Lernaean Hydra

Lernaean Hydra

In Greek mythology, the Lernaean Hydra (Greek: (Audio-IPA|Ell-Lernaia Ydra.ogg| ["Λερναία Ὕδρα"] ) was an ancient nameless 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). The Hydra of Lerna 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 was its guardian (Kerenyi 1959, p. 143).

The Hydra was the offspring of Typhon and Echidna ("Theogony", 313), noisome offspring of the earth goddess, Gaia. It was said to be the sibling of the Nemean Lion, the Chimaera and Cerberus.

The Second Labour of Heracles

, Heracles.

The details of the confrontation are explicit in Apollodorus (2.5.2): realising that he could not defeat the Hydra in this way, Hercules 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. Hercules cut off each head and Iolaus burned the open stump leaving the Hydra dead; its one immortal head Hercules placed under a great rock on the sacred way between Lerna and Elaius (Kerenyi1959 p 144), and dipped his arrows in the Hydra's poisonous blood, and so his second task was complete. The alternative to this is that after cutting off one head he dipped his sword in it and used its venom to burn each head so it couldn't grow back.

Hercules later used an arrow dipped in the Hydra's poisonous blood to kill the centaur Nessus; and Nessus's 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 Hercules used on the centaur. [Strabo, viii.3.19, Pausanias, v.5.9; Grimal 1987:219.]

When Eurystheus, the agent of ancient Hera who was assigning to Hercules The Twelve Labours, found out that it was Hercules' 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. The mythic element is an equivocating attempt to resolve the submerged conflict between an ancient ten Labours and a more recent twelve.


Mythographers relate that the Lernaean Hydra and the crab were put into the sky after Hercules slew them. In an alternative version, Hera's crab was at the site to bite his feet and bother him, hoping to cause his death. Hera set it in the Zodiac to follow the Lion (Eratosthenes, "Catasterismi"). When the sun is in the sign of Cancer, the crab, the constellation Hydra has its head nearby.


* cite book
first = Jane Ellen | last = Harrison
authorlink = Jane Ellen Harrison
title = Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion
year = 1903

* cite book
first = Robert | last = Graves
authorlink = Robert Graves
title = The Greek Myths
year = 1955kjhkgjhv

* cite book
first = Carl | last = Kerenyi
authorlink = Carl Kerenyi
title = The Heroes of the Greeks
year = 1959

* cite book
first = Walter | last = Burkert
authorlink = Walter Burkert
title = Greek Religion
publisher = Harvard University Press
year = 1985

* cite book
author = Ruck, Carl and Staples, Danny
title = The World of Classical Myth
year = 1994

* cite book
first = Pierre | last = Grimal
authorlink = Pierre Grimal
title = The Dictionary of Classical Mythology
publisher = E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc
year = 1986

External links

* [http://cartelen.louvre.fr/cartelen/visite?srv=car_not_frame&idNotice=2926 Statue of the Hydra battling Hercules at the Louvre]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Hydra — may refer to:* Lernaean Hydra, a mythological many headed serpent * hydra , an alternate spelling of the prefix hydro , referring to water. * The internet advertising company Hydra LLC, Hydra Network.It may also refer to:In science* Hydra… …   Wikipedia

  • Hydra (Dungeons & Dragons) — Infobox D D creature name=Hydra alignment= type=Magical beast subtype= source= first= mythical=Lernaean Hydra based= wizards image URL=http://www.wizards.com/dnd/images/MM35 gallery/MM35 PG156.jpg OGL stats URL=http://www.systemreferencedocuments …   Wikipedia

  • HYDRA — Infobox comics organization imagesize=250 caption= publisher=Marvel Comics debut= Strange Tales #135 (Aug 1965) creators=Stan Lee Jack Kirby type= business=Terrorist organization=y base=Various owners=Baron Strucker employees=Viper Kingpin… …   Wikipedia

  • Hydra (constellation) — Infobox Constellation name = Hydra abbreviation = Hya genitive = Hydrae symbology = the sea serpent RA = 8 15h dec= −20 areatotal = 1303 arearank = 1st numbermainstars = 17 numberbfstars = 75 numberstarsplanets = 6 numberbrightstars = 1… …   Wikipedia

  • Hydra Ichi — Infobox animanga character name = Hydra Ichi series = Saint Seiya caption = Ichi, the HydraBronze Saint, in a screenshot from the TenKaiHen Overture movie. creator = Masami Kurumada voiced by = Masato Hirano TV Masaya Onosaka OVA age = 14 gender …   Wikipedia

  • Hydra — noun a) A mythological serpent with seven heads, slain by Hercules as one of his twelve labours. Also called the Lernaean Hydra. b) A spring constellation of the northern sky, said to resemble a serpent. It lies just south of the …   Wiktionary

  • hydra — 1835, genus name of a freshwater polyp, from Gk. Hydra, many headed Lernaean water serpent slain by Hercules (this sense is attested in English from late 14c.), from hydor (gen. hydatos) water (see WATER (Cf. water) (n.1)); related to Skt. udrah… …   Etymology dictionary

  • HMS Hydra — Seven ships of the Royal Navy have borne the name HMS Hydra , after the Lernaean Hydra of Greek mythology:* was a 24 gun sixth rate launched in 1778 and sold in 1783. * was a 38 gun fifth rate launched in 1797. She was used as a troopship from… …   Wikipedia

  • Heracles — This article is about the Greek mythic hero. For the Roman mythological analogue, see Hercules. For other uses, see Heracles (disambiguation). Heracles …   Wikipedia

  • Dragons in Greek mythology — Topics in Greek mythology Gods Primordial gods and Titans Zeus and the Olympians Pan and the nymphs Apollo and Dionysus Sea gods and Earth gods Heroes Heracles and his Labors Achilles and the Trojan War …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.