And, like these close relatives, Cerberus was, with only the rare iconographic exception, multi-headed.Between them, a tree represents the sacred grove of Hades' wife Persephone. Athena, Hermes and Heracles, leading a two-headed Cerberus out of the underworld, as Persephone looks on. According to Apollodorus, this was the twelfth and final labour imposed on Heracles. In a fragment from a lost play Pirithous, (attributed to either Euripides or Critias) Heracles says that, although Eurystheus commanded him to bring back Cerberus, it was not from any desire to see Cerberus, but only because Eurystheus thought that the task was impossible.Euripides has his initiation being "lucky" for Heracles in capturing Cerberus.In the Odyssey, Homer has Hermes and Athena as his guides.Along with bringing back Cerberus, Heracles also managed (usually) to rescue Theseus, and in some versions Pirithous as well. According to Apollodorus, Heracles found Theseus and Pirithous near the gates of Hades, bound to the "Chair of Forgetfulness, to which they grew and were held fast by coils of serpents", and when they saw Heracles, "they stretched out their hands as if they should be raised from the dead by his might", and Heracles was able to free Theseus, but when he tried to raise up Pirithous, "the earth quaked and he let go.560 BC) from Olympia, where Theseus and Pirithous (named) are seated together on a chair, arms held out in supplication, while Heracles approaches, about to draw his sword. In the lost play Pirithous, both heroes are rescued, while in the rationalized account of Philochorus, Heracles was able to rescue Theseus, but not Pirithous. In one place Diodorus says Heracles brought back both Theseus and Pirithous, by the favor of Persephone, while in another he says that Pirithous remained in Hades, or according to "some writers of myth" that neither Theseus, nor Pirithous returned.There are various versions of how Heracles accomplished Cerberus' capture.In some early sources Cerberus' capture seems to involve Heracles fighting Hades.Consistent with the no iron requirement, on an early-sixth-century BC lost Corinthian cup, Heracles is shown attacking Hades with a stone, while the iconographic tradition, from c.560 BC, often shows Heracles using his wooden club against Cerberus. Seneca's Cerberus too, like Ovid's, reacts violently to his first sight of daylight.Pausanias reports that according to local legend Cerberus was brought up through a chasm in the earth dedicated to Clymenus (Hades) next to the sanctuary of Chthonia at Hermione, and in Euripides' Heracles, though Euripides does not say that Cerberus was brought out there, he has Cerberus kept for a while in the "grove of Chthonia" at Hermione. Pausanias also mentions that at Mount Laphystion in Boeotia, that there was a statue of Heracles Charops ("with bright eyes"), where the Boeotians said Heracles brought up Cerberus. Other locations which perhaps were also associated with Cerberus being brought out of the underworld include, Hierapolis, Thesprotia, and Emeia near Mycenae. Homer does not name or describe Cerberus, but simply refers to Heracles being sent by Eurystheus to fetch the "hound of Hades", with Hermes and Athena as his guides, and, in a possible reference to Cerberus' capture, that Heracles shot Hades with an arrow.630 – 555 BC) apparently wrote a poem called Cerberus, of which virtually nothing remains. However the early-sixth-century BC-lost Corinthian cup from Argos, which showed a single head, and snakes growing out from many places on his body, was possibly influenced by Stesichorus' poem. Bacchylides (5th century BC) also mentions Heracles bringing Cerberus up from the underworld, with no further details.425 – 348 BC) refers to Cerberus' composite nature, citing Cerberus, along with Scylla and the Chimera, as an example from "ancient fables" of a creature composed of many animal forms "grown together in one". Euphorion of Chalcis (3rd century BC) describes Cerberus as having multiple snake tails, and eyes that flashed, like sparks from a blacksmith's forge, or the volcaninc Mount Etna.Cerberus is described as "triple-throated", with "three fierce mouths", multiple "large backs", and serpents writhing around his neck. Later Virgil describes Cerberus, in his bloody cave, crouching over half-gnawed bones. Seneca's Cerberus has three heads, a mane of snakes, and a snake tail, with his three heads being covered in gore, and licked by the many snakes which surround them, and with hearing so acute that he can hear "even ghosts".But upon leaving the underworld, at his first sight of daylight, a frightened Cerberus struggles furiously, and Heracles, with the help of Theseus (who had been held captive by Hades, but released, at Heracles' request) drag Cerberus