Cerberus (Ancient Greek: Κέρβερος (Kérberos)) is a bronze three-headed dog from ancient Greek and Roman mythology. It guards the entrance of the Underworld to prevent those who entered from ever escaping. Although the depiction of Cerberus often differs and varies, they often have the same body and same number of heads.
The most notable difference is the number of its heads in some versions: Most sources describe or depict three heads; others show it with two or even just one; a smaller number of sources show a variable number, or sometimes as many as 50 or even 100.
Cerberus is the offspring to Echidna, a hybrid half-woman and half-serpent, and Typhon, a gigantic monster even the Greek gods feared. It is the sibling of Lernaean Hydra, Orthrus a two-headed hellhound, and the Chimera a three-headed monster.
Myths and Legends
In most works, the three heads each respectively see and represent the past, the present, and the future, while other sources suggest the heads represent birth, youth, and old age. Each of Cerberus' heads is said to have an appetite only for live meat and thus allow only the spirits of the dead to freely enter the underworld, but allow none to leave. Cerberus was always employed as Hades' loyal watchdog, and guarded the gates that granted access and exit to the underworld.
Cerberus was often said to freely move between the land of the living and the underworld. It would often collect souls that refused to go to the underworld. There was a legend of Cerberus actually leaving the underworld and running amuck. It is said that the only one who could get close enough to stop Cerberus is Heracles. He was said to have stabbed Cerberus in the shoulder and drive him with such force back to Hades. At this time
Hades did not wish to lose his loyal companion so he was said to have chained each head of Cerberus. Cerberus was said to have deeply hated being chained up and broke free once. At which time he was chained again and this time with no chance of breaking free.
Cerberus not only was a loyal watchdog and a guardian to the gates of the underworld but to Hades himself. He has been said to give each head a nickname while keeping the name Cerberus as a whole.
When Orpheus attempted to retrieve his wife Eurydice from the Underworld, he journeyed to the Hades' realm. Being still alive, he had no coin to pay Charon, ferryman of the Styx, so he charmed his way across with music. He did the same to pass Cerberus and even brought tears to the eyes of Hades and his wife Persephone, who relented and let him take his wife back to land of the living.
The Twelfth Labor of Heracles
Heracles was assigned the task, or labor, of capturing the hellhound Cerberus by King Eurystheus. Due to Eurystheus discounting two of the ten labors, Heracles was given an additional two labors in which one of them was the capturing of Cerberus. Upon entering the Underworld with the help of Eleusis, Athena, Hermes, and Hestia, Hercules made his way to Hades. He asked Hades for permission to take Cerberus to the surface to show to Eurystheus. Hades gave Heracles permission, but on the condition that Heracles uses no weapons to overpower the hound. Heracles overpowered Cerberus without weapons and slung the beast over his back through a cavern entrance to the Underworld. Once seeing the beast, Eurystheus jumped into a pithos out of fright and told Heracles to take it back in return for releasing him from his labors.
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