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A twelfth labour imposed on Hercules was to bring Cerberus from Hades.1 Now this Cerberus had three heads of dogs, the tail of a dragon, and on his back the heads of all sorts of snakes. When Hercules was about to depart to fetch him, he went to Eumolpus at Eleusis, wishing to be initiated. However it was not then lawful for foreigners to be initiated: since he proposed to be initiated as the adoptive son of Pylius. But not being able to see the mysteries because he had not been cleansed of the slaughter of the centaurs, he was cleansed by Eumolpus and then initiated.2 And having come to Taenarum in Laconia, where is the mouth of the descent to Hades, he descended through it.3 But when the souls saw him, they fled, save Meleager and the Gorgon Medusa. And Hercules drew his sword against the Gorgon, as if she were alive, but he learned from Hermes that she was an empty phantom.4 And being come near to the gates of Hades he found Theseus and Pirithous,5 him who wooed Persephone in wedlock and was therefore bound fast. And when they beheld Hercules, they stretched out their hands as if they should be raised from the dead by his might. And Theseus, indeed, he took by the hand and raised up, but when he would have brought up Pirithous, the earth quaked and he let go. And he rolled away also the stone of Ascalaphus.6 And wishing to provide the souls with blood, he slaughtered one of the kine of Hades. But Menoetes, son of Ceuthonymus, who tended the king, challenged Hercules to wrestle, and, being seized round the middle, had his ribs broken;7 howbeit, he was let off at the request of Persephone. When Hercules asked Pluto for Cerberus, Pluto ordered him to take the animal provided he mastered him without the use of the weapons which he carried. Hercules found him at the gates of Acheron, and, cased in his cuirass and covered by the lion's skin, he flung his arms round the head of the brute, and though the dragon in its tail bit him, he never relaxed his grip and pressure till it yielded.8 So he carried it off and ascended through Troezen.9 But Demeter turned Ascalaphus into a short-eared owl,10 and Hercules, after showing Cerberus to Eurystheus, carried him back to Hades.

1 As to Herakles and Cerberus, see Hom. Il. 8.366ff.; Hom. Od. 11.623ff.; Bacch. 5.56ff., ed. Jebb; Eur. Herc. 23ff.; Eur. Her. 1277ff.; Diod. 4.25.1, Diod. 4.26.1; Paus. 2.31.6; Paus. 2.35.10; Paus. 3.18.13; Paus. 3.25.5ff.; Paus. 5.26.7; Paus. 9.34.5; Tzetzes, Chiliades ii.388-405 (who seems to follow Apollodorus); Scholiast on Hom. Il. viii.368; Ov. Met. 7.410ff.; Hyginus, Fab. 31; Seneca, Agamemnon 859ff.; Eur. Herc. 50ff.; Scriptores rerum mythicarum Latini, ed. Bode, i. p. 20 (First Vatican Mythographer 57). Ancient writers differ as to the number of Cerberus's heads. Hesiod assigned him fifty (Hes. Th. 311ff.); Pindar raised the number to a hundred (Scholiast on Hom. Il. viii.368), a liberal estimate which was accepted by Tzetzes in one place (Tzetzes, Scholiast on Lycophron 699) and by Horace in another (Hor. Carm. 2.13.34). Others reduced the number to three. See Soph. Trach. 1098; Eur. Herc. 24; Eur. Herc. 1277; Paus. 3.25.6; Hor. Carm. 2.19.29ff., iii.11.17ff.; Verg. G. 4.483, Aen. vi.417ff.; Ov. Met. 4.451ff.; Hyginus, Fab. 151; Seneca, Agamemnon 62; Seneca, Herakles Furens 783ff. Apollodorus apparently seeks to reconcile these contradictions, and he is followed as usual by Tzetzes (Tzetzes, Chiliades ii.390ff.), who, however, at the same time speaks of Cerberus as fifty-headed. The whole of the present passage of Apollodorus, from the description of Cerberus down to Herakles's slaughter of one of the kine of Hades, is quoted, with a few small variations, by a Scholiast on Hom. Il. viii.368. See Dindorf's edition of the Scholia, vol. i. p. 287. The quotation is omitted by Bekker in his edition of the Scholia p. 233.