into the light. Seneca, like Diodorus, has Heracles parade the captured Cerberus through Greece.Heracles asked Hades (here called Pluto) for Cerberus, and Hades said that Heracles could take Cerberus provided he was able to subdue him without using weapons.In an apparently unique version of the story, related by the sixth-century AD Pseudo-Nonnus, Heracles descended into Hades to abduct Persephone, and killed Cerberus on his way back up.petasos) and One of the two earliest depictions of the capture of Cerberus (composed of the last five figures on the right) shows, from right to left: Cerberus, with a single dog head and snakes rising from his body, fleeing right, Hermes, with his characteristic hat () and caduceus , Heracles, with quiver on his back, stone in left hand, and bow in right, a goddess, standing in front of Hades' throne, facing Heracles, and Hades, with scepter, fleeing left.The capture of Cerberus was a popular theme in ancient Greek and Roman art.590–580 BC) from Argos (now lost), shows a naked Heracles, with quiver on his back and bow in his right hand, striding left, accompanied by Hermes.Heracles threatens Hades with a stone, who flees left, while a goddess, perhaps Persephone or possibly Athena, standing in front of Hades' throne, prevents the attack.The other earliest depiction, a relief pithos fragment from Crete (c.A mid-sixth-century BC Laconian cup by the Hunt Painter adds several new features to the scene which also become common in later works: three heads, a snake tail, Cerberus' chain and Heracles' club.He is being held on a chain leash by Heracles who holds his club raised over head. Snakes are also often shown rising from various parts of his body including snout, head, neck, back, ankles, and paws.525–510 BC) by the Andokides painter (Louvre F204), in addition to the usual two heads and snake tail, show Cerberus with a mane down his necks and back, another typical Cerberian feature of Attic vase painting. Andokides' amphora also has a small snake curling up from each of Cerberus' two heads.Besides this lion-like mane and the occasional lion-head mentioned above, Cerberus was sometimes shown with other leonine features.In Roman art the capture of Cerberus is usually shown together with other labors.Lincoln notes a similarity between Cerberus and the Norse mythological dog Garmr, relating both names to a Proto-Indo-European root *ger- "to growl" (perhaps with the suffixes -*m/*b and -*r). Another suggested etymology derives Cerberus from "Ker berethrou", meaning "evil of the pit".At least as early as the 6th century BC, some ancient writers attempted to explain away various fantastical features of Greek mythology; included in these are various rationalized accounts of the Cerberus story.The serpent was called the "hound of Hades" only because anyone bitten by it died immediately, and it was this snake that Heracles brought to Eurystheus.The geographer Pausanias (who preserves for us Hecataeus' version of the story) points out that, since Homer does not describe Cerberus, Hecataeus' account does not necessarily conflict with Homer, since Homer's "Hound of Hades" may not in fact refer to an actual dog.Other rationalized accounts make Cerberus out to be a normal dog.Heracles killed Orthus, and drove away Geryon's cattle, with Cerberus following along behind.After searching the entire Peloponnesus, Heracles found where it was said Cerberus was being held, went down into the cave, and brought up Cerberus, after which it was said: "Heracles descended through the cave into Hades and brought up Cerberus.".A 2nd-century AD Greek known as Heraclitus the paradoxographer (not to be confused with the 5th-century BC Greek philosopher Heraclitus) – claimed that Cerberus had two pups that were never away from their father, which made Cerberus appear to be three-headed.Inferno by Virgil feeding Cerberus earth, in the Third Circle of Hell.All three Vatican Mythographers repeat Servius' derivation of Cerberus' name from creoboros. The Second Vatican Mythographer repeats (nearly word for word) what Fulgentius had to say about Cerberus, while the Third Vatican Mythographer, in another very similar passage to Fugentius', says (more specifically than Fugentius), that for "the philosophers" Cerberus represented hatred, his three heads symbolizing the three kinds of human hatred: natural, causal, and casual (i.e.Thus Cerberus came to symbolize avarice, and so, for example, in Dante's Inferno, Cerberus is placed in the Third Circle of Hell, guarding over the gluttons, where he "rends the spirits, flays and quarters them," and Dante (perhaps echoing Servius' association of Cerbeus with earth) has his guide Virgil take up handfuls of earth and throw them into Cerberus' "rapacious gullets.
Edward R. Forte