Close by to the west, at marshy Lerna lived the terrifying Hydra. With a dog’s body and nine snaky heads (including one which was immortal), its breath was so toxic that anything that came close died. To kill it was Heracles’ next task, so seemingly impossible that he called for help on his young nephew, Iolaus, and together they struck out along the coast.
Reaching the swamp, Heracles fired burning arrows at the Hydra – to no effect. Then, taking a deep breath, he splashed into the mud, slashing at the coiling necks and slicing off its heads. But as he did so, new heads grew immediately, multiplying, jaws snapping, throats belching forth a deadly stench. Horrified and stunned, Heracles withdrew, uncertain what to do.
The Hydra Photo Gallery
It was then that Athene, the goddess who most favoured him, came near and whispered her advice. Only by cauterizing the still-bleeding necks could Heracles stop new heads from growing. Again he waded out into the fetid marsh, this time with Iolaus holding blazing torches by his side.
As Heracles with his golden sword lopped off each head, Iolaus plunged the firebrand into the raw, steaming neck. At last only the immortal head remained. With one final sword-stroke Heracles detached it, and swiftly buried it beneath a rock where it could do no harm. Next he dipped each of his arrowheads into the Hydra’s suppurating bile, a poison he knew none might survive. Triumphant he returned to Tiryns.