Mythman's Beasts and Creatures

or KERBEROS (Greek form: Κέρβερος)

Cerberus, Hellhound


Hercules and Cerberus
by Boris Vallejo


Cerberus was a multi-headed dog, or "hellhound", as he was called. He had a serpent's tail, a mane of snakes, and a lion's claws. His role was to guard the entrance of the Underworld, the realm of Hades, in order to prevent the dead from escaping and the living from entering without his master's permission.

Most sources attribute three heads to Cerberus, although some ancient writers have endowed him with one, two, fifty heads (Hesiod) and as many as one hundred (Horace). The center head was in the shape of a lion, while the other two were in the shape of a dog and a wolf, respectively.

Cerberus' father was Typhon, a huge dragon-like monster so horrible that even the Olympian gods ran and hid from him when he first appeared, even taking on the shape of animals to escape. It took the goddess Athena to shame and goad Zeus into confronting Typhon, and after an epic battle, burying him under Mount Aetna.

Cerberus' mother, Echidna, had the head and torso of a beautiful woman, though the lower part of her body was that of a speckled serpent. She dwelled in a cave where she ate men raw. With her husband Typhon she raised a monstrous brood which included the Hydra, the Chimaera, Orthrus the two headed hellhound, and, according to some sources, the Sphinx, as well as Cerberus.

The most common depiction of Cerberus in Greek mythology and art is as having three heads. His 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.

Cerberus' three heads are said to have an appetite only for live meat and thus allow only the spirits of the dead to freely enter the underworld, but none are permitted to leave. There were only a few notable exceptions, as we will see.

Cerberus was always employed as Hades' loyal watchdog, and guarded the gates that granted access and exit to the underworld. You can consider him as the watchdog of hell.

There he lay, snarling and vicious, chained to the entrance gates of Acheron, harassing the spirits entering Hades and devouring those that tried to escape. His Egyptian incarnation was Anubis, the dog that guarded the tombs and conducted the souls to the underworld.

The final and most difficult of Heracles' (Hercules') twelve labors was to bring Cerberus up to the earth from the Underworl. Hercules was told by the lord of the Underworld, Hades, that he could take Cerberus if he could do so without using weapons.

Hades was certain that Hercules would fail in this task, hence he did not worry about losing his watchdog to the hero.

When Hercules found Cerberus on the shore of Acheron, he began to wrestle with the huge monster. Hercules was the world's strongest man, and it took all his power to subdue Cerberus.

He seized hold of the beast's throat and squeezed with all his might. Hercules wasn't trying to kill the dog, just knock him out so he could bring him to King Eurystheus, who had commanded the deed, and thus complete his labor.

Cerberus' barbed and poisonous tail whipped the air but, unable to pierce the lion pelt worn by the Greek, the monster soon grew weary, and having ran out of breath by the strongman's chokehold, it finally realized it was beated and yielded to Hercules.

Heracles proceeded to sling the beast over his back, dragging it out of the Underworld through a cavern entrance in the region of the Peloponnese. He carried it King Eurystheus, who was a real sissy. The king was so frightened of the beast that he jumped into a subterranean jar he had constructed and hid.

He shouted orders through the jar for Hercules to immediately return Cerberus to his home in the Underworld, and promised Hercules that if he obeyed, Eurystheus would release him from his labors.

Cerberus concludes on page two!


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