Heracles and the Hydra
The demi-God Heracles lived a long time ago in Ancient Greece. He was handsome, witty, brave and very, very strong. But, even though he had a lot going for him, he wanted more.
“I want to be a hero.”
There was only one problem. The Goddesses, who decided who got to be heroes, weren’t all behind him.
“He’s too selfish and violent,” the Goddess Hera said. “He will never be a hero.”
The Goddess Athena felt differently. “He is young, he will learn. We must give him opportunities to prove himself.”
Those opportunities came in the form of tasks, decided by Heracles’ cousin and nemesis – King Eurystheus.
“Ah. The mighty Heracles.” Eurystheus smirked as Heracles strode into his palace. He had come up with a task that was sure to leave the ‘hero’ defeated and humiliated. “You will kill the hydra of Lernia,” he declared.
A shocked whisper flew around the throne room. The hydra was a monster of magic and darkness. Conjured by a sorceress, it had the body of a dragon and multiple serpent heads. One drop of its blood could kill a man. But none of that bothered Heracles.
“Do I have to kill it?” he asked. Heracles knew the Goddesses didn’t like it when he killed innocent creatures. They said it wasn’t heroic.
King Eurystheus snorted. “Is the mighty Heracles scared?”
Heracles laughed and looked nervously at the crowds. Heroes had to be seen to be brave. “Don’t be ridiculous,” he said. “I’m scared of nothing.”
“Then why refuse to save us from this monster?” Eurystheus asked, his eyes glinting with malice.
“Fine!” Heracles gave the slightest bow. “I will dispose of the ‘monster’.”
Heracles had no intention of killing anything. He doubted the hydra was really as terrible as they said it was. Last time he had been sent to kill a beast, it had turned out to just be a frightened animal. Heracles would find another a way to subdue it.
Heracles headed to the marshland in Lernia. He was still a mile away when he heard the screeching, squalling roar. As he got closer he saw ten huge, black serpent’s heads writhing, flailing, thrashing and gnashing at every passing bird.
“Hecate’s cauldron!” cried Heracles, “You really are a monster.”
The hydra caught sight of Heracles and hissed, swiping at him with one head, quickly followed by another. Acting purely on instinct, Heracles pulled out his sword and hacked off one of the monster’s heads. With a shriek that sounded like a strangled snake, the head fell into the marshland.
“Whoops.” How was he going to explain this to the Goddesses?
Any guilt Heracles felt quickly evaporated when two heads grew from the place one had just been. The two new heads swiped at Heracles and he only just managed to jump out of the way of their sniping, snapping jaws. Heracles pulled out a second sword and went into ninja mode. Slashing and slicing and cutting and dicing, Heracles chopped off head after head after head. But as each head fell, another grew to replace them.
“Seriously?” Heracles had to dodge like a boxer to avoid getting his head bitten off. “Why won’t you die?”
He didn’t see the Goddess Athena at the edge of the marshland, watching him.
“You can’t kill the hydra with violence,” she said, her voice carrying across the marsh so it sounded like she was just behind him.
“I can try!” Heracles called back and swung his sword at yet another head, which was quickly replaced by two more.
“You’re feeding it,” Athena said softly, “making it stronger.”
Heracles had never run away from a fight. “What do you suggest?” he asked. Then he remembered she was a Goddess and probably right. “I mean, can you help me, please?”
“You must get to the heart of what created the monster,” Athena told him. “If you can undo whatever is causing the monster’s anger, you may be able to stop it.”
Heracles hadn’t considered there might be something causing the hydra to act that way. When he looked at it all he saw was the monster. But looking again, he saw there was one head, in amongst all the others, not flailing or thrashing or roaring or lashing out at everything around it. One head that screaming in pain. Heracles moved closer the head was right in the middle of all the others and struggling to stay above the waterline.
There’s something pulling it down, he realised. Heracles had to dodge and swerve angry hydra heads to see.
“It’s a crab!”
A giant crab with huge pincers wrapped around the hydra’s neck, was causing all the trouble. Heracles reached for his bow and arrow. If I can kill the crab, maybe I can save the hydra.
“Wait,” Athena stopped his bow. “Show the crab the same respect you showed the hydra.”
Still having to leap out of the way of gnashing heads, Heracles turned his attention to the crab. It was caught under the body of the hydra. It can’t get free, Heracles realised. One claw was tangled around the hydra’s neck, the other was out of control, snapping at the heads, snipping them off, causing two more to grow. Every moment Heracles watched, the hydra became more monstrous, more fearsome.
I have to do something. Heracles needed to get to that central head, but with the other heads still thrashing, it wouldn’t be easy. Then he had an idea. He grabbed a nearby branch and set it on fire. Sword in one hand, burning torch in the other, Heracles fought his way towards the drowning head. Each time a head rose up to attack him, Heracles slashed it down and singed the stump, stopping another head from rising up to get him.
In no time at all, he was at the drowning head. It took all his strength to lift the hydra off the crab and pry open the crab’s claws. But it was worth the effort. The crab scuttled away and the hydra, no longer suffering, calmed. The heads receded into the body of the beast until all that was left was one beautiful, serene head that nuzzled Heracles in thanks.
Heracles smiled and gave her stroke. “You’re welcome,” he said.
Athena approached, “She wants to thank you with a gift. A drop of her blood on your arrows, will make them true and fierce.” Athena dipped Heracles arrows in the hydra’s blood.
Heracles was honoured. “I’ll only use them as a last resort,” he said. “I promise.” He had learned that it wasn’t always best to kill a beast, sometimes - if you take the time to find out what’s causing the problem - a monster can be healed.
would take his time and find out if anything was cuasing the
King Eurytheus did not agree. “You failed!” he announced to his court when Heracles returned. “No wonder the Goddesses won’t make you a hero, you’re the worst hero Greece has ever known.”
Heracles bit his tongue and let the people laugh. He knew he had done the right thing and that was what mattered most.