The Hydra

The Hydra is a monster from Greek mythology.

The fearsome offspring of Typhon & Echidna, the Hydra is a water serpent with many heads. It is the sister to Cerberus, the three-headed dog that guards the passageway to & from the Underworld & the Chimera, the fire-breathing monster with the body of a lioness, the head of a goat on its back & at the end of its tail, the head of a serpent.

The Hydra’s appearance changes from one story telling to the next. Its body is usually that of a serpent, but its heads can be like snakes, lizards, or dragons. The numbers of heads ranges from five up to one hundred, with nine being the typical number. One head is always immortal & when any of the other heads are cut off, another head would grow in its place, some stories say two heads would grow back. The heads often have nasty, sharp teeth & sometimes have horns. The reek of the Hydra’s breathe is enough to kill any man or beast. Its blood is supposed to be venomous as well.

After it was born Hera, the wife of Zeus, took it & raised it for the sole purpose of killing Heracles. It was placed in a swamp near the city of Lerna to protect an entrance to the Underworld. The Hydra would rise from the swamp to feed on anything it could, devouring whole herds of cattle & local villages, devouring them with its multiple heads. It continued to terrorize the countryside until Heracles found a way to kill it.

Heracles was given twelve tasks, one of which was slaying the Lernaean Hydra. He traveled to the swamp where the creature dwelt with his relative Iolaus. He tells Iolaus to wait with the chariot while he fights the beast. Heracles had to cover his nose & mouth with a cloth so he would not breathe in the poisonous fumes of the Hydra. He stood outside of the Hydra’s cave & shot fire arrows into it to get the monster to come out. Just as the beast emerged from the cave, Heracles attacks it with his sword. He soon saw that for every head he chopped off, two would grow back in its place.

Heracles called to Iolaus for help. Iolaus came up with the idea of cauterizing the necks with fire to prevent the heads from growing. Heracles continued to hack off the Hydra’s heads & Iolaus burned the wounds closed. Seeing Heracles winning, Hera sent a large crab to distract Heracles by pinching at his legs. Heracles crushed the crab under his foot & continued fighting. Soon the only head left was the immortal one that no normal sword could cut. Heracles took out a golden sword given to him by Athena & sliced the last head off. He buried the head under a large rock so it could not regenerate easily. Heracles dipped his arrows in the Hydra’s blood making them even more deadly & continued onto his third task.

Heracles later used an arrow dipped in the Hydra’s blood to kill the centaur Nessus who was trying to steal his wife away. Nessus gives his blood & poison soaked tunic the Heracles’ wife telling her it will excite the love of her husband. Years later, when she thinks Heracles has strayed from her, she gives him the tunic. When he puts it on the poisoned blood burns him down to the bone & he dies.

After Heracles killed the Hydra, the goddess Hera was so upset that she took the Hydra’s body & lifted it to the heavens, creating the constellation Hydra. She also lifted up the crab & made the constellation Cancer. When the sun is in the sign of Cancer from July 21 to August 9, the head of the constellation Hydra is positioned between its claws.