Ceberus

Or Fluffy if you are viewing from Potter-Verse

Or Film Friday from last week made me think of another piece of symbolism that made it into Greek Mythology, Renaissance Literature , the night sky and of course, into the first of one of the most beloved series of children’s movies and books ever made.

Greek Myth

Cerberus3In the Greek Pantheon, Cerberus is a three headed hound.  He is the minion of Hades and guards the gates of the underworld.  Those living beings trying to get into the underworld – a big theme in Greek Mythology – are faced with a giant three headed dog that is only fed by living flesh.  This allows the dead to pass through and the living to be eaten, thus becoming dead.  He is also commissioned with making sure that the dead stay put in the underworld.

Renaissance Literature & The Constellation

In 1687, Hevelius introduced the constellation Cerberus.  This constellation was not of a dog, but of a three headed snake that Hercules held in his hand.  Also during the Renaissance period, authors exploring the depths of human depravity and the underworld introduced the idea of the Cerberus into their works.  Dante had the Cerberus guarding th Third Circle of Hell were the Gluntons dwelt.  In Milton’s Paradise Lost Cerberus like qualities are given to the hounds of hell.  In is little wonder that this artists put the Cerberus in their literature.  Up until the Renaissance period Greek mythology was studied heavily by the people of the Middle Ages and the imagery of the Greeks was widely understood.

Potter-Verse

Cerberus2In Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone, one of the challenges to keep the Sorcerer’s Stone safe was Fluffy.  And while he is more like Orthus, the two headed dog from the Greek’s a brother to Cerberus, he is still a three headed dog and the reason why I went looking for more information on the topic.  One thing, once again in reflection to Rowling’s research, is that Orpheus defeated the Cerberus in Greek mythology with a song, so Fluffy being a sucker for music is a throw back to this story and the reason that he is being included here as much for the fact that he has three heads.

So, why the Three Heads?

There are a few explanations, One is that the heads represent the young the mature and the old version of each of us that we carry inside ourselves.  Another idea is that the dog, being domesticated is a wild thing in the stories of the Cerberus.  The three heads would make it even more terrifying to find a wild dog guarding the underworld and the dead.  The Greeks would get the notion of the guard dog but the three heads would obviously make it more mysterious.  My favorite though is the notion that the three heads represent the past, the present and the future.  This ties in perfectly with the guarding of the underworld.  Being able to see where people came from where they are and what they would do would be of a huge benefit to a being guarding the dead from the living.

Though he is not seen a lot, you will occasionally see the Cerberus on items at the Ren faire and if you are looking for a sigul for your warriors garb, evoking the mighty Hercules with the image of the Cerberus is not a bad idea.