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12 Labors of Heracles: Cerberus

Heracles had battled poisonous creatures, triumphed over terrifying giants, and stolen important objects from all over Greece. The final Labor that he faced was to capture Cerberus alive without using any weapons. In this article, you will learn the final adventure associated with King Eurystheus.

Who was Cerberus?

Cerberus appears in both Greek and Roman mythology as a hound with many heads. Most of the time, he is described as having three heads. His responsibility was to guard the gates of the Underworld. The hound was supposed to stop the escape attempts of those who crossed the river Styx. In some art depictions, Cerberus can have as many as 50 heads. Sometimes, the hound was seen with a mane full of snakes or the tail of a snake. All of the heads of the hound were hungry for live meat. He allowed the spirits of the dead to freely enter the Underworld, but they were never permitted to leave. Hades considered the hound his loyal watchdog.

Cerberus was the offspring of Echidna (a hybrid half-woman and half-serpent) and Typhon (a feared giant that breathed fire). Myths also state that he is related to the Lernaean Hydra, the Nemean Lion, the Sphinx, and the Chimera , some creatures that Heracles had already encountered in his previous labors.

12th Labor of Heracles

King Eurystheus told Heracles to capture Cerberus without using any weapons. Upon hearing the task, Heracles went to Eleusis so that he could learn how to enter and exit the Underworld while still being alive. This initiation involved learning about the Eleusinian Mysteries. The entrance to the underworld was situated at Tanaerum. Athena and Hermes helped the hero pass through the entrance. He encountered Charon (the ferryman of Hades), who he passed by with the assistance of Hestia.

When he was in the Underworld, Heracles met Theseus and Pirithous , two of his companions who had been imprisoned by Hades. They were condemned for their role in the attempt to kidnap Persephone. When Heracles came upon Hades, he asked for permission to bring Cerberus to the surface. Hades agreed, but on one condition , Heracles had to best the creature without using any weapons. Heracles was successful and after overpowering the hound, he slung it on his back and dragged it out of the Underworld.

When King Eurystheus saw the beast, he was so scared that he jumped into a large storage jar and asked the hero to return it to the underworld. The hero was then released from his labors. After completing all of his tasks. Heracles joined the Argonauts and helped with the search for the Golden Fleece. Upon his many adventures, Heracles helped rescue women, conquer Troy, and assist the gods in fighting against the Gigantes.