Hercules and the Hydra, the Second Labour by Violet Brunton RMS, 1878-1951. Oil on canvas 18 x 36 1/4 inches, 46 x 92 centimetres. Painted c. 1910.
The Hydra was a poisonous water snake that lurked in the marshes of Lema. Zeus's son, Hercules was sent to destroy this hideous creature as the second of his twelve labours, the penance for the brutal murder of his own children whilst enraged by his implacable enemy, Hera. As Hercules, with godlike strength, struck off the hydra's heads one by one, two new heads grew up on each stump. Violet Brunton has portrayed the moment at which Hercules grasps the Hydra by the neck, at the same time struggling with the evil Hera, who is attempting to drag him into a red cloud. In her spite, she had also sent a giant crab to fight alongside the monster. However Hercules' special protector, Athena, the goddess of wisdom and virtue, gracefully encircled him from above through a shimmering aura of sky blue. Hercules was able to kill the crab and sever the creature's immortal head, burying it under a large rock. He dipped his arrows in the Hydra's blood, poisoning them for later use.
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