Basic Information

Alternative names: The Hydra, Exedra
Translation: 'water serpent' [4]
Type/Species: Hydra
Slayers: Heracles, Iolaus
Origin: Greek Mythology

About Lernaean Hydra

The Hydra, referred to as the Exedra, [1] was the offspring of Typhon and Echidna, [3] and sometimes was considered the demon of darkness and draught. [6] The Hydra lived in the swamps [4] and marshes at Lerna [1] in Argolis [5] and ravaged the local province of Argos. [3] The Hydra was sacred to Hera, [4] but the dragon so tormented the inhabitants of the Argolid [2] that King Eurystheus ordered Heracles to kill it. [4] The Hydra only left its home to consume cattle or destroy crops. [1] Its breath stank with venom, [5] and its fetid exhalations poisoned the air. [1]

The Second of Heracles's Twelve Labors [5] was to slay the Lernaean Hydra. [1] Heracles took up his sword to attack the dragon, but he became ensnared in its many heads [4] because whenever he decapitated a head, two more grew in its place, [3] which forced Heracles to face more poison and chomping jaws than ever. [5] He called to his charioteer, [4] sometimes noted as his nephew [2] or servant, [3] Iolaus who set fire to the nearby trees and took a burning branch, [5] or sometimes a firebrand, to scorch the neck after Heracles sliced off a head. [4]

The cauterization prevented the heads from growing back, [4] so Heracles fought till his strength was spent and its mortal heads were sealed. [2] Of its nine heads, one was immortal, [6] the central head, [3] which hissed violently even as Heracles buried under the heaviest rocks, from which it would never emerge. [5] In other versions, Heracles buried all the Hydra's heads. [1] He then chopped up the dragon's body. [5]

Heracles dipped his arrowheads in the monster's blood [1] because the monster's venom was notoriously fatal. [3] Other sources say the hero dipped them in the poisonous fluids of the mouth [5] or the Hydra's spleen. [2] In any case, his arrows became deadly poisonous. [2]

Physical Description

The Hydra was a nine-headed serpent [1] with the body of a lion and the heads of snakes. [4] Her vast body was either serpent-like or canine-like. [2]

The most common number of heads attributed to The Hydra is nine, [2] but other sources claim that she had fifty, one hundred, or a thousand heads. [5]

Quick Facts

  • The Hydra was sacred to Hera. [4]
  • The offspring of Typhon and Echidna. [3]
  • Of its many heads, one of was immortal. [6]
  • Heracles enlisted the help of Iolaus to defeat the Hydra. [2]
  • The Hydra terrorized the people who lived near Argos. [5]

Related Articles


  1. Allardice 117
  2. Chiron [Greek & Roman] 143
  3. Cotterell 207
  4. National Geographic [Essentials] 177
  5. Rose [Dragons] 183
  6. Turner 229

For more information on footnotes and references, please see the bibliography.