2 As to the initiation of Herakles at Eleusis, compare Diod. 4.25.1; Tzetzes, Chiliades ii.394. According to Diodorus, the rites were performed on this occasion by Musaeus, son of Orpheus. Elsewhere (Tzetzes, Chiliades iv.14.3) the same writer says that Demeter instituted the lesser Eleusinian mysteries in honour of Herakles for the purpose of purifying him after his slaughter of the centaurs. The statement that Pylius acted as adoptive father to Herakles at his initiation is repeated by Plut. Thes. 33, who mentions that before Castor and Pollux were initiated at Athens they were in like manner adopted by Aphidnus. Herodotus says (Hdt. 8.65) that any Greek who pleased might be initiated at Eleusis. The initiation of Herakles is represented in ancient reliefs. See A. B. Cook, Zeus, i.425ff.

3 Compare Eur. Herc. 23ff.; Paus. 3.25.5; Seneca, Herakles Furens 807ff. Sophocles seems to have written a Satyric drama on the descent of Herakles into the infernal regions at Taenarum. See The Fragments of Sophocles, ed. A. C. Pearson, vol. i. pp. 167ff. According to another account, Herakles descended, not at Taenarum but at the Acherusian Chersonese, near Heraclea Pontica on the Black Sea. The marks of the descent were there pointed out to a great depth. See Xen. Ana. 6.2.2.

4 So Bacch. 5.71ff., ed. Jebb represents Herakles in Hades drawing his bow against the ghost of Meleager in shining armour, who reminds the hero that there is nothing to fear from the souls of the dead; so, too, Verg. A. 6.290ff. describes Aeneas in Hades drawing his sword on the Gorgons and Harpies, till the Sibyl tells him that they are mere flitting empty shades. Apollodorus more correctly speaks of the ghost of only one Gorgon (Medusa), because of the three Gorgons she alone was mortal. See Apollod. 2.4.2. Compare Hom. Od. 11.634ff.

5 On Theseus and Pirithous in hell, see Apollod. E.1.23ff.; Hom. Od. 1.631; Eur. Herc. 619; Ap. Rhod., Argon. i.101ff., with the Scholiast on 101; Diod. 4.26.1, Diod. 4.63.4ff.; Paus. 1.17.4; Paus. 9.31.5; Paus. 10.29.9; Apostolius, Cent. iii.36; Suidas, s.v. λίσποι;Scholiast on Aristoph. Kn. 1368; Verg. A. 6.392ff., 617ff.; Hor. Carm. 3.4.79ff., iv.7.27ff.; Hyginus, Fab. 79; Aulus Gellius x.16.13; Serv. Verg. A. 6.617; Scriptores rerum mythicarum Latini, ed. Bode, i. p. 18 (First Vatican Mythographer 48). The general opinion seems to have been that Herakles rescued Theseus, but that he could not save Pirithous. Others, however, alleged that he brought up both from the dead (Hyginus, Fab. 79); others again affirmed that he brought up neither (Diod. 4.63.5). A dull rationalistic version of the romantic story converted Hades into a king of the Molossians or Thesprotians, named Aidoneus, who had a wife Persephone, a daughter Cora, and a dog Cerberus, which he set to worry his daughter's suitors, promising to give her in marriage to him who could master the ferocious animal. Discovering that Theseus and Pirithous were come not to woo but to steal his daughter, he arrested them. The dog made short work of Pirithous, but Theseus was kept in durance till the king consented to release him at the intercession of Herakles. See Plut. Thes. 31.4-35.1ff.; Ael., Var. Hist. iv.5; Paus. 1.17.4, Paus. 1.18.4, Paus. 2.22.6, Paus. 3.18.5; Tzetzes, Chiliades ii.406ff.

6 See Apollod. 1.5.3.

7 Compare Tzetzes, Chiliades ii.396ff., who calls the herdsman Menoetius.

8 Literally, “till he persuaded (it).”

9 Compare Paus. 2.31.2. According to others, the ascent of Herakles with Cerberus took place at HermionePaus. 2.35.10) or on Mount Laphystius in BoeotiaPaus. 9.34.5).

10 Compare Ov. Met. 5.538ff. As to the short-eared owl (ὦτος), see D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson, Glossary of Greek Birds, pp. 200ff.

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