The afterlife wasn’t a particularly pleasant place in the past. Indeed, the fortunate ones who died in Greek mythology were able to travel to the Isles of the Blessed or Elysium. But the fate of common humans was to spend all of eternity in Tartarus and the Underworld after they died. Due to Cerberus, Hades’ favourite furball, once a soul passes through the Underworld’s entrance, it cannot return. Let’s examine Cerberus in more detail—the terrifying Underworld protector from Greek mythology!
Who Is Cerberus?
Hades, the Underworld god of ancient Greece, is the owner of Cerberus. Cerberus, often known as the “Hound of Hades” or “hellhound,” is a hideous canine that watches over the Underworld’s entrance. It is his responsibility to ensure that the dead never leave and that the living are unable to enter.
Because of Cerberus’ exceptional skill, no mortal can defeat the beast. But he has occasionally been known to grow bored. In those situations, he occasionally poses as asleep and allows a mortal to slip past him. Cerberus, however, forbids any of these stupid mortals from returning to the world of the living once they have reached the Underworld. Cerberus “keeps watch and devours whomsoever he catches going out of the gate of strong Hades and awful Persephone,” according to the ancient Greek poet and philosopher Hesiod.
Where Did Cerberus Come From?
Hesiod claims that Cerberus is the offspring of the enormous Typhon and the hybrid Echidna, who is half snake and half woman. He also has a few other monstrous siblings, such as the Lernaean Hydra, the Chimaera, and the two-headed dog Orthos.
What Does Cerberus Look Like?
With its razor-sharp fangs and thundering roar, Cerberus is a gigantic and enormous canine. Hesiod is the first person to describe him, claiming that he had fifty fierce heads. While the Roman poet Horace said that he had one head with three tongues ringed by one hundred snakes, another Greek poet, Pindar, asserted that he had one hundred heads. Cerberus, however, was thought to have had three distinct heads on one body in the past.
Cerberus also wore a row of snakeheads down his mane and back, in addition to a tail composed of several serpents. The beast could shoot fire out of his eyes, according to the Greek poet Euphorion. Additionally, Cerberus possessed exceptional hearing, which was useful for policing the Underworld’s boundaries.
Stories of Cerberus from the Ancient Greeks and Today Cerberus and Heracles
Cerberus made an excellent guard dog since, of course, no mortal could defeat him due to his enormous size and terrifying appearance. But in one extremely uncommon case, a demi-god called Heracles, the legendary hero, struck lucky and defeated the hideous canine.
Heracles, having been driven insane and having killed his children, was given twelve tasks to perform in order to atone for his sins. Going into the Underworld and returning Cerberus to King Eurystheus of Tiryns was his twelfth and final labour. This was by far the hardest and most risky duty he had been assigned out of all of them.
Heracles reached the Underworld close to the Black Sea with the assistance of the messenger god Hermes and the goddess of wisdom and strategic combat, Athena. He approached Persephone and Hades and begged to borrow their demonic hound. Heracles could seize Cerberus if he could defeat the beast without the use of any weapons, Hades chuckled and replied.
Even the powerful hero Heracles would not have likely lost the battle against Hades’ hellhound due to its ferocity and awful nature. Luckily for the demi-god, though, killing the impenetrable golden-furred Nemean lion had been the first of his twelve labours. Heracles seized the lion’s skin and wore it as protection when he killed it. Thus, unarmed (and unharmed), he was able to defeat Cerberus when he encountered him. Cerberus was brought to King Eurystheus by Heracles, who then swiftly brought the guard dog back to his house.
Cerberus did, however, end up drooling a little bit during his time in the living world (that’s what happens when you have three dog heads). His spit turned into aconite, also known as wolfsbane, when it hit the ground. Later, Medea, the witch, utilised the plant’s toxic qualities.
Orpheus and Cerberus
One of the few mortals to survive Cerberus and relate the story is Orpheus, the divinely endowed poet and musician. Eurydice, the nymph who married Orpheus, unfortunately perished from a snake bite not long after they were married. Tormented with sorrow, Orpheus ventured into the Underworld to retrieve her. He gave Cerberus a lyre play and used his lovely music to captivate the huge dog. Orpheus was able to slip by and implore Hades to release Eurydice as a result. Hades consented, but there was a catch: Orpheus would not be allowed to see his wife again until they were once again in the land of the living. Regretfully, Eurydice was lost to Orpheus forever due to his failure.
The Canine Monster Who Loves Honey Cakes
Apart from nibbling on runaway souls, the Greeks thought Cerberus consumed exclusively raw flesh. But as it happens, he also had a special place in his heart for honey cakes.
Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty and love, was not pleased with Eros’s decision to fall in love with the stunning Psyche. To demonstrate her worth, she put the unfortunate mortal girl through a series of trials. One mission was to enter the Underworld and take some of Persephone’s enchanted beauty serum. But Psyche was not just gorgeous; she was also intelligent. She entered the Underworld carrying some honey cakes, which diverted Hades’ guard dog long enough for her to reach Persephone.
In the end, Cerberus was repeatedly tempted by his sweet taste. When Aeneas, the Roman demi-god, ventured into the Underworld to converse with his father, Anchisesy, he employed an analogous technique. The young Trojan prince was urged by the prophetess Sibil to bring some honey cakes steeped in wine. Cerberus was successfully put to sleep by these, enabling Aeneas to travel safely through the Underworld and back.
Cerberus in Popular Culture
Cerberus has been the topic of innumerable tales and works of art for thousands of years, including poetry, ceramics, and paintings. The hideous hellhound even made an appearance in Hollywood in more recent times. The Disney films Hercules (1997) and Encanto (2021) feature Cerberus. He can also be seen in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone [Sorceror’s Stone] as Fluffy, Hagrid’s tri-headed dog.Similar to Cerberus and Orpheus, Fluffy falls into a profound sleep brought on by the sound of an enchanted lyre.