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The Labors of Hercules - Labor VIII

Destroying the Lernaean Hydra
(Scorpio, October 22nd - November 21st)

(Beginning with Scorpio the statement of the myth will be written Dr. Francis Merchant, as no further copy by the Tibetan was found among the papers of A.A.B. He has used the best available material for the details of the story casting it in the iambic cadence of The Old Commentary. Other material by A.A.B. is used as before, with some necessary condensations and rewriting).

The Myth

The great Presiding One, enrobed in radiant calm, said but a single word. The Teacher heard the golden command, and summoned Hercules, the son of God who was also the son of man.
"The light now shines on Gate the eighth," the Teacher said. "In ancient Argos a drought occurred. Amymone besought the aid of Neptune. He bade her strike a rock, and when she did, outgushed three crystal streams; but soon a hydra made his dwelling there.
"Beside the River Amymone, the festering swamp of Lerna stands. Within this noisome bog the monstrous hydra lies, a plague upon the countryside. Nine heads this creature has, and one of them is immortal. Prepare to battle with this loathsome beast. Think not that common means will serve; destroy one head, two grow apace." Expectantly Hercules waited.
"One word of counsel only I may give," the Teacher said. "We rise by kneeling; we conquer by surrendering; we gain by giving up. Go forth, O son of God and son of man, and conquer." Through Gate the eighth, then, Hercules passed.

The stagnant swamp of Lerna was a blot dismaying all who came within its confines. Its stench polluted all the atmosphere [141] within a space of seven miles. When Hercules approached, he had to pause, for the smell alone well-nigh overcame him. The oozing quicksands were a hazard, and more than once Hercules quickly withdrew his foot lest he be sucked downward by the yielding earth.
At length he found the lair where dwelt the monstrous beast. Within a cavern of perpetual night, the hydra lay concealed. By day and night Hercules haunted the treacherous fen, awaiting a propitious time when the beast would sally forth. In vain he watched. The monster stayed within its fetid den.
Resorting to a stratagem, Hercules dipped his arrows in burning pitch, and rained them straight into the yawning cavern where dwelt the hideous beast. A stirring and commotion there upon ensued.
The hydra, its nine angry heads breathing flame, emerged. Its scaly tail lashed furiously the water and the mud, bespattering Hercules. Three fathoms high the monster stood, a thing of ugliness that looked as if it had been made of all the foulest thoughts conceived since time began.
The hydra sprang at Hercules and sought to coil about his feet. He stepped aside and dealt it such a crushing blow that one of its heads was immediately dissevered. No sooner had this horrid head fallen into the bog than two grew in its place. Again and again Hercules attacked the raging monster, but it grew stronger, not weaker, with each assault.
Then Hercules remembered that his Teacher had said, "we rise by kneeling." Casting aside his club, Hercules knelt, grasped the hydra with his bare hands, and raised it aloft. Suspended in mid-air, its strength diminished. On his knees, then, he held the hydra high above him, that purifying air and light might have their due effect. The monster, strong in darkness and in sloughy mud, soon lost its power when the rays of the sun and the touch of the wind fell on it.
Convulsively it strove, a shudder passing through its loathsome frame. Fainter and fainter grew its struggles till the [142] victory was won. The nine heads drooped, then with gasping mouths and glazing eyes fell limply forward. But only when they lifeless lay did Hercules perceive the mystic head that was immortal.
Then Hercules cut off the hydra's one immortal head and buried it, still fiercely hissing, beneath a rock.
Returning, Hercules stood before his Teacher. "The victory is won", the Teacher said. "The Light that shines at Gate the eighth is now blended with your own".

Francis Merchant

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