Cerberus was a three-headed hellhound (the poet Hesiod claimed he had 50) with snake-like extremities, a snake for a tail and the claws of a lion. In Greek and Roman mythology, Cerberus was said to have been the offspring of two monsters, Typhon (a fire-breathing serpent) and Echidna (commonly portrayed as an odd juxtaposition of beautiful woman and deadly serpent).
Echidna was in danger of being struck down by Zeus who was in the process of ridding the world of monsters, when she went into labor. Zeus had just defeated her mate, Typhon, the most deadly monster in Greek mythology. But as she lay there at his mercy with her newborn baby monsters around her, Hera (goddess of birth, womanhood & marriage) refused to allow Zeus to kill them. Hera’s fervent entreaty worked and Zeus relented, sparing Echidna and her monstrous brood.
In turn, Echidna offered her oldest son Cerberus as a tribute to Hera. Although repulsed by the creature, Hera knew the importance of such a gift and having Echidna as a potential ally. Hera found the perfect solution in gifting Cerberus to her brother Hades. Hades loved Cerberus as beloved pet. As he grew, Hades trained him to be the fiercest of guard dogs.
In adulthood, Cerberus was the watchdog of the Greek underworld and faithful servant to Hades. He was charged with the job of watching over the gates of the underworld — devouring anyone trying to return to the land of the living and refusing entrance to anything alive.
Like the Gorgons, Cerberus was so dreadful to behold it is said that any living mortal that looked upon him was turned to stone.
He was the brother to the Chimera, Hydra, Colquidian Dragon, Ladon, Escila, Doubt, Ortos, Gerion, Sphinx, Cromino Pig and Nemean Lion.
Perhaps the best known myths that feature Cerberus : Hercules’ 12th Labor.
Cerberus is featured in several mythological stories in his role as the watchdog of Hades. One of the more well-known stories involves the Thracian bard, Orpheus, who was much revered in ancient Greece. He was happily married to the nymph Eurydice. One day, she died of a snake bite. Orpheus was so grief-stricken by this sudden loss that he no longer sang or played. He decided to risk his own life in a desperate journey to the land of the dead in the forlorn hope of bringing Eurydice home.
By using his miraculous music, Orpheus was able to charm the boatman Charon, who ferried him across the Styx. Even though Cerberus was diligent in his job of guarding the gates of the Underworld, he abandoned his task and lay down meekly to the strains of Orpheus’ lyre, after which Orpheus was able to gain access.
Hades and his wife, Persephone (daughter of Demeter), granted Orpheus his only desire on one condition: under no circumstance was Orpheus to look back at Eurydice until both of them were completely returned to the land of the living. But so overcome was the bard by his love for his departed wife that just before they reached the surface, he could not resist a quick glance in the half-light. Thus, Eurydice sank back down into the Underworld forever. Orpheus was later dismembered by Thracian maenads (female worshipers of Dionysus, God of Wine).