Lernaean Hydra

Missing image
The 16th-century German illustrator has been influenced by the Beast of Revelation in his depiction of Hydra.

In Greek mythology, The Lernaean Hydra was an ancient serpent-like chthonic water beast that possessed numerous heads—the poets mention more heads than the vase-painters could paint—and poisonous breath (Hyginus, 30). It was the offspring of Typhon and Echidna, and was killed by Heracles as one of his Twelve Labours. Its lair was the lake of Lerna in the Argolid, though archaeology has borne out the myth that the sacred site was older even than the Mycenaean city of Argos, for Lerna was the site of the myth of the Danaids. Beneath the waters was an entrance to the Underworld, and the Hydra its guardian (Kerenyi 1959, p. 143).

The Hydra was said to be the sibling of the Nemean Lion, and thus seeking revenge for Heracles' slaying of it. As such, it was said to have been chosen as a task for Heracles so that Heracles would likely die.

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 and fired flaming arrows into its lair to draw it out. He then confronted it, but upon cutting off each of its heads he found that two grew back, an expression of the hopelessness of a struggle for any but the hero, Heracles.

Realising 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 burning firebrand to scorch the neck stumps after decapitation and handed him the blazing brand. Heracles cut off each head and Iolaus burned the open stump leaving the hydra dead and taking its one immortal head he placed it under a great rock, and dipped his arrows in the hydra's poisonous blood, and so his second task was complete.

In an alternative version, Hera sent a crab to bite his feet and bother him, hoping to cause his death. When Eurystheus found out that it was Heracles' nephew who had handed him the firebrand he declared that the labour had not been completed alone and as a result did not count towards the ten labours set for him. There is a submerged conflict between an ancient ten Labours and a more recent Twelve.

In another version, Hercules defeated the Hydra by remembering the words of his wise teacher, Chiron, who had said, "We rise by knealing; we conquer by surrendering; we gain by giving up." All his other weapons having failed, Hercules remembered his mentor's words and knelt down in the swamp and lifted up the monster by one of her heads into the light of day, where she began to wilt. Hercules then cut off each of her heads, dipping his arrows in the Hydra's poisonous blood at the same time. However, none re-grew. After he had severed all nine heads, a tenth one appeared; Hercules recognised this as a jewel and buried it under a rock.

Today "Hydra-like problem" or "hydra" refers to a multifaceted problem or to one that worsens upon conventional attempts to solve it, for example, attempts to suppress a particular piece of information resulting in it being disseminated even more widely.


Missing image
Gustave Moreau: Heracles and the Lernaean Hydra, 1876

When the sun is in the sign of Cancer, the constellation Hydra is has its head near it. Also close by, beneath the sun, is the constellation of Cancer, which is a crab. The story of the Lernaean Hydra states that the hydra, and the crab, were put into the sky after Herakles slew them

It is uncertain as to what the cauterising of the snake heads means, but it may derive from tales concerning a battle connected to Lerna, possibly indicative of setting fire to parts of the enemy (possibly the corpses) so as to disperse them.

Lerna features in another myth as a fountain from Poseidon created in memorial of the daughter of Danaos (who represents the Danae, who appear in earlier works, such as the Illiad, as a seafaring group from elsewhere), which may be a myth of a failed attack on the native population by Danae, which the Danae later repeated successfully.

The Greek word for arrow, which is toxon, is closely related to the Greek word for poison, which is toxis, thus the poison arrows that Herakles created from the Hydra's blood. Associations with the Nemaean lion may derive from recreating the surrounding narrative to suit an order in which the tale of the Hydra follows that of the lion.


Template:Commonshe: הידרה da:Hydra de:Hydra (Mythologie) es:Hidra de Lerna fr:Hydre de Lerne it:Idra di Lerna nl:Hydra_(mythologie) pl:Hydra Lernejska sv:Hydra zh:九头蛇


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