The Lernaean Hydra or the Second Labor of Heracles

That second labor, most renowned in fame,
Eurystheus proclaimed when Heracles came:
For there was a beast, Typhon’s half-breed son,
That sprang from the swamp, and in the land had done
Whate’er it listed, killing cattle and
Ravaging the fields, the pasture, the whole land;
This Eurystheus told Heracles to slay,
And Heracles went out without delay.
Iolaus accompanied him and drove
The chariot of the fierce son of Jove.
When they reached Lerna, Heracles beheld
The hydra on a hill. His bloodlust swelled,
And his brands he put quickly to the flame,
Then fired at the hydra; from the hill it came.
Though Typhon had a hundred heads, his son
Had only nine: immortal though was one.
When Heracles approached, the serpent twined
Itself about his legs, seeking thus to bind
The demigod, who stood both firm and tall,
Whose club upon each head one by one did fall:
But soon as one was struck, forth sprang two more;
So bit by bit the hero was pressed sore;
Moreover, the foul hydra had a friend,
A crab against which he had to defend;
Whether the crab sought truly to help the snake,
Or whether thought it opportune to take
Advantage of an easy meal, attacked
It the foot of Heracles: but he cracked
The crab with his club, and broke it to bits:
The hydra by this point was giving him fits;
And lest his strength should fail, and he expire,
He called to Iolaus, who set a fire
In a nearby forest, and took in his hands,
Two branches, which he used as fiery brands:
Together then, they two worked to defeat
The hydra; with his club, Heracles would beat
Off one of the heads, then Iolaus would
Burn the root: this destroyed the heads for good.
Now, once the mortal heads had all been slain,
And the hero knowing he couldn’t brain
The immortal head, he rather dug a hole,
And buried it instead; then a stone did roll
Over its grave, and so was put to rest
The fiend by which the land had been possessed.
In the hydra’s blood the hero dipped his darts,
(It was a poison worse than Hecate’s arts)
And coated the points; this dreadful toxin slew
Whoe’er was pierced by the foul serpent’s brew.
But when he returned, Eurystheus swore
That this labor would not be counted, for
He had been helped; the labor had been shared;
And alone the danger had not been bared.

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