In some tellings of Typhon's revolt, the gods take animal forms and flee to Egypt in panic. The version in the Metamorphoses of Antoninus Liberalis references Nicander of Colophon and explicitly mentions the animals each god transformed into:

[28. Typhon] He felt an urge to usurp the rule of Zeus and not one of the gods could withstand him as he attacked. In panic they fled to Aigyptos (Egypt), all except Athena and Zeus, who alone were left. Typhon hunted after them, on their track. When they fled they had changed themselves in anticipation into animal forms. Apollon became a hawk [i.e. the Egyptian god Horus], Hermes an ibis [the Egyptian god Thoth], Ares became a fish, the lepidotus [Egyptian Lepidotus or Onuris], Artemis a cat [Neith or Bastet], Dionysos took the shape of a goat [Osiris or Arsaphes], Herakles a fawn, Hephaistos (Hephaestus) an ox [Ptah], and Leto a shrew mouse [Wadjet]. The rest of the gods each took on what transformations they could. When Zeus struck Typhon with a thunderbolt, Typhon, aflame hid himself and quenched the blaze in the sea.

Source: ANTONINUS LIBERALIS. Metamorphoses. Translation by Celoria, F. London: Routledge.

This is an etiological myth, the Greeks used this story to explain the origin of the therianthropic deities of Egypt. In the quote, the translator helpfully indicates the Egyptian deity each animal corresponds to. Except for the fawn, the animal Heracles transformed to.

The one Egyptian deity I could find that is associated with deer is Satis. However, a hunting and fertility goddess doesn't seem a likely equivalent of Heracles.

Why does Heracles transform to a fawn?

The original quote is:

[28. Τυφών] οὗτος ἐπεθύμισε τοῦ Διὸς ἔχειν τὴν ἀρχὴν καὶ αὐτὸν ἐπερχόμενον οὐδεὶς ὑπέμενε τῶν θεῶν, ἀλλὰ δείσαντες ἔφυγον πάντες εἰς τὴν Αἴγυπτον, Ἀθηνᾶ δὲ καὶ Ζεὺς ὑπελείφθησαν μόνοι. Τυφὼν δ΄ ἐκ ποδὸς ἐδίωκεν. οἱ δὲ προμηθείᾳ διέφυγον ἀλλάξαντες εἰς ζῷα τὰς ὄψεις· καὶ Ἀπόλλων μὲν ἐγένετο ἱέραξ, Ἑρμῆς δὲ ἶβις, Ἄρης δὲ λεπιδωτὸς ἰχθύς, Ἄρτεμις δὲ αἴλουρος, τράγῳ δὲ εἰκάζεται Διόνυσος, ἕλλῳ δ΄ Ἡρακλῆς, βοῒ δ' Ἥφαιστος, μυγαλῇ δὲ Λητώ, καὶ ὡς ἕκαστος ἔτυχε τῶν ἄλλων θεῶν μετέβαλε τὴν ὄψιν. ἔπει<τα> δὲ Τυφῶνα Ζεὺς βάλλει κεραυνῷ· καιόμενος δὲ ὁ Τυφὼν ἔκρυψεν ἑαυτὸν καὶ ἠφάνισε τὴν φλόγα τῇ θαλάσσῃ.

Source: Μεταμορφώσεων συναγωγή. (2017, Απρίλιος 21). Βικιθήκη. Ανακτήθηκε 07:38, Σεπτέμβριος 15, 2017 από https://el.wikisource.org/w/index.php?title=%CE%9C%CE%B5%CF%84%CE%B1%CE%BC%CE%BF%CF%81%CF%86%CF%8E%CF%83%CE%B5%CF%89%CE%BD_%CF%83%CF%85%CE%BD%CE%B1%CE%B3%CF%89%CE%B3%CE%AE&oldid=94661.

  • 2
    "Fawn are not endemic in Egypt" I do not think that's true @Gibet. Not that it matters, really. The question remains, and becomes even more interesting if deer were indeed not present in Egyptian mythology: Why did Antoninus Liberalis pick a fawn for Heracles?
    – yannis
    Commented Aug 30, 2017 at 15:29
  • 3
    @Gibet There appears to be osteological evidence for deers in ancient Egypt: On the Presence of Deer in Ancient Egypt: Analysis of the Osteological Record. That said, I wouldn't be surprised if Antoninus Liberalis meant antelope, gazelle, or even oryx when he wrote deer. The iconography of deer in Egyptian mythology may be worth a separate question.
    – yannis
    Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 1:03
  • 2
    Supporting Yannis' point, there was no formal word in Ancient Greek to distinguish between squid and octopuses, or even an exclusive word for cuttlefish, so the distinction between different "deerlike" animals such as antelope vs. gazelle vs. red deer wouldn't likely have been important linguistically.
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 18:51
  • @Gibet that's very useful, but supports my underlying point. See the lexical entry for damma: "a fallow deer, buck, doe, antelope, chamois" (and I'd add an "etc.";)
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 20:12
  • @yannis Are the [Egyptian parallels] in brackets from the original Latin, the translation, or an addition for the question? Do you know of an online source for the translation, and ideally the Latin? (Reference to the section would be helpful, if so.) I really want to see the Latin word used for "fawn", to determine if there may be other potential meanings. The key distinction I see with the set of deities is that Heracles alone is a demi-god, which may account for the reduced status in transformation, but there may be more to it.
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 18:49

2 Answers 2


This author seems to be confused. Typhon's revolt took place early in the history of the world, following Zeus' imprisonment of the titans and the subsequent Giants' Revolt.

Long after this, Heracles lived in human form, performing his labours, serving as an Argonaut and so on. He did not become a god until after his death, and would not even have been born at the time of the flight into Egypt.


If I had to take a gamble, I would say it has something to do with the Hind of Ceryneia. This was Heracles's third task, to catch the uncatchable deer.

In one version, he tricked the deer in someway and managed to be in a position to capture it. At that point, Artemis shows up and Heracles tells the goddess that he will release it as soon as King Eresteus declares his labor complete. Artemis lets him and he does as promised.

Now, here is my gamble, as I am unsure how to word this.

The author of this passage could have represented Heracles as a deer because of the fact he did the impossible in the myth.

  • 2
    Why a deer, and not a lion (1st labour), a boar (4th labour), a bird (6th labour), a bull (7th labour), a horse (8th labour), or even a dog (12th labour)?
    – yannis
    Commented Mar 19, 2018 at 19:48
  • I don't know, but this is the only other time (that we know of) Heracles has been linked to deer. Commented Mar 20, 2018 at 12:44
  • Right. This, however, isn't compatible with the etiological nature of the story. The animals signify the Egyptian counterparts of the Greek gods, the story attempts to explain how the therianthropic Egyptian deities came to be. Whether Hercules was associated with deer in Greek myths is quite irrelevant. Unless of course, you mean to imply that Hercules's transformation does not follow the same pattern as the other transformations in the story. Or even that the myth isn't etiological at all.
    – yannis
    Commented Mar 20, 2018 at 13:07

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