Posts Tagged ‘Hydra’

What do Hydra, Cerberus, Zeus, Hera, Tartarus and Gaia have in common? They are all connected to the most hideous monstrosity of all Greek legend — Typhon.

Lastborn of the primordial titan race, Typhon was a gigantic man with numerous… uh… extra features. Not only was he taller than mountains. Not only did he have a savage and lawless nature. No, Typhon had 100 snake heads growing from his shoulders, and each snake head had heat vision! Even more remarkable, each of the heads spoke some language of beast kind and they were all shrieking constantly. Roaring lions, howling wolves, bulls, elephants, eagles, you name it. Typhon existed in a vortex of the most horrendous noise imaginable, punctuated by fiery eye-beams.

How could such a being exist? As I mentioned, Typhon descended from the titans who ruled the Earth before Zeus overthrew them. Furious at his betrayal, Gaia conceived one last child with Tartarus, a titan who lived in the underworld and gave it his name. That child was Typhon.

However, another legend says that Hera was responsible for this terror. She was angry that Zeus had brought forth Athena all on his own, so she prayed to Gaia for a son as strong as Zeus. Her prayer was answered and she became pregnant. When Typhon was born she gave him to another mythic serpent, Python, to be raised.

A final version of the story combines these ideas. Gaia, in her anger, told Hera lies about Zeus. This caused Hera to seek aid from her father, Cronos, who gave her an egg smeared with his own semen and told her to bury it in the earth. Typhon supposedly hatched from the egg.

Whatever his origin, it was Typhon’s destiny to battle Zeus. He rose up to conquer the Earth and was making good progress until he reached Mount Olympus. Some legends say that he snuck into Olympus while Zeus was asleep and tried to murder him that way. Others say Zeus confronted Typhon’s challenge head on.

What a battle it was! For many days they fought, causing earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tornadoes and tidal waves. Storm clouds blocked the sun, and Typhon’s 100 heads howled the whole time. Eventually, Zeus landed a hit with his thunderbolts that blew Typhon off Mount Olympus. The giant fell to earth and was imprisoned in Tartarus with the rest of the titans.

Incredible as it may seem, Typhon managed to find true love! His wife was Echidna, a half woman, half serpent descended from the primordial ocean god, Phorcys, and possibly also related to the dreaded Medusa. Among their numerous offspring were Cerberus, three-headed dog, and Hydra, the many-headed dragon.

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Lately I’ve been pondering this question. Are the dragons of legend and folklore beings of this Earth or beings of the spirit? Of course, there are so many legends that it’s hard to make general statements. And then you add in the ones authors create for our own stories! Still, it’s something I wonder about.

Based on many tales, it does seem that dragons are fairly physical. They have an animal form, usually terrifying. Dragons do battle with knights and other challengers. They have physical appetites. Dragons hunger for food, whether that be human virgins, milk, or saki. For some writers, they consume the metals of their hoards in order to strengthen their scales. Dragons need to sleep. It’s the lucky thief or knight who enters the dragon’s lair while it’s wrapped in dreams. Dragons are shown to care for nests and eggs, so they must have a drive to reproduce.

At the same time, mythological dragons often have a higher purpose. Hydra, for example, guarded an entrance to the Greek netherworld. Many of the Asian dragons act as nature spirits and either protect nature or help nature to function. Both the African deity Aido-Hwedo and the Norse Jurmundandr were believed to loop around the world and keep it all together. These types of dragons are not shown to eat or sleep, but maintain a ceaseless vigil.

Dragons often are depicted as having great magical powers. They live a long time, and accumulate much knowledge during their lives. In many games, the most dangerous opponents are ancient dragons with spell-casting powers far beyond a lowly adventurer.

To bring this all together, perhaps dragons are like humans in that we are born with great energy, grow into our strength, and strive to make our mark in the world. As time moves on we learn wisdom and often become more spiritual. So perhaps the wisest dragons are those which survive beyond the fury of their youth and become truly mystical beings.

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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.

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Yes, it’s summer — re-run season. So here’s a reblog of an early post from October, 2012.


The Legend of Hydra

We often tell tales of dragons as a variety or species with numerous members sharing common attributes. Well, Hydra wasn’t like that. She was an individual with a story of her own.

Hydra was born into a star-studded monster clan. Her parents were Typhon (a hideous deity imprisoned beneath Mt. Aetna by Zeus) and Echidna (a drakaina, or beautiful nymph with the tail of a serpent). Cerberus, Chimera, and Ladon (the dragon who guarded the golden apples of the Hesperides) were her siblings.

Legend describes Hydra as a gigantic water snake. Her most famous feature, of course, was that she had several heads. Accounts vary wildly, but nine heads is the number most commonly given. If that wasn’t bad enough, when one head was cut off, two more would grow in its place. And that’s not all! (chanelling Billy Mays here) Hydra was so poisonous that if her breath didn’t kill you, a stray drop of her blood would finish the job. Even stepping into her footprint could be fatal.

Like her brothers, Cerberus and Ladon, Hydra was a guardian beast. She lived at Lake Lerna, where an entrance to the Underworld was located. Hydra’s job was to be its guardian. Mostly she stayed at her post, but occasionally she did emerge to terrorize the countryside.

Hydra’s legend is part of a much longer myth cycle, the Twelve Labors of Hercules. I’ll tell her tale in my next blog post.

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