AskDefine | Define Cerberus

Dictionary Definition

Cerberus n : (Greek mythology) 3-headed dog guarding the entrance to Hades; son of Typhon [syn: hellhound]

User Contributed Dictionary


Proper noun

  1. A genus of water snakes in the family Colubridae.



From (Kerberos)

Proper noun

  1. The three-headed dog who guards the entrance to Hades.
  2. A former constellation of the northern sky, near Hercules.



Extensive Definition

In Greek mythology, Cerberus or Kerberos (Greek Κέρβερος, Kérberos or Sürbürǔs, the daemon or ker of Erebos) was the hound of Hades, a monstrous three-headed dog with a snake for a tail and snakes down his back like a mane, whose analogs in other cultures are hellhounds. Other hell hounds included Orthus, his two-headed brother. Cerberus guarded the gate to Hades and ensured that spirits of the dead could enter, but none could exit (additionally, no living person was to come into Hades). Among his siblings are Chimera and the Hydra. He is the offspring of Echidna and Typhon. In Dante's Inferno, he is described as having a human head. This symbolizes the possibility of Cerberus being more human than animal.
Cerberus was overcome several times, with the aid of gods or supernatural talents:
  • Heracles' final labour was to capture Cerberus, which he did by wrestling it into submission.
  • Orpheus used his musical skills to lull Cerberus to sleep.
  • Hermes put him to sleep with water from the river Lethe.
  • In Roman mythology, the Sybil of Cumae lulled Cerberus to sleep with drugged honeycakes in order to permit Aeneas fuller entry to the underworld.
  • In a Roman tale, Psyche also lulled Cerberus to sleep with drugged honeycakes.
  • In The Inferno, Cerberus punishes the gluttons and is passed by Virgil and Dante due to Virgil throwing into one of his mouths some of the putrid earth found in the Third Circle.
In the Greek Oracle of the Dead at Cumae in southern Italy, the recently excavated subterranean shrine was found to contain giant chains fixed to the wall for three large dogs before the entrance to the shrine of Hades and Persephone. The three dogs would have represented Cerberus in this ancient temple. Today, it also appears in popular culture; for instance, Cerberus is the name of the "Smoke Monster" on the popular television show Lost.

Twelfth Labour of Heracles (or Hercules)

In the last of his Twelve Labours, Heracles was to capture Cerberus from Hades, the God of the dead and the ruler of the Underworld. After having been given the task, Heracles went to Eleusis to be initiated in the Eleusinian Mysteries so that he could learn how to enter and exit the underworld alive, and in passing absolve himself for killing centaurs. He found the entrance to the underworld at Tanaerum, and Athena and Hermes helped him to traverse the entrance in each direction. He passed Charon with Hermes's assistance and his own heavy and fierce frowning. Whilst in the underworld, Heracles freed Theseus, but the earth shook when he attempted to liberate Pirithous, so he had to leave him behind. They had been imprisoned by Hades, by magically binding them to a bench, because they had attempted to kidnap Persephone. The magic was so strong, that when Heracles pulled Theseus free, part of Theseus's thighs remained on the bench, explaining why his descendants had notably lean thighs. Heracles presented himself before the throne of Hades and Persephone and asked permission to take Cerberus, to which the gods agreed as long as Heracles did not harm the hound in any way. Some say Persephone gave her consent because Heracles was her own brother (both were children of Zeus). In any case, Heracles wrestled the dog into submission and dragged it out of Hades, passing through a cavern entrance in the Peloponnese. When he returned with Cerberus to the palace, Eurystheus, the man who had assigned the task to Heracles, was so afraid of the fearsome beast that he jumped into a pithos (large storage jar) to hide. From the spittle of the dog which fell upon earth, the first poisonous plants were born, including deadly aconite.


Gustave Doré (19th cent.)

External links

Cerberus in Bosnian: Kerber
Cerberus in Bulgarian: Цербер
Cerberus in Catalan: Cèrber
Cerberus in Cebuano: Cerbère
Cerberus in Czech: Kerberos
Cerberus in Danish: Kerberos
Cerberus in German: Kerberos (Mythologie)
Cerberus in Estonian: Kerberos
Cerberus in Modern Greek (1453-): Κέρβερος
Cerberus in Spanish: Cerbero
Cerberus in Esperanto: Kerbero
Cerberus in Basque: Zerbero
Cerberus in French: Cerbère
Cerberus in Galician: Cérbero
Cerberus in Korean: 케르베로스
Cerberus in Croatian: Kerber
Cerberus in Indonesian: Cerberus
Cerberus in Italian: Cerbero
Cerberus in Hebrew: קרברוס (מיתולוגיה)
Cerberus in Latin: Cerberus
Cerberus in Luxembourgish: Kerberos
Cerberus in Lithuanian: Cerberis
Cerberus in Hungarian: Kerberosz
Cerberus in Malay (macrolanguage): Cerberus
Cerberus in Dutch: Cerberus (mythologie)
Cerberus in Japanese: ケルベロス
Cerberus in Norwegian: Kerberos
Cerberus in Norwegian Nynorsk: Kerberos
Cerberus in Occitan (post 1500): Cerbèr
Cerberus in Polish: Cerber
Cerberus in Portuguese: Cérbero
Cerberus in Romanian: Cerber
Cerberus in Russian: Цербер
Cerberus in Albanian: Cerberi
Cerberus in Simple English: Cerberus
Cerberus in Slovak: Kerberos
Cerberus in Slovenian: Kerber
Cerberus in Serbian: Кербер
Cerberus in Serbo-Croatian: Kerber
Cerberus in Finnish: Kerberos
Cerberus in Swedish: Kerberos
Cerberus in Thai: เซอร์เบอรัส
Cerberus in Turkish: Kerberos (mitoloji)
Cerberus in Ukrainian: Цербер
Cerberus in Chinese: 刻耳柏洛斯

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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