Cerberus the Three-Headed Dog


After the golden apples of the Hesperides were brought back to Eurystheus, only one task remained of the twelve that Pythia had commanded Hercules. Since Eurystheus was greatly afraid of Hercules, he wanted to send him some place from where he could never return. He therefore gave him the task of bringing Cerberus, the infamous watchdog, out of the underworld and into the light of day. This task was the most difficult of all, fo rno one had ever returned from the underworld. In addition, Cerberus was a terrifying creature, which had three heads that were covered in savage snakes. Yet before we tell of this labor, it would not seem out of place, since we made mention of the underworld, to put forth a few things about this region.

Charon’s Ferry

Of Orcus, which is also called Hades, much is recounted. When each person departs from life, their shades are led by Mercury down to Orcus, the land of the dead. Pluto was king of this region, which is said to be underground, and his wife was Proserpina, the daughter of Jove and Ceres. The shades led by Mercury first came to the bank of the river Styx, by which the kingdom of Pluto was contained. It was necessary to cross this river before the shades could arrive in the underworld. Yet since there was no bridge built across the river, the shades were transported by Charon, who waited at the bank with a small ferry. For this service Charon required payment, and he refused to ferry anyone unless they had given him this payment prior. On account of this reason it was a custom among the ancients to place a coin in the mouth of the dead, so that when they came to the Styx, they could pay the price of transfer. Those who were not buried in the ground after death were not able to cross the Styx, but were gathered on the bank to wander for a hundred years; only then was it permitted to enter the underworld.

The Realm of Pluto

After the shades had crossed the Styx in this way, they came to another river, which was called Lethe. They were compelled to drink the water from this river, because when they did, all painful things in life were put out of their memory. Finally they came to the home of Pluto himself, the entrance of which was guarded by the dog Cerberus. There Pluto, dressed in dark clothes, sits with his wife Proserpina on his throne. Not far from that place there were three other thrones, in which sat Minos, Rhadamanthus, and Aeacas, the three judges in hell. These judges set down the law for the dead, and meted out punishments and rewards. The good souls arrived in the Elysian Fields, the home of the blessed; whereas the wicked were sent into Tartarus, and there they suffered various torments.

Hercules Crosses the Styx

After Hercules received the orders of Eurystheus, he immediately traveled to Cape Tainaron in Laconia; for in this place was an enormous cave, through which, it is said, men descended to the underworld. When he arrived, he asked the inhabitants where the cave was located; when he found out, he immediately decided to enter. Yet he did not make this journey alone, for Mercury and Minerva joined him as companions. When he came to the bank of the Styx, Hercules boarded Charon’s ferry, so that he could cross to the farther bank. Yet since Hercules was an enormous man, Charon did not want to start the journey; for he was greatly afraid that his ferry, burdened by such a heavy weight, would sink in the middle of the river. Yet finally Charon, terrified by the threats of Hercules, paddled his ferry and led him to the farther bank unharmed.

The Last Labor is Accomplished

After he crossed the river Styx in this way, Hercules came to the throne of Pluto himself; and after he explained his reason for coming, he asked if it was permissible for him to take away Cerberus. Pluto, who had heard stories about Hercules, received him with kindness, and willingly gave him the permission that he had requested. Yet he asked that Hercules himself, after he completed the orders of Eurystheus, return Cerberus to the underworld. Hercules promised to do so, and, dangerously grabbing Cerberus with his hands, dragged him with great effort out of the underworld into the light of day, to the city of Eurystheus. When he arrived, Eurystheus was so afraid that he immediately fled his palace; when he had recovered himself a little from his fear, he begged Hercules, with tears streaming down his face, to immediately return this monster to the underworld. In such a way, and against all odds, the twelve labors that Pythia had commanded were completed in twelve years; and now that they were finished, Hercules, finally free from servitude, returned to Thebes full of joy.

The Centaur Nessus

Afterwards, Hercules accomplished many other famous deeds, which are now too numerous to write down. Eventually, advanced in age, he married Deianira, the daughter of Oeneus; yet after three years it so happened that he accidentally killed a boy named Eunomus. Since it was the custom that if someone kills a man by accident, he goes into exile, Hercules, along with his wife, hastened to leave the borders of their country.  Yet while they made this journey, they came to a certain river in which there was no bridge; and while they were searching for any way to cross, the centaur Nessus ran up to meet them, and offered his help to the travelers. Hercules set his wife on the back of Nessus; then he crossed the river himself. Nessus, already a little ways into the water, suddenly turned around and tried to kidnap Deianira. But when Hercules saw this, he was stirred to a great wrath, and he strung his bow and shot Nessus in the chest with an arrow.

