Beware of the dog. He guards the entrance to the Greek Underworld and no-one can enter or leave without getting past him. Not that many particularly wish to enter the land of the dead.
Another TYPHON and ECHIDNA production (like his brother ORTHRUS), CERBERUS belongs to HADES and has the disposition of a pit-bull rottweiler in a butcher’s shop. Eyes: clear, bright and vicious. Tongue: a healthy red and very slobbery. Claws: highly polished. Coat: sleek, glossy and reptilian. Tail: poisoned and barbarous. Teeth: er, let’s not go into too much detail here.
Only HERACLES ever managed to take the Hell Hound for walkies. In fact only three other beings who weren’t dead managed to get past him at all. PSYCHE charmed him with her beauty and a doggie choc. The SIBYL-OF-CUMAE gave him a cake containing a funny substance, and ORPHEUS lulled him to sleep with his lyre.
The Labors of Heracles
Episode 12: The Capture of Cerberus
From the HESPERIDES to HADES, and for his final mission HERACLES was told to bring back the Hound of Hell — alive!
To avoid any long stay complications, which is always a hazard with Underworld visits, first he went through a lot of purification rituals. Then ATHENA and HERMES guided him as far as the River STYX. When he saw monsters like MEDUSA on the other side he had to be restrained from shooting arrows at them. "They are only phantoms now," HERMES informed him, "you can’t harm them, or they you." So they indulged in some friendly chit-chat instead.
CHARON the boatman took one terrified look at HERACLES and decided not to argue the toss. He even waived his usual fee as he ferried him over in a frenzy of fear.
Once across, HERACLES strode to the Gates of Tartarus and found various old friends trussed up in acute discomfort. His attempts to free them were not too successful, but he did manage to roll a rock of Ascalaphus. Spotting a herd of cattle, he thought a sacrifice to gratify the ghosts might be a good thing. A hellish herdsman was not too happy about this, and a wrestling match ensued.
Herc was just about to crush the ribs of the herdsman when PERSEPHONE appeared. She pleaded for the life of her servant. "Only in return for CERBERUS," demanded our Hero. HADES, attracted by the rumpus, appeared in a pleasantly compliant mood. "Be my guest. Take our dog for a walk by all means, only you must not use any weapons against him."
Chained to the gates was the object of the quest. CERBERUS, Hell’s own watchdog. Having his protective lionskin courtesy of the NEMEAN-LION, HERACLES had no trouble taking the dog in hand. Or rather both hands. He squeezed its three necks until it stopped slavering poison and lashing its tail, and became meekly compliant.
With the dog on a chain it was back to the upper-world at a furious pace. CERBERUS, never having seen daylight before, was violently sick. From his black bile grew the first Aconite plant. On arrival at Mycenae, King EURYSTHEUS was, as usual, terrified. Even though he was in the midst of a feast, he turned and fled.
The Labors were well and truly at an end. Nobody wanted CERBERUS so HERACLES let it go. It ran whining all the way back to Hell, only stopping for a pee now and then, creating barren patches on which nothing will ever grow.
To see what happened after the Labors, return to the entry on HERACLES...