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The Hydra was a serpentine water monster that lived in a lake in Lerna, south of Argos; the lake was one of the entrances to Hades. The oldest narrative is in Hesiodos' "Theogony" and its oldest images are on a pair of bronze fibulae; both sources are dated to ca. 700 BCE. The fibulae portrayed a 6-headed hydra, but a century later Alcaeus gave it 9 heads; a century after that, Simonides raised the number to 50. In the 5th century BCE Euripedes introduced the creature's ability to regenerate its heads (2 for every 1 severed), but in the 5th century Maurus Servius Honoratus boosted the number to 3. Its breath was poisonous, and its blood was so virulent that even its scent was deadly, and it was invulnerable as long as it had at least 1 head. A 6th-century BCE account claimed that Hera, angered that her husband Zeus had given birth to Athena by himself, prayed to Gaia, Uranus, and the Titans, to give her a son stronger than Zeus, then slapped the ground and became pregnant with Typhon, another gigantic serprntine monster. Typhon mated with the 1/2-woman/1/2-snake Echidna ("She-Viper," possibly the grand-daughter of Medusa, a snake-haired monster), and they bore a number of monstrous offspring including the hydra, which Hera raised for the sole purpose of killing Herakles, one of Zeus' many illegitimate children. When Herakles arrived at a swamp near Lake Lerna he covered his mouth and nose with a cloth to keep from breathing the creature's fumes and shot flaming arrows into its lair to lure it into the open. He then attacked with a harvesting sickle or a sword, but the severed heads grew back. Undeterred, the hero consulted his nephew/lover Iolaus, who (inspired by Athena) suggested that Herakles should use a firebrand to scorch the neck stumps after each decapitation. In the ensuing battle Herakles cut off each head and Iolaus cauterized the open stumps. The hydra sent a giant crab to distract Herakles, but he crushed it under his foot. Them he cut off the hydra's one immortal head with a golden sword given to him by Athena and dipped his arrows in the poisonous blood for future use. (In another version he dipped his sword in its neck after cutting off 1 head and used its venom to burn the others to prevent them from growing back.) Hera then put the dead monster in the sky as a constellation and turned the crab into the constellation Cancer. Later, Herakles used one of the poisoned arrows to kill the centaur Nessus to prevent the rape of his wife Deianeira, but the dying centaur told her to mix a sample of his blood with olive oil and soak a chiton (cloak) in it for Herakles to wear he would remain faithful to her. However, Heracles continued his affairs, and she sent the chiton to her husband to wear. The centaur's toxic blood burned Heracles, and he threw himself into a funeral pyre to end his suffering. Then Deianira committed suicide. (Strabon and Pausanias both reported that Herakles washed the poisoned arrow that he used on Nessus in the Anigrus river, causing the fish there to be inedible even centuries later.)aur Nessus; and Nessus' tainted blood was applied to the Tunic of Nessus, by which the centaur had his posthumous revenge. 11]Heracles would later use arrows dipped in the Hydra's poisonous blood to kill other foes during his remaining labors, such as Stymphalian Birds and the giant Geryon. He later used one to kill the centaur Nessus; and Nessus' tainted blood was applied to the Tunic of Nessus, by which the centaur had his posthumous revenge. Both Strabo and Pausanias report that the stench of the river Anigrus in Elis, making all the fish of the river inedible, was reputed to be due to the Hydra's poison, washed from the arrows Heracles used on the centaur.
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