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What was the Second Labour of Heracles (Hercules)? Defeating the Lernean Hydra

Updated: Mar 6

Feeling fresh and full of beans after successfully completing his first Labour (where he had to wrestle an invulnerable lion, yes you read that right, he wrestled a lion), Heracles found himself facing down yet another seemingly invincible opponent. King Eurystheus, the mastermind behind the Labours that Heracles had to confront (you can find out more about his Twelve Labours here), had come up with a real stonker of a challenge for Heracles' second labour. This time, Heracles had to defeat the Lernean Hydra.

Lernean Hydra with numerous heads
The Lernean Hydra in all of its multi-headed fearsomeness!

Here are the Hydra’s stats:

Name: Hydra (also known as the Lernean Hydra. Or even the Lernaean Hydra if you like bonus vowels. And who doesn’t!).

Description: A big ol’ water serpent with numerous heads on the ends of numerous long swinging necks.

Danger Rating: 9/10

Location: The Amymone Spring in the marshes of Lerna, near Argos.

Size: Pretty pooping big.

Strength: 5/10

Toughness: 7/10

Special Abilities: The Hydra was equipped with lots and lots of heads. Oh, and one of those heads was immortal. And did I mention when one head gets chopped off, more heads grow back? Yeah. Plus the Hydra has the whole poisonous venom thing going on. So, you know. There’s that to consider too.

Heracles fights with the Lernean Hydra
How many heads? Chop one off and more grow back! - Image courtesy Wolfgang Sauber

This giant serpent was developing a nasty habit of rising from the murky waters and terrorising the unlucky people of Lerna. The Hydra was so dangerous that just one waft of its poisonous venom breath could kill a person instantly! You couldn’t even creep past the creature’s lair without being knocked flat by the stench of its venom mingling with the muggy swamp air.

But, Heracles was a strong-willed, brave and confident individual who had bested many a dangerous creature in combat and would never be the slightest bit troubled by an indestructible, never-dying, multi-headed, venom-breathing creature like the Hydra.

Nope. Not even a tiny bit worried.

Not the tiddliest bit concerned.

Not scared.

Not one bit.

All the same, he thought it best to bring a friend with him on the quest just in case.

But definitely not because he was scared.


Heracles asked his nephew Iolaus to join him on this, his second labour. Iolaus had accompanied his uncle on many heroic adventures before and had proven himself to be quite the handy chappy to have nearby whenever Heracles got himself into a bit of a fix.

Heracles and Iolaus defeat the Lernean Hydra
Here's Heracles (left, dressed in his dashing lion pelt cloak) and Iolaus working as a team. Image courtesy Eduard Gerhard

And get into a fix he did. Arriving at the gloomy waters in the unwelcoming marsh, Heracles tempted the beast out of its stinking lair. The hulking mass of the Hydra’s body was nothing compared to the many menacing heads swinging around on thick muscled necks high above the reach of Heracles’ sword. Heracles counted nine heads. But the number soon doubled when he discovered that slashing through one of the necks brought the growth of two more venom-breathing heads.

Heracles battles the Lernaean Hydra
The Hydra coils itself around Heracles' leg! Uh oh! - Courtesy of John Singer Sargent

Amongst the confusion, Heracles didn’t notice that the Hydra had knotted one of its coils around his leg and bound it tight. Heracles was ensnared and couldn’t get away. And to make matters worse a giant crab had inched its way out of the Hydra’s lair and began gnashing at Heracles’ trapped foot.

Heracles thought fast and came up with a plan. He summoned all of his strength to crush the giant crab with his free foot, bringing his heel down on the crab’s shell with an almighty crash. He called to Iolaus to find a burning torch as quickly as he could. Then the pair of heroes worked together. Every time Heracles sliced off a head, Iolaus used the flames to seal the wound so no more heads could grow back.

Soon, the fearless duo had hacked and scorched their way through all of the Hydra’s numerous heads. The final head, the immortal head, was lopped off and fell to the ground with a thunk. Watching as this last decapitated bonce writhed and wriggled around on the floor, Heracles knew there would be no way to slay it for good. Instead, he wrestled the squirming head into a hole, choking on the final fumes of its stinking venom breath. Heracles buried the immortal head deep, deep in the ground. This way, he hoped, the deadly beast would never break free to spread death and destruction ever again.

Heracles and Iolaus defeat the Lernean Hydra
Heracles chops off a head and Iolaus seals the wound with fire. Meanwhile the Hydra coils itself around one of Heracles' feet and that pesky crab comes over for a nibble on his toes. Image courtesy Schenking van de heer Van Nooten

Then he plopped a colossal boulder on top of its burial place. You know, just in case.

Feeling mightily pleased with himself, Heracles reported back to King Eurystheus. But Heracles’ wasn’t walking on sunshine for long. Eurystheus decided Heracles had cheated on the labour because he didn’t defeat the Hydra on his own. The defeat of the Lernean Hydra wouldn’t count as one of Heracles’ Labours because Iolaus had helped him to complete the quest! That Eurystheus was such a bum-head!

But it wasn’t all a big waste of time, because Heracles had taken the time to dip his arrows into the poisonous venom of the Hydra to make the arrows even more deadly. He hoped this would come in handy for one of his later Labours. But probably not Labour number three – this time he had to capture the Golden Hind. And he had to bring it back alive.


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