Myth And Nature

Discover The Secret Of Immotality

Discover The Secret Of Immortality

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Writers from as far back as ancient Greece claimed that many creatures could regrow parts of their bodies, particularly their limbs. Undoubtedly, the best known of all of these accounts is the story of the Greek hero Hercules and his battle with the Hydra. The gods had ordered Hercules to serve Eurystheus, the king of Mycenae, for twelve years. As part of his sentence, Hercules had to perform twelve Labors, feats so difficult that they were deemed impossible to carry out by ordinary men.

The second of the twelve labors of Hercules was to kill the

Lernean Hydra, a gigantic serpent that would rise up from the swamp and terrorize the kingdom. The Hydra had nine heads, each with venom-dripping fangs. If matters weren't difficult enough, one of the nine heads was immortal and therefore indestructible.

Hercules lured the Hydra into the open by shooting flaming arrows into its den. Once it emerged, he immediately grappled the monster, preventing it from escaping. He attacked the many heads of the hydra, smashing each of his heads with his massive battle club.

Unfortunately, this was when the Hydra's real power became apparent. Each time Hercules smashed one of the heads, two more would immediately grow in its place. The longer he fought, the more difficult the battle became. Luckily for the hero, his trusty nephew, Iolaus, had accompanied him on the mission as his charioteer. At Hercules' request, Iolaus joined the fray.

Now each time Hercules crushed one of the Hydra's heads, Iolaus held a torch to the headless tendons of the neck. The flames prevented the growth of replacement heads, and finally, the beast was defeated. Hercules chopped off the ninth, immortal head, pinned it in place with a heavy rock, and buried the remains.

The story of the Hydra was undoubtedly based on observations of lizards and salamanders, each of which can regrow lost limbs. These observations were first formally documented in the 1700s with the arrival of a new breed of scientist—the European naturalists.

At the climax of the historical period known as the European Enlightenment, three men cataloged and classified the ideas and organisms that demonstrated the amazing property of regeneration. Taken together, they were a very diverse and unlikely trio: a peerless French scholar, a Swiss academic who earned his keep tutoring the sons of minor members of the nobility, and his nearsighted, botanist-lawyer cousin.

FIGURE 2-1

The nine-headed Lernean Hydra slain by Hercules.

FIGURE 2-1

The nine-headed Lernean Hydra slain by Hercules.

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