Part 252: CerberusPERSONA MYTHOLOGY UPDATE
Let's talk about Cerberus.
Cerberus is the three-headed watchdog of the Underworld. It is often depicted as having a mane of snakes and a snake for a tail; Hesiod, who wrote the Theogeny, also describes him as having fifty heads instead of the usual three. The dog is one of the many monstrous offspring of the giant Tuphon and the half-serpent, half-woman Ekhidna. All of its siblings were famous monsters killed by Greek heroes (usually Herakles): Orthros the two-headed dog, the Hydra, the Khimaira, the Nemean Lion, Ladon, and the Sphinx. While Cerberus is never killed, its generally plays a similar role to its siblings in mythology as a ferocious monster that the heroes must overcome in order to achieve their goal.
The most famous story featuring Cerberus comes from Herakles's twelve labors. The goddess Hera despised Herakles as one of Zeus's many, many bastards, and drove him insane. During his madness, he slaughtered his children and wife. Needless to say, as soon as he recovered his senses Herakles regretted his crimes and asked the Oracle of Delphi how he could atone for his actions. The Oracle ordered him to complete ten tasks given to him by King Eurustheus of Tyrins, whom Herakles despised. Eurustheus discounted two of the original ten labors because Herakles received assistance with them and order Herakles to perform two more. The last one, considered the most dangerous and difficult, was to bring Cerberus back to Tyrins alive.
After a number of adventures, Herakles managed to get an audience with Haides, god of the Underworld. Haides agreed to let Herakles take Cerberus to the land of the living on the condition that he subdue the dog without any weapon. Herakles tackled Cerberus, seized two of its throats, and throttled the poor animal until it gave in. He then leashed it with a chain and brought it to the surface.
Back in Tyrins, Eurustheus was feeling pretty smug, thinking that Herakles would die when he tried to capture Cerberus. A loud barking like the toll of a bronze bell informed him otherwise. Frightened out of his wits, Eurustheus leapt into a large storage jar to hide as Herakles brought the dog into his throne room. From there he begged Herakles to return the dog to the Underworld, promising to release him from his labors. Herakles unleashed Cerberus who promptly ran home.
As far as I know, Herakles is the only hero to overcome Cerberus in a straight battle. All other heroes had to pacify it by other ways. Orpheus used his music to lull Cerberus to sleep, while Aeneas fed it a drugged honey cake.