Cerberus by MattGrommes via Flickr

In ancient Greek and Roman myth Cerberus is a giant three-headed dog and Lord of Death who guards the gates to and from the underworld. As such, he prevents those who’ve crossed the River Styx¹ from making a return journey.

Cerberus was captured and chained by Hercules and brought to a higher region as one of the latter’s Twelve Labors. And Orpheus managed to outwit Cerberus and escape the bonds of hell by soothing the wretched dog to sleep with the music of his lyre.

He is depicted on ancient Greek coins, cameos, vases, paintings and temple sculptures. And he figures prominently in classical Western literature. More recently, he appears as a character in video games.

¹ Styx is the boundary between the world of the living and the underworld (where souls are said to go in the afterlife). Sometimes ancient mourners placed a coin in the mouth of the deceased to pay the ferryman (named as Charon in the 6th century)  who’d take the soul across the river. See The Oxford Classical Dictionary, 1999, p. 312, and Garland, Robert. “Underworld and Afterlife.” In The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome, Oxford University Press. (, n.d.). Retrieved 15 Nov. 2012, from http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780195170726.001.0001/acref-9780195170726-e-1300

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