1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Hydra (mythology)

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HYDRA (watersnake), in Greek legend, the offspring of Typhon and Echidna, a gigantic monster with nine heads (the number is variously given), the centre one being immortal. Its haunt was a hill beneath a plane tree near the river Amymone, in the marshes of Lerna by Argos. The destruction of this Lernaean hydra was one of the twelve “labours” of Heracles, which he accomplished with the assistance of Iolaus. Finding that as soon as one head was cut off two grew up in its place, they burnt out the roots with firebrands, and at last severed the immortal head from the body, and buried it under a mighty block of rock. The arrows dipped by Heracles in the poisonous blood or gall of the monster ever afterwards inflicted fatal wounds. The generally accepted interpretation of the legend is that “the hydra denotes the damp, swampy ground of Lerna with its numerous springs (κεφαλαί, heads); its poison the miasmic vapours rising from the stagnant water; its death at the hands of Heracles the introduction of the culture and consequent purification of the soil” (Preller). A euhemeristic explanation is given by Palaephatus (39). An ancient king named Lernus occupied a small citadel named Hydra, which was defended by 50 bowmen. Heracles besieged the citadel and hurled firebrands at the garrison. As often as one of the defenders fell, two others at once stepped into his place. The citadel was finally taken with the assistance of the army of Iolaus and the garrison slain.

See Hesiod, Theog., 313; Euripides, Hercules furens, 419; Pausanias ii. 37; Apollodorus ii. 5, 2; Diod. Sic. iv. 11; Roscher’s Lexikon der Mythologie. In the article Greek Art, fig. 20 represents the slaying of the Lernaean hydra by Heracles.