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illustration of a three headed dog: Cerberus
figure 1  


Cerberus. Hades' three-headed guard dog, a relative of both the Chimaera and the Hydra. Cerberus was carried up from Hades by Heracles in one of his Labors. This was achieved only after a protracted battle in which the hero was mauled by the hound's fangs and menaced by snakes growing from his back and tail. Showing his fickle nature, Cerberus abandoned his watchdog task and lay down meekly to the strains of Orpheus's lyre when that minstrel journeyed to the Underworld in search of his dead wife Eurydice. Perhaps it is a matter of what the dog did in the night. This will give you an idea of just how heinous the creature is typically understood to be: the poison used in Medea's attempt to murder Theseus was made from Cerberus's drool. The origin of these tales may be the Egyptians' use of dogs to guard graves.reference 1

A young woman, one of the fictional diarists in Lynn Freed's novel, House of Women, compares her mother's housekeeper to the guard dog. “Even if the Syrian [a would-be lover] were to come for me, how would he get past her door? She is like Cerberus, she sees everything, she hears everything, too, even when she is snoring.”reference 2 This Cerberus does not succumb to the charms of an Orpheus, Syrian or otherwise.



1. Brewer, E. Cobham, and Ivor H. Evans. 1970. Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. Centenary ed. New York: Harper & Row, 206.


2. Freed, Lynn. 2002. House of Women: a Novel. 1st ed. Boston: Little, Brown, 13.

About the illustration: Here we see a classic image of the three-headed monster.reference 3 © 2008 Jupiterimages Corporation. 3. Miller, Olive Beauprâe. 1950. My Book House. Chicago: Book House for Children
see also: beware of dog; watchdog; what the dog did in the night
junkyard dog
Last updated: August 30, 2009
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