December 4 – The Hydra
The serpentine water monster from Greek and Roman mythology, the Hydra, has a dog-like body and multiple heads – ranging from seven to nine – one of which is said to be immortal. One of the twelve labours of Heracles was to kill this deadly creature, though this depiction shows quite a kindly looking beast!
This illustration (without our festive additions) is taken from Swiss physician and naturalist Conrad Gesner’s zoological work Historiae animalium (1551-1558). His work attempted to describe the animal kingdom and was illustrated with beautiful woodcuts, which in many copies, like ours, are hand-coloured. Notably, the work also includes many animals we consider fictional, such as this hydra.