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Kerberos at the feet of Hades , god of the underworld. Roman marble statue, around 180 AD ( Heraklion Archaeological Museum , Crete)
Inferno, Canto VI, 12-35, Cerberus - drawing by William Blake (illustration for Dante's Divine Comedy ), 1825 ( National Gallery of Victoria , Melbourne)

Kerberos (. Κέρβερος Greek, Latinized Cerberus , dt too. Cerberus - " demon of the pit") is in Greek mythology, a mostly longer-headed dog guarding the entrance to the underworld guarded, so that no living penetrates and comes out not dead.


Kerberos was mostly depicted with three heads, but also with one, two, fifty or even a hundred. The poets and artists often provided him with a snake tail or a snake as a tail, snake hair and snake heads or whole snakes on the back. His bark was metallic and his breath was deadly. Legend has it that the Kerberos when it Herakles - as one of him by Eurystheus assigned tasks was - was deported to the upper world, the saliva from the mouth dripping and which the deadly poisonous flower Akóniton sprouting out of the ground in this country known as monkshood . Ovid also tells of the poison aconite in his Metamorphoses: Medea brought it back from her home on the coast of the Black Sea and tried to use it to kill Theseus. This poison once emerged from the drool of the angry dog ​​to a plant.

Heracles presents Eurystheus
with the hellhound he defeated in battle and kidnapped from the underworld. Caeretan hydria around 525 BC BC ( Louvre , Paris)
Hercules and Cerberus , copper engraving by Hans Sebald Beham (1545)

In the theogony of Hesiod, Kerberos is a child of Echidna and Typhon , his siblings are the Chimera , the Hydra , the Nemean lion , the two-headed dog Orth (r) os and the Sphinx he conceived with his mother . Hesiod describes him as "... the bloodthirsty, Hades' fifty-headed dog with the copper voice."

Orpheus did not have to fight like Heracles to defeat Kerberos. He came to the underworld in order to bring his wife Eurydice back from there , because he was able to appease the angry guard with his lyre and his singing.

Psyche, in turn, bribed him twice with honey cake , once when entering and once when leaving the underworld. So she managed to fulfill the mission of Venus and bring him a box with the beauty of Proserpine , who was kidnapped by Pluto into his kingdom .

There was also honey in the sleeping pills that the seer Sibylla, who accompanied Aeneas to the entrance to the underworld, gave the hellhound, who snapped at it "with threefold gaping gulls" and stretched out numb, as it is called in the Aeneid .

There are several places that people believed to be the entrance to the underworld, behind which the beast watches: Heracles is said to have descended on the Black Sea coast of Asia Minor at Herakleia Pontike (today Karadeniz Ereğli ). Homer, on the other hand, had Odysseus meet the soul of the seer Teiresias at the “City of Cimmerian Men” . According to a later interpretation, this location was also assumed to be in the volcanic landscape west of Naples . This is also the place where, according to Virgil, Aeneas entered the realm of the dead. According to ancient belief, the latter should have reached Lake Avern via the Acheron (Black River) and from there through the caves in the crater walls of the Avernus volcano into the underworld. Orpheus, in turn, found the entrance on the Tainaron at the southern tip of the Peloponnese . Pausanias reports in his contemplation of Greece that this was at Hermione in the northeast of the Peloponnese. Dionysus went down here to save his mother Semele from Hades.

In Aristophanes ' comedy “The Frogs” Kerberos is not the doorkeeper of the underworld, but Aiakos , a son of Zeus, who was appointed judge of the underworld after his death because of his sense of justice. This also replaces the dog in satirical works by Lucian of Samosata .


Dante's Divine Comedy

Illustration by Gustave Doré to Dante's Divine Comedy , 1861
Hellhound , sculpture by Waldemar Grzimek in the Rathaus Steglitz underground station , Berlin
Kerberos guards the courtyard of the Royal Technical University in Stockholm.

Kerberos also appears in Dante's Divine Comedy , which the poet began to write in 1307. “A monster, wild and strange, Cerberus, / barks from three throats like an evil dog / anyone who has to go down there.” Dante meets him when he has reached the third circle of hell (6th song) in which the gourmets atone - soaked from the eternal rain, sinking into mud and droppings. He guards these and howls "like a dog" over them, which "howl like dogs". "The eyes are red, the beard is dirty-black / his belly is powerful and his paws sharply clawed / he scratches, tears up the spirits, divides them into four" Kerberos is cruel to the dead and at the same time embodies the vice for which they are punished: greed . But their civilized feasting of yore in him, which according to the old myth was to be appeased with honey cake, has sunk to the purely animalistic. Virgil, Dante's guide through hell, picks up dirt with both hands and throws it into the animal's voracious mouth, silencing it. - This scene was illustrated by Gustave Doré (see picture).