The Poisoned Robe

Nessus, pierced through by Hercules’ arrow, lay on the ground dying; but lest he lose his chance at revenge, he said, “You, Deianira, hear my dying words. If you wish to safeguard the love of your husband, take this blood which is pouring from my chest and store it away; then, if ever he will come into suspicion, soak your husband’s clothing with this blood.” Having said these things Nessus breathed his last breath; Deianira, suspecting nothing bad, carried out the orders. After a short while Hercules undertook a war against Eurytus, the king of Oechalia; and after he had killed the king himself with his children, he took his captive daughter Iole back with him. Yet before he came home, he put his ship ashore at Cape Kenaion, and going forth onto the land he constructed an altar, so that he could sacrifice to Jove. Then while he was preparing the sacrifice, he sent his comrade Licha to his home, who brought back a white robe; for it was the custom among the ancients, while they were making sacrifices, to wear a white robe. But Deianira, afraid lest Hercules should fall in love with Iole, gave to Licha the robe which, earlier, she had soaked with Nessus’ blood.

The Death of Hercules

Hercules, suspecting nothing wrong, immediately put on the cloak which Licha carried; yet after a short while he felt pain through all his limbs, and he was greatly bewildered at what should be the cause of this event. Almost killed by the agony, he attempted to take off the robe; yet the robe stuck to his body, and by no way could it be torn off. Only then, Hercules, urged on by his frenzy, traveled to Mount Octa and placed himself in a funeral pyre, which he built as quickly as possible. After he had done this, he told those who were standing nearby to set the pyre on fire as soon as they could. Throughout the day people refused; yet finally a certain shepherd, moved to pity, supplied the fire. Then, when the smoke obscured everyone’s vision, Hercules, wrapped in a dense cloud, was carried away by Jove to Olympus.

Latin text (scroll down to §49)


Daedalus and Icarus (concluded)

Puer Īcarus ūnā stābat et mīrum patris opus vidēbat. Postquam manus ultima ālīs imposita est, Daedalus eās temptāvit et similis avī in aurās volāvit. Tum ālās umerīs fīlī adligāvit et docuit eum volāre et dīxit, “Tē vetō, mī fīlī, adpropinquāre aut sōlī aut marī. Sī fluctibus adpropinquāveris, aqua ālīs tuīs nocēbit, et sī sōlī adpropinquāveris, ignis eās cremābit.” Tum pater et filius iter difficile incipiunt. Ālās movent et aurae sēsē committunt. Sed stultus puer verbīs patris nōn pāret. Sōlī adpropinquat. Ālae cremantur et Īcarus in mare dēcidit et vitam āmittit. Daedalus autem sine ūllō perīculō trāns fluctūs ad īnsulam Siciliam volāvit. (Beginner’s Guide to Latin)

Icarus was standing at the same place and looking at the amazing work of his father. After the finishing touch was applied, Daedalus tested the wings and flew in the air like a bird. Then he fastened the wings to his son’s shoulders, taught him how to fly, and said, “I forbid you, my son, to fly too close to sun or sea. If you come too close to a wave, the water will destroy your wings, and if you come too close to the sun, the heat will burn your wings.” Then father and son began a difficult journey. They flapped their wings and committed themselves to the sky. But the foolish boy did not obey the words of his father. He came too close to the sun. In consequence, his wings were destroyed and Icarus fell into the sea and lost his life. Daedalus flew across the waves to the island of Sicily without any danger.

