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Summary: They hydra is a serpent or wyrm (wingless dragon) with many heads, traditional nine, but stories varies. It typically lives in a lake, river or swamp. The hydra killed by Hercules was said to live in the swamp of Lerna. When one head of the hydra was cut off two more grew in its place.
Also known as:
- The Lernaean Hydra
Hercules and the Hydra
The hydra is a serpent-like mythical beast that lives in the water. it has many heads, often shown with seven to nine heads. the variable number is easily explained as when one head of the hydras heads is struck off two more grow to replace it.In later depictions the hydra was sometimes shown as having human heads.
Hercules killed a hydra as part of his legendary Twelve Labors. Hercules stopped the heads of the hydra from multiplying by having his nephew Iolaus light a torch that they used to cauterize the stumps and prevent regrowth.
The Hydra in Bestiaries
The hydra persisted to appear in medieval era bestiaries such as the page from a 16th century Bestiary shown right, in which the hydra somewhat resembles the beast of Revelation. This tradition is continued in the modern 'bestiaries' of fictional animals such as those that appear in the video game "Final Fantasy". Although this hydra has only three heads and lives in a woodland, not the Lernean swamps or lakes.
The mayor of Hamburg was said to believe he possessed a taxidermy specimen of a hydra. In 1735 is was examined by the famous zoologist Linnaeus who determined it to have been patched together from the remains of snakes and weasels.
The Hydra in Art
The hydra appears most often as part of a scene where it is vanquished by Hercules, such as in the vase shown right.
The Hydra in Movies
The Hydra in Symbolism
The hydra is used as a symbol of any enemy with 'many heads' or aspects that is therefore difficult to fight. For example inflation or terrorism.
Hercules slaying the hydra is sometimes seen as symbolic of the ability to overcomes the different forces of desire.
Some scholars feel that the hydra symbolized hydraulic works such as agricultural watering systems. The hydra is also sometimes seen as a symbol of femininity.
Other Hydra-like Creatures
There is a hydra-like being in African mythology that had seven heads and lived in rivers.
- The hydra gives its name to a small, radially-symmetrical animal that lives in freshwater and has remarkable regenerative abilities.
- There is also a software program called Backlinks Hydra, a maker of maritime products, and a maker of aromatherapy products. A hydra appears on the label of the old folk medicine Swaim's Panacea.
- Marvel Comics has a recurring evil group called HYDRA that was founded by Nazis and Japanese Imperialists.
The moons of Pluto are named Charon, Nix and Hydra.
There is a Hydra constellation--legend has it that Herules place the hydra in the sky after he slew it.
The Hydra Fuel Cell
The Hydra is a promonant example of a hydrogen fuel cell. These cells are proposed to revolutionised how energy is used by creating electricity for hydrogen and waer and producing harmless water as a byproduct.
Places Called Hydra
- Koutsoyiannis, D., and A. N. Angelakis. "Agricultural hydraulic works in ancient Greece." The Encyclopedia of Water Science (2004): 1-4.
- Simmons P (2008) HERCULES IN ITALIAN RENAISSANCE ART: MASCULINE LABOUR AND HOMOEROTIC LIBIDO. Art History [pdf]