.
‘Typhon was pretty shocked to see an entire landmass flying towards his head,’ continued Nanny Piggins. ‘He didn’t have time to run away. The whole thing landed on him, crushing him into the bottom of the sea.’
‘Oh,’ said Samantha. Typhon might be a horrendous savage moster but having a whole island fall on your head was kind of harsh.
‘And that is how Mout Etna came to be formed,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘When Sicily landed on Typhon he was such a huge giant it created a huge lump in the island and that lump was named Mount Etna. And that is why Mount Etna is a volcano. Occassionally still to this day, Typhon’s hundred heads will lead out a fire blast, shooting flame and lava up in to the sky. The end, time for bed.’
‘Cool,’ said Michael.
‘That’s a wonderful story,’ said Samantha. ‘But I don’t think my geography teacher is going to believe that version. I think he wants me to explain the formation of Sicily as it was caused by the global movement of tectonic plates.’
‘Well you can talk about science and reality if you like, but it’s much more tedious,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘Whereas if you write out the adventures of my cousin Cadmus, your teacher may give you terrible marks, but he will actually reading it. And that’s what’s really important.
And Samantha had eaten so much Bougatsa at this stage she totally agreed.
And that is the end of the story, the end.