Cerberus, often known as Cerberus, was a monstrous-looking dog with three heads and a snake’s tail. In Greek mythology this fierce looking creature fulfilled a very specific function : to protect the gates of the underworld or realm of Hades.
In this way, no one could enter Hades without permission and not even leave there, as Cerberus was chained between the doors.
Cerberus was one of the sons of a monstrous marine nymph named Echidna and a monster- shaped god named Typhon. Cerberus is the brother of other equally sinister beings, such as the Hydra of Lerna, the Orthro and the Chimera.
In art history he is usually depicted with blood-colored eyes, a fierce look and a strong black color.
Cerberus in the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice
In Greek mythology Orpheus was the son of Apollo and Calliope. Orpheus married a beautiful nymph named Eurydice. One day Eurydice accidentally stepped on a poisonous snake while fleeing from one of Apollo’s sons who intended to possess it. She died and Orpheus was deeply distressed.
To rescue his beloved from the underworld he decided to go to the underworld. There he met Cerberus and to calm the fierce three-headed dog he began to play a beautiful melody on his lyre until he managed to make the beast sleep in peace. With this ingenious trick Orpheus can reach his beloved and save her.
Moved by the love of Orpheus, the gods allowed them to leave together, but imposed a condition: Eurydice would have to go after Orpheus by way of light and could not look back to observe her.
Orpheus could not resist the temptation and looked back to see if his beloved wife was following him. At that moment Eurydice disappeared forever and Orpheus was deeply disconsolate until the end of his days, with only the company of his lyre and some animals that approached to listen to his music.
Cerberus and the Twelve Works of Heracles
The god Zeus impersonated Alcmene’s husband and left her pregnant. Out of this encounter was born Heracles (also known as Hercules in Roman mythology).
Hera, the true wife of Zeus, felt humiliated by her husband’s infidelity and directed her anger at Heracles.
The vengeful Hera caused Heracles to face all sorts of tests, the well-known Twelve Labors of Hercules. The last of them was precisely to face the three-headed dog that guarded the gates of the underworld.
Despite his strength, Cerberus was defeated by the immense strength of Heracles.