Background Information

Origin: Greek and Roman Mythology
Dragons Slain: Lernaean Hydra, also called Exedra [1]

Background: Heracles (meaning 'Hera's Glory') was a demigod, later immortal god, of Greek mythology. [2] Known for his extraordinary wit [5] and superhuman strength, he is famous for innumerable acts of heroism. [2] He was the son of Zeus and Alceme / Alkmene, [7] princess of Mycenae. [2] Despite his name, the queen of the gods, Hera, despised Heracles as the product of her husband's infidelity. [2] After failing to kill him as an infant, Hera continued to plot against Heracles.

Hera afflicted Heracles with madness that put him in a senseless rage, causing him to murder his wide, Princess Megara of Thebes, and all their children. [2] Seeking redemption, Heracles traveled to the Oracle of Delphi, and she told him that to rid himself of Hera's curse, [5] he must become a servant to the Mycenaean King Eurystheus. King Eurystheus gave Heracles Twelve Tasks, known better as the Twelve Labors. [3]

  1. Kill the Nemean Lion. [5]
  2. Slay the Lernean Hydral [5]
  3. Capture the Ceryneian hind, [3] or in Roman mythology, called the Arcadian stag. [5]
  4. Capture the Erymanthian Boar. [5]
  5. Cleanse the Augean stables. [6]
  6. Defeat the Stymphalian Birds. [6]
  7. Capture the Cretan Bull. [6]
  8. Capture the Mares of Diomedes, [3] also called the Mares of Thrace or the Thracian mares. [6]
  9. Retrieve the Amazon's Girdle, [3] also called the Belt of Hippolyta. [6]
  10. Capture the Cattle of Geryon, [3] also called Geryon's kine. [6]
  11. Retrieve the Apples of Hesperides. [6]
  12. Capture Cerberus from Hades. [6]

Heracles achieved immortality and joined the gods of Mount Olympus after many more trials and great victories. [6] He became the national hero of the Greeks as the victor of all forms of contest. [7] As a protector of humanity, [2] young people especially saw him as their protector, earning him the title Heracles Enagonios. [7]

During Rome's imperial age, the Latin form of his name, Hercules, became very popular. Heracles was the invincible conqueror of all obstacles, which earned him the title Hercules invictus, or Heracles undefeated, unconquerable. [7]

Heracles, the Dragon Slayer

After killing the Nemean Lion, King Eurystheus ordered Heracles to kill the Lernaean Hydra as the second of the twelve labors. [1] Outside of Argos, in the swamps and marshes of Lerna, the Hydra (meaning 'water serpent') lived, annihilating crops, cattle, and people alike. [4] The Lernaean Hydra was sacred to Hera, but it so terrorized the region that King Eurystheus believed it had to be killed. [4]

Lernaean Hydra had a vast, doglike body, [1] or by some accounts, the body of a lion, [4] with an array of serpentine heads. [4] The Hydra had nine, fifty, a hundred, or a thousand heads, depending on the version of the story; [1] moreover, one of these heads was immortal. [4]

Heracles traveled to the marshes. When the Hydra appeared, he attacked it with his sword. Almost immediately, he became entangled and ensnared in its heads. [4] He hacked away the creature's heads, but for each mortal head he decapitated, two more grew back in its place. [4] Luckily, Heracles was not alone; his charioteer, Iolaus, utilized fire. In some versions, he set fire to trees and used a burning branch to sear each neck hump; [1] in others, he used a fire-brand to scorch the necks. [4] In either case, this prevented the heads from growing back.

Little by little, the Hydra lost its heads and its strength. Soon the only head that remained was the immortal head, so Heracles finally could chop up the Hydra's body. [1] The Hydra's immortal head could not be killed, so Heracles buried it, still hissing, under great stones [4] from which it would never emerge again. [1]

Quick Facts

  • Heracles undertook twelve labors from King Eurystheus in order to rid himself of Hera's curse. [5]
  • The Second of the Twelve Labors was to slay the Lernaean Hydra. [1]
  • The many-headed water serpent had nine, fifty, one hundred, or one thousand heads, [1] and one head was immortal. [4]
  • Cutting off a mortal head caused two to grow back in its place. [4]
  • With the head of Iolaus, his charioteer, Heracles seared the neck stumps of the Hydra after decapitation, which prevented the heads from growing back. [1]
  • Heracles cut up its body and buried the last, immortal under great stones to prevent it from resurfacing. [1]

Related Articles


  1. Rose [Dragons] 183
  2. National Geographic [Essential] 164
  3. National Geographic [Essential] 165
  4. National Geographic [Essential] 177
  5. Allardice 110
  6. Allardice 111
  7. Lurker 149

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