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Storytelling in Miniature

Heinrich Aldegrever
German, 1502–about 1561

Hercules Fighting with the Hydra of Lernea, from “The Labors of Hercules”

Engraving, 1550
4 1/4 x 2 5/8 in.
Museum purchase, 1923.3163

Described as a giant nine-headed water-serpent in Greek mythology, the Lernean Hydra ravaged the country of Lernea near Argos. For the second Labor, King Eurystheus charged Hercules with the task of destroying this seemingly indestructible beast, as every time one of the heads was cut off, two more would grow in its place. In this print Heinrich Aldegrever portrays the Hydra as a chimera-like creature with a lion’s body and snake-like tail. The nine heads, each different in appearance, are supported on serpent necks. In this Labor Hercules was assisted by his nephew and chariot driver, Iolaos. Using a burning torch, Iolaos cauterized the freshly severed necks preventing the growth of new heads. Hercules collected the blood of the Hydra to poison his arrows, an action that would later figure in his own death.