I’m reblogging the legend of Hydra, first posted in October 2012. Here’s the second half.
The Legend of Hydra, Part 2
No one knows when the ancient Greeks began telling stories about Hercules, but the saga of the Twelve Labors was pretty much in the form we know by 600 BCE. As the story goes, Hercules had suffered a fit of madness and murdered his own children. To atone, he had to perform ten great tasks, assigned by King Eurystheus of Tiryns. Since Eurystheus was a devout follower of Hera, the queen of the gods and Hercules’s enemy, all his choices were either deadly or deeply humiliating.
As his second task, Eurystheus ordered Hercules to go to Lake Lerna and kill the terrible Hydra. Hercules and his nephew, Iolaus, proceeded to the spring of Amymone, where Hydra lived in a cave filled with noxious vapors. Hercules covered his mouth and nose with cloth to protect himself and fired flaming arrows into the cave to get her attention.
Hydra charged out, her nine dragon heads spewing poisoned gasses, and they did battle. Hercules cut off some of her heads with a sword, but discovered to his horror that two heads grew back in the place of each one he cut off.
The task seemed hopeless, but Iolaus had an idea. Each time Hercules cut off one of Hydra’s heads, Iolaus ran up and cauterized the stump with a torch. This prevented any more heads growing in. The tide of battle turned.
Hera was watching from Mount Olympus. When she saw that Hercules was winning, she sent a giant crab to attack his feet. Hercules stomped on the crab and killed it. Working together, he and Iolaus were able to defeat the vicious Hydra.
They could not kill her, however. Hydra’s last head was immortal. Legends diverge slightly at this point. One version says that Hercules switched to his favorite weapon, a club, and thus killed Hydra without cutting her head off. The other version is that he did cut off her last head, and Iolaus cauterized the stump, effectively killing Hydra’s body. Her final head remained alive. Hercules buried it under a large rock, rendering it harmless.
Afterward, Hercules dipped his arrows in Hydra’s venomous blood. These poisoned arrows figure significantly in later parts of his history. Hera, meanwhile, rewarded Hydra and the giant crab by placing them in the night sky as the constellations Hydra and Cancer respectively.