The three-headed, serpent-tailed dog Cerberus was the offspring of Echidna
. (In Greek mythology
, parents didn't necessarily resemble their offspring.) Plato Republic 588
likens Cerberus to chimeras: "'One of those natures that the ancient fables tell of,' said I, 'as that of the Chimaera or Scylla or Cerberus, and the numerous other examples that are told of many forms grown together in one.'" Describing the hound, likewise, as a chimera, Apollodorus 2.V.12.I
writes: "Now this Cerberus had three heads of dogs, the tail of a dragon, and on his back the heads of all sorts of snakes."
In one of the main sources on Greek mythological figures, Hesiod
, Cerberus had not 3, but 50 heads. Some artists have portrayed the beast with two heads. The point was, he had more than one threatening, toothy set of jaws, although by the time of the Roman poets, the number seems to have been fixed at 3 [Cerberus, The Dog of Hades
, by Maurice Bloomfield. (1905)].
Cerberus was a fierce, pitiless, honey cakes and flesh-eating Underworld watchdog, stationed by the River Styx, from which post he would keep the living from entering the land of the dead. Even the gods feared Cerberus, but Hercules (Heracles), for his 12th Labor, had to kidnap the three-headed dog and bring him back to the world of the living to Hercules' taskmaster, King Eurystheus. Vergil included in his Aeneid a trip to the Underworld, in which it was necessary for the Roman hero, Aeneas, to get past Cerberus. In Book VI of the Aeneid, the Sibyl threw tranquilizers to each of the three heads of Cerberus so Aeneas could pass in safety.
Orpheus and Psyche were two other mortals who managed to get by Cerberus.
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Also Known As: Hell Hound, Hound of Hades
Alternate Spellings: Cerberos, Kerberos
Fluffy, the 3-headed pet dog of Hagrid, who guarded the Sorcerer's Stone, in Harry Potter, is based on Cerberus.