the three-headed dog that guarded the entrance of the Underworld
A multi-headed dog, or "hellhound", Cerberus guards the gates of the Underworld to prevent those who have crossed the river Styx from ever escaping.
Cerberus was the guardian of the Greek Underworld, and a faithful servant of Hades (the god who ruled that gloomy realm). He was represented as a grotesque dog who had three heads (although the poet Hesiod claims that Cerberus had fifty heads - quite an extravagant number), all of which snarled at those foolish enough to attempt to leave the Underworld; the dog also had the tail of a serpent.
According to legend, Cerberus was the result of the union of Echidna and Typhon, two beings that are best described as somewhat monstrous themselves. Additionally, he was the brother to both the Hydra and the Chimera, which further emphasizes his monstrous aspect.
Cerberus is featured in several mythological stories in his role as the watchdog of Hades. Perhaps the best known involves the vigorous hero Herakles (or Hercules, if you prefer the more familiar Latinized version). Herakles underwent a series of Twelve Labors, one of which was to capture the fierce canine guardian and parade him around the Greek city of Mycenae for a bit, and then return the dog to Hades.
This unbelievable stunt was in due course accomplished by the hero, although one would imagine that Cerberus did not enjoy it in the least.
Another tale depicts the poet and singer Orpheus charming Cerberus by the power of his song, which emphasizes Orpheus's magical gifts of enchantment (indeed, Cerberus was notorious for not allowing mortals who were still alive to enter the Underworld, with the exception of a handful of mythological characters).
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