Updated: Feb 10
Artwork by InkHyaena (Deviantart)
“Beware of dog” is a common sign in the yards of many high fenced, tightly hedged abodes across the world, as one of the chief reasons we have dogs as pets today is to help guard us. Since the beginning of domestication, dogs were turned from their wild origins to “man’s best friend.”
Let’s be honest, better to be man’s friend than to be man’s favorite food, like the unfortunate pig, cow, and chicken. But if it means you have to be turned from a wolf to a pug over centuries of experimental in-breeding, I’m not sure which is truly worse. Either way, the Greek underworld is said to be home to one dog so infamous that its legend has survived millennia; a guard dog of such terrifying and formidable repute that few would chance seeing it, much less cross it.
Cerberus, guardian of the underworld, Hound of Hades, and sibling to many of the most fearsome monsters in Grecian myth, is said to have multiple heads. Three by most accounts, but up to a hundred, according to the ancient Greek poet Pindar (worldhistory.com). For our purposes, we will stick with the most common, a three-headed dog, which had a cameo in the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. Though I do rather like the idea that it also has a snake head for a tail, and there is a solid founding for that in Cerberus’ mythos.
Hesiod’s Theogony, from which many accounts of these ancient monsters are drawn, states that Cerberus has fifty heads, many being those of snakes writhing on its back. This would make sense, seeing as Cerberus is brother to the Chimera and the Hydra, both of which have multiple heads and serpent-like aspects. Further explanation for the snake heads can be derived from Cerberus’ lineage. He is said to be the offspring of Typhoeus, a many-headed monster cast down by Zeus and Echidna—half serpent, half woman.
So yeah, let’s say our Cerberus has three massive dog heads and a snake for its tail. I think that’s pretty dope.
Now, in a war-torn country, like Greece, we have to assume men and women are being sent to the underworld on a fairly regular basis, and Greece is full of famed and renowned warriors. In all of Greek mythology, Cerberus is only bested or tricked three times. He is beaten by Hercules, which is no great surprise, as Hercules bests everything. Cerberus is charmed to sleep by Orpheus, who plays music for him. In another myth, Cerberus is distracted by Sybil, who gives him a delicious honey cake. Could happen to anyone, right?
Aside from three of Greco-Roman mythology’s most renowned heroes, Cerberus has never escaped or defeated and his mighty jaws hold tight the binds of Hades, death, and the underworld.
In the old proverb ‘jump from the frying pan into the fire’, Cerberus represents the proverbial flame.
Whatever torments might await you in the underworld, if you try to escape, you face the mighty jaws and paws of this fearsome and frightening hound. With eyes of fire, jaws of steel, and a venomous viper for a tail, Cerberus will tear any escapee or intruder limb from limb and devour their soul without mercy or mirth. This creature is utterly loyal to its duty, steadfast and vigilant in its watch, and uncompromising to any who would challenge it.
So, if the Grecian underworld is where you are bound upon death, maybe suggest to your family not only place coins over your eyes for the crossing of Styx but see if they will bury you with an impeccably baked honey cake as well. Even with the cake, I would not try escaping, as that will lead to the utter destruction of your soul. But it couldn’t hurt to be in Cerberus’ good graces, right? Maybe he’ll even let you pet him. That’d be kinda neat.
What do you think? Would you pet Cerberus and feed him a honey cake? Would you run screaming at the mere sight of this terrible creature? Is he a good boy, as all dogs are, and simply misunderstood?
Let me know what you think in the comments or via the Contact Me page here on the website, see you next time! Thank you for being a reader :)