Cerberus the dog of the underworld

Cerberus the dog of the underworld: Who was?

Cerberus the dog of the underworld in Greek mythology, (Greek: Κέρβερος Kerberos), also known as Can Cerberus or the «dog of Hades», is a monstrous polycephalic dog that guards the gates of the underworld, preventing the dead from leaving. He is a descendant of the monsters Echidna and Typhon, normally depicted as having three heads, a snake for a tail, with snakes emerging from various parts of his body. Cerberus is primarily known for his capture by Hercules, one of his twelve labors.

Hades, the god of the world of the dead, had this dog to prevent souls from fleeing his kingdom. Cerberus also prevented the living from entering. One of the Twelve Labors of Heracles was to take the dog from the gates of Hell. Hades had to accept, but made it a condition that the hero not use any weapon, for which he used his bare hands and took him to his patron Eurystheus, after which he returned him to his place among the dead.


There is no reliable history of Cerberus which speaks about its origin, however, there are various theories, some of which are more supported than others by the men who currently study this mythology. The most supported narrates the fact that Cerberus was born from a constellation.

This is because other great sea monsters that exist within mythology were found under various constellations, and these disappeared to become a monster, but when they were hunted or captured, the constellation reappeared, suggesting that some monsters came from of the cosmos.

In the case of Cerberus, below what was believed to be the entrance to hell there was never a constellation, and Cerberus has always been an element of the underworld since hades began to rule it.


Descriptions of Cerberus are variable, including the number of heads. He usually had three, though not always. Cerberus had a polycephalic inheritance. His father Typhoon had several serpent heads, and Cerberus was the brother of three other polycephalous monsters: the Lernaean hydra; Orthrus, the two-headed dog that protected Geryon’s cattle; and Chimera, which had three heads, a lion, a goat and a serpent. And, like these relatives, Cerberus was, with few iconographic exceptions, polycephalic.

In the oldest description of Cerberus, Hesiod’s Theogony (c. VIII-VII BC), Cerberus had 50 heads, while Pindar (c. 522-c. 443 BC) gave him a hundred heads. However, later writers almost universally give it three heads. An exception is the Latin poet Horace, where he has only one, and a hundred serpent heads. Perhaps attempting to reconcile all these traditions, Apollodorus’s Cerberus had three serpent heads and the heads of «all kinds of serpents» on his back, while the Byzantine poet John Tzetzes (who probably based his account on Apollodorus) gives Cerberus fifty heads. , of which three are dog heads, and the rest are «heads of other beasts of all kinds.»

cerberus in art

In art, he is commonly shown with two (visible) heads, never more than three, and occasionally with only one. In one of the two oldest representations (c. 590-580 BC), a Corinthian cup from Argos, now lost, Cerberus shows a single normal dog’s head. The first appearance of the three-headed Cerberus occurs in a Laconian cup from the mid-6th century BC

Horace’s polycephalous Cerberus followed a long tradition in which Cerberus was part serpent. This was perhaps already hinted at in Hesiod’s Theogony, where Cerberus’s mother is the half-serpent Echidna and her father is the serpent-headed Typhon. In art, Cerberus is often shown as part serpent, as for example in the lost Corinthian cup showing serpents protruding from Cerberus’s body, while the mid-6th century BC Laconian cup gives him a serpent for a tail. In the literary record, the first clear indication of the serpentine nature of Cerberus comes from the rationalized account of Hecataeus of Miletus (fl. 500-494 BC), who turns Cerberus into a large venomous serpent.

Plato refers to the composite nature of Cerberus, and Euphorion of Chalcis (3rd century BC) describes Cerberus as having multiple serpentine tails and, possibly in connection with his serpentine nature, associates Cerberus with the creation of aconite. Virgil presents serpents writhing around Cerberus’s neck, and Ovid’s Cerberus has a venomous mouth, necks «vile with serpents,» and «hair woven from the deadly serpent,» while Seneca gives Cerberus a mane made up of serpents and a single snake tail

Weak points

It has two weak points; honey and music Incredible as it may seem, music tames the beasts and, therefore, also the goalkeeper, who has only been defeated twice. One of them was Orpheus who enchanted the cerberus with the music of his lyre, leaving him plunged into a sweet dream.

The second time it was Hercules who, with his enormous strength, managed to bend the animal and chain it, thus achieving one of the «twelve labors of Hercules».

Honey is the other weakness of the watchdog. The few who have managed to see the cerberus and have returned say that only with honey cakes can the fierce animal be placated. If a traveler does not carry a good supply of honey cakes, the gatekeeper will launch an attack and the mortal will be at the dog’s mercy for life.

Heracles and Cerberus

The last of Heracles’ twelve labors was to capture Cerberus. Some versions say that, to take Cerberus, Heracles simply asks the god Hades for permission, and Hades agrees on the condition that Heracles does not harm the dog. But in other versions, Heracles shoots an arrow at Hades. After this, in some versions Heracles fights against the dog and drags it out of Hades, passing through the Acherusian cave. In others, Heracles treats the fierce dog kindly, and the dog, being treated like this for the first time, meekly accompanies him outside.

other legends

Some of the people who have been revived by paramedics, in accidents and operations indicate having reached a huge door where at its entrance there was a three-headed dog guarding it… Could this be the same door to hell? . What do you think, would cerberus be the dog of the underworld? Write us in the comments.