In a figurative - joking - sense, a strict, grim guard (for example a porter or a chief secretary), in particular a daring goalkeeper, is referred to as Cerberus .


Poisonous snakes with a head resembling a dog's head bear the name of the dog with the snake tail: Cerberus rynchops.

Cerberus is the name of a genus of the water snake family with the four species Cerberus australis , Cerberus microlepis , Cerberus rynchops and Cerberus dunsoni . These are snakes whose head resembles that of a dog (found in Australia and Southeast Asia, as well as the Palau Islands ). Cerberus rynchops also has the German name Hundskopf-Wassertrugnatter. Like all water snakes, the Cerberus species have poisonous teeth in the back of their mouths ( snakes ) and can also be dangerous to humans. Toxicity and dog-headedness are the references to the mythological guardian with the snake tail. In addition, Kerberos, a genus from the extinct group of Hyaenodonta, was described in 2015 . The hyaendonts represent carnivorous mammals that may be related to today's predators . Kerberos appeared in the Middle Eocene about 40 million years ago and is one of the largest terrestrial predators of its time.

Computer science

Kerberos is an authentication service for open and insecure computer networks - for example the Internet. The name for the electronic gatekeeper is borrowed from the guardian of the underworld - apparently a predicate for the incorruptibility of controlling the computer network. In a sense, the client , the server that the client wants to use, and the Kerberos server are the three heads.


Cerberus Capital Management is an international private equity firm based in New York. It is said that for the founder Stephen Feinberg , in choosing the name Cerberus, one of the heads of the mythological role model was always awake, just as his company should always guard the investments of customers.

Harry Potter series

Here a three-headed giant dog guards the Philosopher's Stone. However, he was called " Fluffy " by the monster-loving gamekeeper Hagrid and - based on Orpheus - can be brought to sleep with music.


The three-headed mythical creature is in the Heraldry a very rare coat of arms figure . All heraldic requirements must be observed in the coat of arms . In the name and on the coat of arms of the southern French border community of Cerbère , "Kerberos" can be found in field 3.

Commons : Kerberos in Heraldry  - collection of images, videos and audio files

See also


Web links

Commons : Kerberos  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Footnotes / individual references

  1. Plutarch , De fluviis 16,1 also mentions the name Φοβερός, Phoberos, "the terrible".
  2. Virgil , Aeneid 6,417; Ovid , Metamorphoses 10.22; Seneca , Hercules furens 62; Libraries of Apollodorus 2,5,12.
  3. Hesiod , Theogony 771; Temple of Zeus in Olympia and Temple of Hephaestus in Athens
  4. Amphora of the Andokides Painter
  5. Hesiod, Theogony 312.
  6. Pindar and Horace , Carmen 2,13,34.
  7. Hesiod, Theogony 311.
  8. Hades, the god of the underworld, allowed him to get the dog out of his kingdom if he defeated him without weapons, which Heracles also succeeded in wrestling. He brought him in chains to his employer.
  9. Ovid, Metamorphoses 7,404-424. The farmers called the plant aconite (Greek akónai , steep rocks) because it grew on hard rock .
  10. ^ Hyginus , Fabulae 30.
  11. Hesiod, Theogony 311.
  12. Virgil, Georgica 4.481-483.
  13. Apuleius , Metamorphoses 6: 18-20.
  14. Virgil, Aeneid 6,419-423.
  15. Aristophanes , Frogs 465–478.
  16. ^ Aiakos, Wikisource
  17. (A German version in Terzinen ) - Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy . Translated by Karl Streckfuß, Leipzig 1876
  18. (A German version in blank verse ) - Dante Alighieri: The Divine Comedy. Translated into German by Ida and Walther von Wartburg, Zurich 1963 (with commentary)
  19. ^ True German Dictionary, Gütersloh / Munich 2006
  20. The Little Duden. Foreign dictionary, 3rd edition, 1991
  21. The great Duden. Foreign dictionary, Mannheim 1974
  22. Floréal Solé, Eli Amson, Matthew Borths, Dominique Vidalenc, Michael Morlo and Katharina Bastl: A New Large Hyainailourine from the Bartonian of Europe and Its Bearings on the Evolution and Ecology of Massive Hyaenodonts (Mammalia). PLoS ONE 10 (9), 2015, p. E0135698 doi: 10.1371 / journal.pone.0135698