The word “dragon” comes from the ancient Greek word “draconta,” meaning “to watch,” suggesting that the beast guards valuables. Dragons typically guard treasure such as mountains of gold coins or gems.
The Lernaean Hydra was a nameless gigantic, singing dragon-like water serpent with fatally venomous breath, blood and fangs, a daughter of Typhon and Echidna, both of whom were noisome offspring of the earth goddess Gaia. Hera had raised the Hydra just to slay Hercules.
The snake-like creature was said to have anywhere between five and 100 heads, although most sources put the number somewhere between seven and nine.
In Greek mythology, The Lernaean Hydra possessed nine (usually nine, it ranged from five to one hundred) heads and poisonous breath. It was killed by Heracles as one of his Twelve Labours.
Hercules’ Second Labor
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.
The second labour was to fight the Hydra, an immortal monster with nine heads. If a head was cut off, two new would grow out in its place. Heracles defeated the Hydra with the help of his friend/nephew Iolaus. Each time a head would be cut off, Iolaus burnt the neck with fire so no new heads could grow out. When all the heads were off they buried the monster under a pile of stones. Heracles dipped his arrows in the Hydra’s blood, making them lethal. Seeing that Heracles was winning the struggle, Hera sent a large crab to distract him. He crushed it under his mighty foot.
In another version, Heracles defeated the Hydra by remembering the words of his wise teacher, Chiron, who had said, “We rise by kneeling; we conquer by surrendering; we gain by giving up.”
All his other weapons having failed, Heracles remembered his mentor’s words and knelt down in the swamp and lifted up the monster by one of her heads into the light of day, where she began to wilt. Heracles then cut off each of her heads, dipping his arrows in the Hydra’s poisonous blood at the same time.
After he had severed all nine heads, a tenth one appeared; Heracles recognized this as a jewel and buried it under a rock.
Hercules’ father was Zeus, one of the most powerful of the gods; his wife was Hera, queen of the Gods. Zeus fell in love with a beautiful Greek woman, a mortal, named Alcmene [Alk-ME-ne]. When Alcmene’s husband, Amphitryon, was away, she became pregnant by Zeus. Hera was known for her jealous and vengeful nature against Zeus’ lovers and offspring.
The name Herakles means “glorious gift of Hera” in Greek, and that got Hera angrier still. She tried to kill the baby by sending snakes into his crib. But little Hercules was strong, and he strangled the snakes, one in each hand, before they could bite him.
Hera, upset that Heracles slew the beast she raised to kill him, placed it in the dark blue vault of the sky as the Constellation Hydra. She then turned the crab into the Constellation Cancer.
Fascinating Stories of the Greek and Roman Deities
Dating back roughly 3,000 years, the gods of the ancient Greeks–and later, of the Romans–have figured prominently in legendry, poetry, drama, and the visual arts. This mind-expanding book charts 100 of the most prominent characters from Greco-Roman mythology, including the primordial deities, the great gods of Olympus, and the shadowy inhabitants of Hades. Addressing universal themes such as love, jealousy, anger, ambition, deceit, and beauty, the stories told here add significance to countless classical references in our civilization’s literature and art. Author Malcolm Day profiles each god with a short, readable summary of that personage’s acts. He sets each deity’s story within the larger context of a “family tree” that encompasses all major gods. Full-color illustrations showing memorable scenes from classical mythology include reproductions from famous paintings and photos of statuary.