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CERBERUS, THE DOG OF HADES, The History of an Idea
     

CERBERUS, THE DOG OF HADES, The History of an Idea

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by MAURICE BLOOMFIELD
 

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CERBERUS, THE DOG OF HADES

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

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CERBERUS, THE DOG OF HADES

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[Pg 2] 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. First Hesiod and next Stesichorus discover his name to be Kerberos. The latter seems to have composed a poem on the dog. Hesiod 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. 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.

Product Details

BN ID:
2940015921175
Publisher:
OGB
Publication date:
11/05/2012
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
File size:
559 KB

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