To continue on my theme of the labours of Heracles, I bring you labours number 2 and 3.
As we found out last week, Heracles was bound to perform twelve tasks set to him by his enemy, Eurystheus, to be absolved from the wrath of the Furies incured by accidentally killing his entire family.
The Lernaean Hydra is probably one of Heracles’ most famous labours. The Hydra was a monster with the body of a serpent and nine serpent heads and poisonous breath.
As Heracles approached lake Lerna, he was forced to cover his mouth and nose to keep from inhalling the poisonous stench. He fired flaming arrows to drive it from it’s hiding place in a cave. The Hydra emerged and reared for attack, all nine heads aiming for Heracles. But Heracles was faster, and quickly swung his sword to cut off the nearest of the heads. The monster stumbled back, and Heracles advanced to rid it of more heads. As he beheaded the monster, he noticed something odd. In the place of the first head he had cut off grew two more. And so the heads of the monster began to grow back, doubling as they did. The monster now had eighteen angry heads ready to attack.
Not the brightest star in the sky, it’s generally thought that Heracles attempted to cut off a few more heads and was obviously rewarded with more heads to contend with. He had found himself in quite a predicament, one that could not be solved by the normal Bronze Age hero solution of hacking away at things.
Heracles, not a thinker, wouldn’t be able to solve this one on his own. And so, he enlisted the help of his nephew, Iolaus. Iolaus came up with the idea of cauterizing the Hydra’s necks with fire to keep the heads from growing back. And so, Heracles set to cutting off the now several dozen heads while Iolaus ran around with a burning torch to cauterize each of the headless necks. This worked, and so the Hydra was killed and Heracles had some wonderful poisonous hydra blood to use on future endeavors.
When he returned to Eurytheus, he was assigned the next task of capturing the Ceryneian Hind. The Hind was a beautiful creature, faster than any other creature on Earth, with majestic antlers made of gold. It could outrun an arrow and was sacred to the goddess Artemis. Eurytheus hoped that even if Heracles could suceed in this task, he would then incur the wrath of the goddess and thus be destroyed.
Heracles set out in search of the Hind. He chased it on foot for over a year, through Greece and Asia Minor. Finally, one day, he came upon the creature while it slept and was able to capture it with his bare hands. He took the creature back with him to Eurytheus. On the way, he stopped in at a temple of Artemis and begged his half sister to understand. He explained his labours and promised to return the Hind to her after presenting it to Eurytheus. Artemis agreed to the plan, and Heracles returned with the Hind, thus completing
On the next Mythology Monday, we’ll learn the true meaning of a “herculean task” with the next two of Heracles’ Twelve Labours.