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The Second Labor

Source: Myths And Legends Of All Nations.

The second labor consisted in destroying a hydra. This monster dwelt
in the swamp of Lerna, but came occasionally over the country,
destroying herds and laying waste the fields. The hydra was an
enormous creature--a serpent with nine heads, of which eight were
mortal and one immortal.

Hercules set out with high courage for this fight. He mounted his
chariot, and his beloved nephew Iolaus, the son of his stepbrother
Iphicles, who for a long time had been his inseparable companion, sat
by his side, guiding the horses; and so they sped toward Lerna.

At last the hydra was visible on a hill by the springs of Amymone,
where its lair was found. Here Iolaus left the horses stand. Hercules
leaped from the chariot and sought with burning arrows to drive the
many-headed serpent from its hiding place. It came forth hissing, its
nine heads raised and swaying like the branches of a tree in a storm.

Undismayed, Hercules approached it, seized it, and held it fast. But
the snake wrapped itself around one of his feet. Then he began with
his sword to cut off its heads. But this looked like an endless task,
for no sooner had he cut off one head than two grew in its place. At
the same time an enormous crab came to the help of the hydra and began
biting the hero's foot. Killing this with his club, he called to
Iolaus for help.

The latter had lighted a torch, set fire to a portion of the nearby
wood, and with brands therefrom touched the serpent's newly growing
heads and prevented them from living. In this way the hero was at last
master of the situation and was able to cut off even the head of the
hydra that could not be killed. This he buried deep in the ground and
rolled a heavy stone over the place. The body of the hydra he cut into
half, dipping his arrows in the blood, which was poisonous.

From that time the wounds made by the arrows of Hercules were fatal.

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