The most dangerous labor [of Hercules] of all was the twelfth and final one. Eurystheus ordered Hercules to go to the Underworld and kidnap the beast called Cerberus (or Kerberos). Eurystheus must have been sure Hercules would never succeed at this impossible task!The ancient Greeks believed that after a person died, his or her spirit went to the world below and dwelled for eternity in the depths of the earth. The Underworld was the kingdom of Hades, also called Pluto, and his wife, Persephone. Depending on how a person lived his or her life, they might or might not experience never-ending punishment in Hades. All souls, whether good or bad, were destined for the kingdom of Hades.
Cerberus was a vicious beast that guarded the entrance to Hades and kept the living from entering the world of the dead. According to Apollodorus, Cerberus was a strange mixture of creatures: he had three heads of wild dogs, a dragon or serpent for a tail, and heads of snakes all over his back. Hesiod, though, says that Cerberus had fifty heads and devoured raw flesh.[...]A weaponless Hercules set off to find Cerberus. Near the gates of Acheron, one of the five rivers of the Underworld, Hercules encountered Cerberus. Undaunted, the hero threw his strong arms around the beast, perhaps grasping all three heads at once, and wrestled Cerberus into submission. The dragon in the tail of the fierce flesh-eating guard dog bit Hercules, but that did not stop him. Cerberus had to submit to the force of the hero, and Hercules brought Cerberus to Eurystheus. Unlike other monsters that crossed the path of the legendary hero, Cerberus was returned safely to Hades, where he resumed guarding the gateway to the Underworld. Presumably, Hercules inflicted no lasting damage on Cerberus, except, of course, the wound to his pride!
Stop that snarling. Lots of hellhounds are neutered.
[Photograph by Maria Daniels and courtesy of the Musée du Louvre]
Ceberus made a vivid impression on me when I read Edith Hamilton's Mythology as a high school freshman. The monster mutt, with the anti-Holy Trinity heads, seemed fearsome -- ferocious far beyond the CGI undead hounds of Resident Evil.
Later, when I was in graduate school, I had a friend who had a menacing black Doberman named Cerberus. My friend once housesat for me while I went on vacation, but Cerberus, who had a blood lust for my cat, threatened to Hun-trash my apartment. My friend's solution to keep the peace? He confined Cerberus in a car for a week -- my car! Surveying the canine wasteland upon my return, I immediately made two decisions:
1) I would have one less friend, and
2) I would most definitely need a new car.
I owned a baby blue 1963 Ford Galaxie at the time. A milk truck had sideswiped it a year before while it was innocently parked on the street. One side was badly mangled, and only two of four doors worked, but it was still drivable. But its week-long doghouse date with Cerberus did it in. Unlike Hercules, my car wasn't a child of the gods and could not wrestle the beast into compliance.
I'm tellin' ya, Herc, hell is Club Med compared to that blogger dude's car...
[Illustration seen on Triplemind.com]
Wouldn't Scooby Doo Where Are You have been more dramatic with Cerberus playing the lead? Cerby-Doo. Shaggy makes his first dumbass remark, and, wham, Cerby bites his head off. Each visceral episode ends with:
I would have gotten into hell, too, if it hadn't for that meddling devil dog...