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Cerberus, The Dog of Hades The History of an Idea   By: (1855-1928)

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First Page:

TRANSCRIBER'S NOTES: The original text uses macrons (a letter with a bar over it) in some of the names. These have been replaced with [=x] (where x is the original letter). There is Greek in this text which has been transliterated into Arabic letters.


Explanation of Frontispiece

The picture is reproduced from Baumeister's Denkmäler des klassichen Alterthums , volume I., figure 730 (text on p. 663). It is on a vase and describes one of the twelve heroic deeds of Herakles. The latter, holding aloft his club, drags two headed Cerberus out of Hades by a chain drawn through the jaw of one of his heads. He is just about to pass Cerberus through a portal indicated by an Ionic pillar. To the right Persephone, stepping out of her palace, seems to forbid the rape. Herakles in his turn seems to threaten the goddess, while Hermes, to the left, holds a protecting or restraining arm over him. Athene, with averted face, ready to depart with her protégé, stands in front of four horses hitched to her chariot. Upon her shield the eagle augurs the success of the entire undertaking.



The History of an Idea


MAURICE BLOOMFIELD Professor of Sanskrit and Comparative Philology Johns Hopkins University

CHICAGO The Open Court Publishing Company



To the Memory of F. Max Müller


Hermes, the guide of the dead, brings to Pluto's kingdom their psyches, "that gibber like bats, as they fare down the dank ways, past the streams of Okeanos, past the gates of the sun and the land of dreams, to the meadow of asphodel in the dark realm of Hades, where dwell the souls, the phantoms of men outworn." So begins the twenty fourth book of the Odyssey . Later poets have Charon, a grim boatsman, receive the dead at the River of Woe; he ferries them across, provided the passage money has been placed in their mouths, and their bodies have been duly buried in the world above. Otherwise they are left to gibber on the hither bank. Pluto's house, wide gated, thronged with guests, has a janitor Kerberos, sometimes friendly, sometimes snarling when new guests arrive, but always hostile to those who would depart. Honey cakes are provided for them that are about to go to Hades the sop to Cerberus. This dog, nameless and undescribed, Homer mentions simply as the dog of Hades, whom Herakles, as the last and chief test of his strength, snatched from the horrible house of Hades.[1] First Hesiod and next Stesichorus discover his name to be Kerberos. The latter seems to have composed a poem on the dog. Hesiod[2] mentions not only the name but also the genealogy of Kerberos. Of Typhaon and Echidna he was born, the irresistible and ineffable flesh devourer, the voracious, brazen voiced, fifty headed dog of hell.

Plato in the Republic refers to the composite nature of Kerberos.[3] Not until Apollodorus (2. 5. 12. 1. ff.), in the second century B. C., comes the familiar description: Kerberos now has three dog heads, a dragon tail, and his back is covered with the heads of serpents. But his plural heads must have been familiarly assumed by the Greeks; this will appear from the evidence of their sculptures and vase paintings.

CERBERUS IN CLASSIC ART... Continue reading book >>

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