Lerna (Region of the Lernaean Hydra) from Space
In classical Greece, Lerna was a region of springs and a former lake near the east coast of the Peloponnesus, south of Argos. It is most famous as the lair of the Lernaean Hydra, the chthonic many-headed water snake, a creature of great antiquity when Heracles killed it, as the second of his labors.
The geographer Strabo attests that the Lernaean waters were considered healing
"Lake Lerna, the scene of the story of the Hydra, lies in Argeia and the Mycenaean territory; and on account of the cleansings that take place in it there arose a proverb, 'A Lerna of ills.' Now writers agree that the county has plenty of water, and that, although the city itself lies in a waterless district, it has an abundance of wells. These wells they ascribe to the daughters of Danaus, believing that they discovered them ... but they add that four of the wells not only were designated as sacred but are especially revered, thus introducing the false notion that there is a lack of water where there is an abundance of it."
—Strabo, Geography 8.6.8.
Lerna was one of the entrances to the Underworld, and the ancient Lernaean Mysteries, sacred to Demeter, were celebrated there. Pausanias (2.37.1) says that the mysteries were initiated by Philammon, the twin "other" of Autolycus. At the Alcyonian Lake, entry to the netherworld could be achieved by a hero who dared, such as Dionysus in search of his mother Semele. For mortals the lake was perilous:
"There is no limit to the depth of the Alcyonian Lake, and I know of nobody who by any contrivance has been able to reach the bottom of it since not even Nero, who had ropes made several stades long and fastened them together, tying lead to them, and omitting nothing that might help his experiment, was able to discover any limit to its depth. This, too, I heard. The water of the lake is, to all appearance, calm and quiet but, although it is such to look at, every swimmer who ventures to cross it is dragged down, sucked into the depths, and swept away."
At Lerna, Plutarch knew (Isis and Osiris), Dionysus was summoned as "Bugenes", "son of the Bull" with a strange archaic trumpet called a salpinx, while a lamb was cast into the waters as an offering for the "Keeper of the Gate." The keeper of the gate to the Underworld that lay in the waters of Lerna was the Hydra.
Lerna was occupied in Neolithic times, as early as the 5th millennium BC, then was abandoned for a time. It has one of the largest prehistoric tumuli of Greece, a site of a two-storey palace or administrative center that is referred to as the "House of the Tiles" for the terracotta tiles that sheathed its roof (an early example of tile roofing). The strongly-fortified power center called "Lerna II" in the site's stratigraphy, dates to the Early Bronze Age Early Helladic culture, ca 2500 - 2200 BC. Though five stages of occupation at Lerna have been identified, the site of the "House of Tiles" was not rebuilt upon, whether through respect or fear, until at the end of the Middle Helladic period, shaft graves were cut into the tumulus of the House of Tiles, indicating that the significance of that monument had been forgotten. Lerna was used as a cemetery during the Mycenaean age, but was abandoned about 1250 BC .
Modern geological techniques such as core drilling have identified the site of the vanished sacred Lake Lerna, which was a freshwater lagoon, separated by barrier dunes from the Aegean. In the Early Bronze Age Lake Lerna had an estimated diameter of 4.7 km. Deforestation increased the rate of silt deposits and the lake became a malarial marsh, of which the last remnants were drained in the 19th century.
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