Daedalus and Icarus (pt. 2)

Tum Daedalus gravibus cūrīs commōtus fīliō suō Īcarō ita dixit: “Animus meus, Īcare, est plēnus trīstitiae nec oculī lacrimīs egent. Discēdere ex Crētā, Athēnās properāre, maximē studeō; sed rēx recūsat audīre verba mea et omnem reditūs spem ēripit. Sed numquam rēbus adversīs vincar. Terra et mare sunt inimīca, sed aliam fugae viam reperiam.” Tum in artīs ignōtās animum dīmittit et mīrum capit cōnsilium. Nam pennās in ōrdine pōnit et vērās ālās facit. (Beginner’s Guide to Latin)

Then Daedalus, troubled by grave concerns, said to his son: “My mind, Icarus, is full of sadness and my eyes are not without tears. I am most eager to leave Crete and hasten to Athens; but the king refuses to hear my words and takes away all hope of return. But I will not be defeated by adversity. The land and sea are both my enemies, but I will find another way of escape.” Then he applied his mind to strange crafts and formed an amazing plan. He arranged many feathers and created suitable wings.

Daedalus and Icarus (pt. 1)

Crēta est īnsula antīqua quae aquā altā magnī maris pulsātur. Ibi ōlim Mīnōs erat rēx. Ad eum vēnit Daedalus quī ex Graeciā patriā fugiēbat. Eum Mīnōs rēx benignīs verbīs accēpit et eī domicilium in Crētā dedit. Quō in locō Daedalus sine cūrā vīvebat et rēgī multa et clāra opera faciēbat. Post tempus longum autem Daedalus patriam cāram dēsīderāre incēpit. Domum properāre studēbat, sed rēgī persuādēre nōn potuit et mare saevum fugam vetābat. (Beginner’s Guide to Latin)

Crete is an ancient island which is struck by the high tides of the sea. There, long ago, Minos was king. Daedalus came to him after fleeing his home in Greece. King Minos received him with kind words and gave him a house in Crete. And in this place Daedalus lived without cares and made many famous works for the king. After a long time Daedalus began to desire his cherished homeland. He was eager to hasten home, but he could not persuade the king, and the savage sea forbid his going.

The Romans Invade the Enemy’s Country

Ōlim peditēs Rōmānī cum equitibus vēlōcibus in hostium urbem iter faciēbant. Ubi nōn longē āfuērunt, rapuērunt agricolam, quī eīs viam brevem et facilem dēmōnstrāvit. Iam Rōmānī moenia alta, turrīs validās aliaque opera urbis vidēre poterant. In moenibus stābant multī prīncipēs. Prīncipēs ubi vīdērunt Rōmānōs, iussērunt cīvīs lapidēs aliaque tēla dē mūrīs iacere. Tum mīlitēs fortēs continērī ā proeliō nōn poterant et ācer imperātor signum tubā darī iussit. Summā vī omnēs mātūrāvērunt. Imperātor Sextō lēgātō impedīmenta omnia mandāvit. Sextus impedīmenta in summō colle conlocāvit. Grave et ācre erat proelium, sed hostēs nōn parēs Rōmānīs erant. Aliī interfectī, aliī captī sunt. Apud captīvōs erant māter sororque rēgis. Paucī Rōmānōrum ab hostibus vulnerātī sunt. Secundum proelium Rōmānīs erat grātum. Fortūna fortibus semper favet. (Beginner’s Guide to Latin)

Long ago the Roman infantry, accompanied by their swift cavalry, made a journey into the enemy’s country. When they were not far off, they took hold of a farmer, who showed them a short and easy way. Now the Romans could see the tall city walls, the strong towers and other works of the city. There were enemy soldiers standing on the walls. When the enemy soldiers saw the Romans, they ordered the citizens to throw stones, javelins, and other things from the walls. Then the brave soldiers could not be kept from battle and the keen general ordered the signal to be given by trumpet.  The general entrusted all the baggage to lieutenant Sextus. Sextus stationed the baggage on the top of the hill. Sharp and grave was the battle, but the enemies were not equal to the Romans. Some were killed, others captured. Among the captives were the mother and sister of the king. Few of the Romans were wounded by the enemies. This successful battle was pleasing to the Romans. Fortune always favors the brave.

