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The original Hydra was a multi-headed dragon-like reptile who once ravaged the country of Lernae near Argos. Dweling in a swamp near the well of Amymone: it was legendary for its nine heads which could regenerate (for every head chopped off, the Hydra would regrow two heads) until it was slain by Heracles as part of his Twelve Labours.

Background[]

was the offspring of Typhon and Echidna. From birth, the goddess Hera trained the monster to attack and destroy anything that fell beneath its gaze. It ravaged innocent villages around its home, Lake Lerna, devouring hundreds of victims.

When the Hydra wasn’t filling its stomach with human flesh, it slumbered in a deep swamp cave (which was rumored to be one of the entrances to the underworld). Only hunger or rage could draw the beast out of its lair; otherwise, it was mindless and lazy.

Its lair was the lake of Lerna in the Argolid, which was also the site of the myth of the Danaïdes. Lerna was reputed to be an entrance to the Underworld

Eurystheus, king of Tiryns, sent Heracles to slay the Hydra as the second of the set of labours that the hero had to complete in order to redeem himself for killing his wife Megara and his children in a fit of madness.

which Hera had raised just to slay Heracles. Upon reaching the swamp near Lake Lerna, where the Hydra dwelt, Heracles covered his mouth and nose with a cloth to protect himself from the poisonous fumes. He shot flaming arrows into the Hydra's lair, the spring of Amymone, a deep cave from which it emerged only to terrorize neighboring villages.[8] He then confronted the Hydra, wielding either a harvesting sickle (according to some early vase-paintings), a sword, or his famed club. The chthonic creature's reaction to this decapitation was botanical: two grew back, an expression of the hopelessness of such a struggle for any but the hero. The weakness of the Hydra was that it was invulnerable only if it retained at least one head.

The details of the struggle are explicit in the Bibliotheca:[9] realizing that he could not defeat the Hydra in this way, Heracles called on his nephew Iolaus for help. His nephew then came upon the idea (possibly inspired by Athena) of using a firebrand to scorch the neck stumps after each decapitation. Heracles cut off each head and Iolaus cauterized the open stumps. Seeing that Heracles was winning the struggle, Hera sent the giant crab Carcinus to distract him. He crushed it under his mighty foot. The Hydra's one immortal head was cut off with a golden sword given to Heracles by Athena. Heracles placed the head—still alive and writhing—under a great rock on the sacred way between Lerna and Elaius,[8] and dipped his arrows in the Hydra's poisonous blood. Thus his second task was complete.

The alternate version of this myth is that after cutting off one head he then dipped his sword in its neck and used its venom to burn each head so it could not grow back. Hera, upset that Heracles had slain the beast she raised to kill him, placed it in the dark blue vault of the sky as the constellation Hydra. She then turned the crab into the constellation Cancer.

Heracles would later use arrows dipped in the Hydra's poisonous blood to kill other foes during his remaining labors, such as Stymphalian Birds and the giant Geryon. He later used one to kill the centaur Nessus; and Nessus' tainted blood was applied to the Tunic of Nessus, by which the centaur had his posthumous revenge. Both Strabo and Pausanias report that the stench of the river Anigrus in Elis, making all the fish of the river inedible, was reputed to be due to the Hydra's poison, washed from the arrows Heracles used on the centaur.[10][11][12]

When Eurystheus, the agent of Hera who was assigning The Twelve Labors to Heracles, found out that it was Heracles' nephew Iolaus who had handed Heracles the firebrand, he declared that the labor had not been completed alone and as a result did not count towards the 10 labors set for him. The mythic element is an equivocating attempt to resolve the submerged conflict between an ancient ten labors and a more recent twelve.

Combat Statistics[]

  • Hydra (Act of Defiance)

Involvement[]

Trivia[]

  • The Hydra has poisonous breath and blood so virulent that even its scent was deadly.
  • The Lernaean Hydra was listed as Echidna's third child by Typhon.
  • The Hydra species are direct descendants of the Lernaean Hydra and possess many of the original Hydra's traits.

Gallery[]

See Also[]

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