Mythman's Beasts and Creatures

or KERBEROS (Greek form: Κέρβερος)

Cerberus, Hellhound


Hercules and Cerberus

continued from page one

It should be noted that during the furious struggle between Hercules and Cerberus, the three headed hound barked and snarled furiously as it tried to bite and overwhelm the world's strongest man.

As the dog snarled, saliva dripped from its mouth and hit the ground, giving life to a poisonous plant, called aconite because it flourishes on bare rocks.

The deadly plant spawned by Cerberus is also known as "Hecateis", because the goddess of the Crossroads, mysterious Hecate, was the first to use it.

The witch Medea tried to poison the Greek hero Theseus with aconite, and the witches of Thessaly used it to prepare the magical ointment which enabled them to fly. In medieval times, French witches concocted a similar ointment.

Its main ingredients were aconite, abortificient parsley, bat's blook to assist night vision, belladonna, hemlock and cowbane. The modern name for aconite is wolfs bane.

In the classic tale called the Aeneid, the Trojan hero, Aeneas descends deep withinTartarus to visit his father Anchises. He is escorted by the Sybil of Cumae, a seer of Apollo.

Upon encountering 'huge Cerberus barking from his triple jaws, stretched at his enormous length in a den that fronts the gate,' she throws him a sweet cake seasoned with honey and poppy seeds.

Now Cerberus, 'his neck bristling with horrid snakes, opening his three mouths in the mad rage of hunger, snatches the offered morsel, and spreads on the ground, relaxes his enormous limbs, lies now extended at the vast length over all the cave. Aeneas, now that hell's keeper is buried in sleep, seizes the passage and swiftly over-passes the bank of that flood whence there is no return.'

In another myth, the renowned minstrel called Orpheus makes the same journey to the Underworld to bring back his lover, the beautiful Eurydice.

Orpheus manages to soothe Cerberus with the sweet melodies of his lyre, which is a type of harp. This allowed Orpheus to enter the Underworld, one of the few to do so while still alive.

Ancient Greeks and Romans as a tradition and ritual placed a coin and a small cake in the hands of their deceased. The coin was meant as payment for Charon who ferried the souls across the river Styx, while the cake helped to pacify Cerberus.

This custom gave rise to the expression 'to give a sop to Cerberus,' meaning to give a bribe or to quiet a troublesome adversary.

The reason some writers attributed so many heads to Cerberus may be because they had included the heads on its serpentine mane.

In the works of Homer the dog is only named as the "the hound of Hades." Hesiod is the first author to call it "Kerberos" (Cerberus), and gives it fifty heads.

"Typhon was joined in love to her [Echidna]
And next again she bore the unspeakable,
unmanageable Kerberos (Cerberus),
the savage, the bronze-barking dog of Hades,
fifty-headed, and powerful, and without pity."

Hesiod, Theogony


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