The First Bridge over the Rhine

Salūs sociōrum erat semper cāra Rōmānīs. Ōlim Gallī, amīcī Rōmānōrum, multās iniūriās ab Germānīs quī trāns flūmen Rhēnum vivēbant accēperant. Ubi lēgātī ab iīs ad Caesarem imperātōrem Rōmānum vēnērunt et auxilium postulāvērunt, Rōmānī magnīs itineribus ad hostium fīnīs properāvērunt. Mox ad rīpās magnī flūminis vēnērunt. Imperātor studēbat cōpiās suās trāns fluvium dūcere, sed nūllā viā poterat. Nūllās nāvīs habēbat. Alta erat aqua. Imperātor autem, vir clārus, numquam adversā fortūnā commōtus, novum cōnsilium cēpit. Iussit suōs in lātō flūmine facere pontem. Numquam anteā pōns in Rhēnō vīsus erat. Hostēs ubi pontem quem Rōmānī fēcerant vīdērunt, summō terrōre commōtī, sine morā fugam parāre incēpērunt. (Beginner’s Guide to Latin)

The security of their allies was always dear to the Romans. Long ago the Gauls, the friends of the Romans, received many injuries from the Germans who lived across the Rhine river. When ambassadors from the Gauls came to Caesar, the Roman emperor, and asked for help, the Romans hastened across many roads to the land of their enemies. Soon they came to the banks of the great river. The emperor was eager to lead his troops across the river, but no way could be found. He also had no ships, and the water was high. The emperor, a brilliant man, never moved by adverse fortune, formed a new plan. He ordered his troops to build a bridge across the wide river. Never before had a bridge been seen across the Rhine. When the enemies saw the bridge which the Romans had built, they were moved to great terror, and immediately began to prepare their flight.

The Cimbrian Terror

Ōlim Cimbrī et Teutonēs, populī Germāniae, cum fēminīs līberīsque Italiae adpropinquāverant et cōpiās Rōmānās maximō proeliō vīcerant. Ubi fuga legiōnum nūntiāta est, summus erat terror tōtīus Rōmae, et Rōmānī, graviter commōtī, sacra crēbra deīs faciēbant et salūtem petēbant.

Tum Mānlius ōrātor animōs populī ita cōnfīrmāvit:—“Magnam calamitātem accēpimus. Oppida nostra ā Cimbrīs Teutonibusque capiuntur, agricolae interficiuntur, agrī vāstantur, cōpiae barbarōrum Rōmae adpropinquant. Itaque, nisi novīs animīs proelium novum faciēmus et Germānōs ex patriā nostrā sine morā agēmus, erit nūlla salūs fēminīs nostrīs līberīsque. Servāte līberōs! Servāte patriam! Anteā superātī sumus quia imperātōrēs nostrī fuērunt īnfīrmī. Nunc Marius, clārus imperātor, quī iam multās aliās victōriās reportāvit, legiōnēs dūcet et animōs nostrōs terrōre Cimbricō līberāre mātūrābit.”

Marius tum in Āfricā bellum gerēbat. Sine morā ex Āfricā in Italiam vocātus est. Cōpiās novās nōn sōlum tōtī Italiae sed etiam prōvinciīs sociōrum imperāvit. Disciplīnā autem dūrā labōribusque perpetuīs mīlitēs exercuit. Tum cum peditibus equitibusque, quī iam proeliō studēbant, ad Germānōrum castra celeriter properāvit. Diū et ācriter pugnātum est. Dēnique barbarī fūgērunt et multī in fugā ab equitibus sunt interfectī. Marius pater patriae vocātus est. (Beginner’s Guide to Latin)

Long ago the Cimbri and the Teutons, two different tribes of Germany, came to Italy with their women and children and defeated the Roman troops in an important battle. When the flight of the Roman legion was announced, great was the terror of all of Rome, and the Romans, strongly moved, made numerous sacrifices to the gods and prayed for safety.

Then the orator Manlius lifted the spirits of the people: “We received news of a great calamity. Our towns were captured by the Cimbri and the Teutons, our farmers killed, our fields wasted, and the foreign troops are approaching Rome. Therefore, unless we renew the battle with fresh minds and immediately drive the Germans from our country, there will be no safety for our women and children. Save our children! Save our country! Previously we were overcome because our commanders were weak. Now Marius, the famous general, who has already won many other victories, will lead our troops and free our minds of the Cimbrian terror.”

Marius was then waging war in Africa. Without delay he was summoned out of Africa into Italy. He ordered new troops not only from all of Italy but also from the provinces of their allies. He trained his soldiers with strict discipline and perpetual labors. Then, with his infantry and cavalry, which were now eager for war, he quickly moved against the German camps. The battle was fought vehemently all day. Finally the foreigners fled and many were killed in flight by the cavalry. Marius was given the honorific title, Father of the Fatherland.