vendredi 19 septembre 2008

Hydra 1

Hydra is the largest of the 88 constellations, winding a quarter of the way around the sky. Its head is south of the constellation Cancer, the Crab, while the tip of its tail lies between Libra, the Scales, and Centaurus, the Centaur. Yet for all its size there is nothing prominent about Hydra. Its only star of note is second-magnitude Alphard, a name that comes from the Arabic al-fard appropriately meaning ‘the solitary one’.
The water-snake features in two legends. First, and most familiar, the Hydra was the creature that Heracles fought and killed as the second of his famous labours. The Hydra was a multi-headed creature, the offspring of the monster Typhon and the half-woman, half-serpent called Echidna. Hydra was thus the brother of the dragon that guarded the golden apples, commemorated in the constellation Draco. Hydra reputedly had nine heads, the middle one of which was immortal. (In the sky, though, it is shown with one head only – perhaps this is the immortal one.)
Hydra lived in a swamp near the town of Lerna, from where it sallied forth over the surrounding plain, eating cattle and ravaging the countryside. Its breath and even the smell of its tracks were said to be so poisonous that anyone who breathed them died in agony.
Heracles rode up to the Hydra’s lair in his chariot and fired flaming arrows into the swamp to force the creature into the open, where he grappled with it. The Hydra wrapped itself around one of his legs; Heracles smashed at its heads with his club but no sooner had one head been destroyed than two grew in its place. To add to Heracles’s worries, a huge crab scuttled out of the swamp and attacked his other foot, but Heracles stamped on the crab and crushed it. The crab is commemorated in the constellation Cancer.
Heracles called for help to his charioteer Iolaus who burned the stump of each head as soon as it was struck off to prevent others growing in its place. Finally Heracles cut off the immortal head of the Hydra and buried it under a heavy rock by the roadside. He slit open the body of the Hydra and dipped his arrows in its poisonous gall.

A second legend associates the water-snake with the constellations of the Crow (Corvus) and the Cup (Crater) that lie on its back. In this story, the crow was sent by Apollo to fetch water in the bowl, but loitered to eat figs from a tree. When the crow eventually returned to Apollo it blamed the water-snake for blocking the spring. But Apollo knew that the crow was lying, and punished him by placing him in the sky, where the water-snake eternally prevents him from drinking out of the bowl.

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