Heracles’ second Labour: the Lernean Hydra

Drawn for revision of the OCR GCSE Classical Civilisation topic.

Heracles’ second labour continues the theme of ‘mission impossible’ that will probably kill him: set by King Eurystheus of Mycenae, he must pursue and kill the Hydra of Lernea, a beast that was, again, probably tearing up livestock and locals. However, after attacking it with his regular weapons, he discovered that the Hydra’s heads grew back once cut off (or, in some versersions, two more heads grew in the decapitated head’s place). So, he used his cleverness this time: enlisting his nephew, Iolaus, to help him, they set up a system in which Heracles cuts off a head and Iolaus then cauterises the wound with a burning torch, preventing new heads from growing.

Hera is so incensed that she sends a giant crab to attack Heracles. He crushes the crab and continues with his task. Finally, one head – an immortal head – is left, and he buries it under a rock. See the comic.

This kill doesn’t seem to have a trophy that he brings back to Eurystheus. However, Heracles does take the venom of the Hydra and add it to his arrows – a lethal addition that becomes important later (like in the death of Chiron, and the killing of Nessus the Centaur in his later adventures, before Heracles’ own death.)

The comic is based on the metope from the Temple of Zeus at Olympia, but has additions in order to help students remember both the metope and the story.

Sketch of the metope (author unknown, from Olympia) as it possibly looked when on the temple (photo taken by me at Museum of Olympia c.2015) – you can see where the rest of the neck and heads of the Hydra may have been, and he’s also holding the torch to cauterise the neck wound.

Remaining carved stone metope from the Temple of Zeus at Olympia (photo taken by me at Museum of Olympia c.2015)

This metope really focuses on the Hydra to fill the space, which it does wellthe tangle of necks would have been very visually interesting.

Iolaus isn’t present however – the metope just focusses on Heracles as the hero, holding a sickle to cut off heads and the torch to cauterise the neck wound afterwards. The giant crab also isn’t present (which is sad for me because it’s my favourite part of the story). However, the focus being on these two main characters makes it extremely clear which Labour is being portrayed.

NOTE: Heracles isn’t wearing the lion skin or holding the club – he has enough to carry! – but his interaction with the Hydra is famous enough to clarify him as the portrayed character.

heracles by greekmythcomix

Continue learning about the life of Heracles:

Videos on YouTube

Comix on GMC

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