In Greek myth Cerberus was a horrific dog who stood watch at the gates of Hades, the world of the dead. He would let souls in but would not allow them to leave Hades. Cerberus had three heads (some accounts gave him many more) and was so vicious that he was feared even by the gods. Cerberus is most famous for his role as one of the 12 labors of Hercules, the strong man who ventured to Hades and wrestled Cerberus into submission.
Cerberus also appears in the story of Orpheus, who lulled the dog to sleep with music on his way into Hades to search for his lover Eurydice. Cerberus is best known for playing a part in Hercules’ final labor. Hercules had to go to the Underworld and bring Cerberus back to the surface of the earth without using his arrows or his club. Hercules grabbed Cerberus by the throat and dragged him to Mycenae through a crack in the surface of the earth.
Having accomplished this, Hercules dispatched Cerberus to guard one of the secret groves of Demeter but the dog eventually made his way back to Hades where he still guards the entrance. In another legend, Orpheus makes the same journey to the underworld to bring back his lover, Eurydice. He manages to soothe Cerberus with his lyre. In Dante’s Inferno, Cerberus was the tormenting genius of the third circle. There the gluttonous and unrestrainable souls could be found immersed in turbid water. Hail and snow poured down through the dark air upon their grimacing faces.
Cerberus took care to see that each soul received its due share of torment: Cerberus, a monster fierce and strange, with three throats, barks dog-like over those that are immersed in it. His eyes are red, his beard greasy and black, his belly wide, and clawed his hands; he clutches the spirits, flays and piecemeal renders them.