The three-headed dog guards the gate of Hades and has an appetite for live meat—perfect for allowing the spirits of the dead to enter while keeping people out. Hercules’ twelfth labor was to capture Cerberus alive without using any weapons.
Cerberus is pronounced with a soft C in English but the ancient Greek and Latin pronounced it with a K. His three heads represent past, present and future…or birth, youth and old age.
His parents were Echidna, a human/serpent hybrid, and Typhon, a fire-breathing giant. I don’t know why they had puppies for children, although Cerberus obviously inherited his mane of serpents from his mother.
Hercules had to learn the Eleusinian Mysteries first, in order to enter the underworld
while still alive, and adopted a fierce scowl to bully Charon into ferrying him across the River Styx. Athena and Hermes assisted Hercules both in and out of the underworld, as well. I suppose Hera couldn’t do anything about divine interference except gnash her teeth.
When Hercules found Hades, he asked permission to take Cerberus to the surface. Hades agreed and Hercules overpowered the beast, hefting Cerberus over his shoulder.
Once more, Eurystheus dove into his jar (pithos) and cowered in terror after seeing the great dog. He begged Hercules to return the beast to the underworld in exchange for releasing him from his labors.
As a reward for finishing his tasks, father Zeus gave Hercules immortality—but only after Hercules died. Hera forgave him—shouldn’t it have been the other way around?—and gifted Hercules with a bride…her daughter Hebe.
And they all lived happily ever after as a dysfunctional family.
This is the end of my series on Hercules but don’t worry, I’ll be back next Friday with a new victim!
Don’t forget about the What’s Your Chocolate? Blog hop on September 10th.