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Title: Cerberus, The Dog of Hades - The History of an Idea
Author: Bloomfield, Maurice, 1855-1928
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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|TRANSCRIBER'S NOTES:                                                   |
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Explanation of Frontispiece

The picture is reproduced from Baumeister's _Denkmäler des klassichen
Alterthums_, volume I., figure 730 (text on p. 663). It is on a vase and
describes one of the twelve heroic deeds of Herakles. The latter,
holding aloft his club, drags two-headed Cerberus out of Hades by a
chain drawn through the jaw of one of his heads. He is just about to
pass Cerberus through a portal indicated by an Ionic pillar. To the
right Persephone, stepping out of her palace, seems to forbid the rape.
Herakles in his turn seems to threaten the goddess, while Hermes, to the
left, holds a protecting or restraining arm over him. Athene, with
averted face, ready to depart with her protégé, stands in front of four
horses hitched to her chariot. Upon her shield the eagle augurs the
success of the entire undertaking.



  _The History of an Idea_


  Professor of Sanskrit and Comparative Philology
  Johns Hopkins University

  The Open Court Publishing Company



  To the Memory
  F. Max Müller


Hermes, the guide of the dead, brings to Pluto's kingdom their psyches,
"that gibber like bats, as they fare down the dank ways, past the
streams of Okeanos, past the gates of the sun and the land of dreams, to
the meadow of asphodel in the dark realm of Hades, where dwell the
souls, the phantoms of men outworn." So begins the twenty-fourth book of
the _Odyssey_. Later poets have Charon, a grim boatsman, receive the
dead at the River of Woe; he ferries them across, provided the passage
money has been placed in their mouths, and their bodies have been duly
buried in the world above. Otherwise they are left to gibber on the
hither bank. Pluto's house, wide-gated, thronged with guests, has a
janitor Kerberos, sometimes friendly, sometimes snarling when new
guests arrive, but always hostile to those who would depart. Honey cakes
are provided for them that are about to go to Hades--the sop to
Cerberus. This dog, nameless and undescribed, Homer mentions simply as
the dog of Hades, whom Herakles, as the last and chief test of his
strength, snatched from the horrible house of Hades.[1] First Hesiod and
next Stesichorus discover his name to be Kerberos. The latter seems to
have composed a poem on the dog. Hesiod[2] mentions not only the name
but also the genealogy of Kerberos. Of Typhaon and Echidna he was born,
the irresistible and ineffable flesh-devourer, the voracious,
brazen-voiced, fifty-headed dog of hell.

Plato in the _Republic_ refers to the composite nature of Kerberos.[3]
Not until Apollodorus (2. 5. 12. 1. ff.), in the second century B. C.,
comes the familiar description: Kerberos now has three dog heads, a
dragon tail, and his back is covered with the heads of serpents. But
his plural heads must have been familiarly assumed by the Greeks; this
will appear from the evidence of their sculptures and vase-paintings.


Classic art has taken up Cerberus very generously; his treatment,
however, is far from being as definite as that of the Greek and Roman
poets. Statues, sarcophagi, and vase paintings whose theme is Hades, or
scenes laid in Hades, represent him as a ferocious Greek collie, often
encircled with serpents, and with a serpent for a tail, but there is no
certainty as to the number of his heads. Often he is three-headed in art
as in literature, as may be seen conveniently in the reproductions in
Baumeister's _Denkmäler des Klassischen Altertums_. Very familiar is the
statue in the villa Borghese of Pluto enthroned, three-headed Cerberus
by his side.[4] A Greek scarabæus shows a pair of lovers, or a married
couple, who have died at the same time, crossing in Charon's ferry. As
they are approaching the other bank of the Styx, where a three-headed
Cerberus is awaiting them, the girl seems afright and is upheld by her
male companion.[5] On the other hand, a bronze in Naples shows the
smiling boy Herakles engaged in strangling two serpents, one with each
hand. The figure rests on a cylindrical base upon which are depicted
eight of the wonderful deeds which Herakles performs later on. By a rope
he leads a _two-headed_ Cerberus from Hades.[6]

This last of the wonderful deeds of Herakles is a favorite theme of vase
pictures. Herakles is regularly accompanied by Hermes and Athena; the
dog, whose marvelous shape Homer fails to reveal, is generally
two-headed. Such a vase may be seen in Gerhard, _Auserlesene
Vasenbilder_, ii. 131.[7] Or still more conveniently, Professor Norton
has reproduced[8] an amphora in the Louvre with a picture of the
dicephalous Kerberos. Upon the forehead of each of the two heads rises a
serpent. Herakles in tunic and lion's skin, armed with bow, quiver, and
sword, stoops towards the dog. He holds a chain in his left hand, while
he stretches out his right with a petting gesture. Between the two is a
tree, against which leans the club of Herakles. Behind him stands


Neither Greek literature, nor Greek art, however, really seems to fix
either the shape or nature of Kerberos; it was left to the Roman poets
to say the last word about him. They finally settle the number of his
heads, or the number of his bodies fused in one. He is _triceps_
"three-headed," _triplex_ or _tergeminus_ "threefold," _triformis_ "of
three bodies," or simply Tricerberus. Tibullus says explicitly that he
has both three heads and three tongues: _cui tres sint linguæ
tergeminumque caput_. Virgil, in the _Æneid_, vi. 417, has huge Cerberus
barking with triple jaws; his neck bristles with serpents. Ovid in his
_Metamorphoses_, x. 21, makes Orpheus, looking for dear Eurydice in
Tartarus, declare that he did not go down in order that he might chain
the three necks, shaggy with serpents, of the monster begotten of
Medusa. His business also is settled for all time; he is the terrible,
fearless, and watchful janitor, or guardian (_janitor_ or _custos_) of
Orcus, the Styx, Lethe, or the black Kingdom.[9] And so he remains for
modern poets, as when Dante, reproducing Virgil, describes him:[10]

  "When Cerberus, that great worm, had seen us
  His mouth he opened and his fangs were shown,
  And then my leader with his folded palms
  Took of the earth, and filling full his hand,
  Into those hungry gullets flung it down."

Or Shakespeare, _Love's Labor Lost_, v. ii: "Great Hercules is presented
by this imp whose club killed Cerberus, the three-headed _canis_."


Such classical explanations of Cerberus' shape as I have seen are feeble
and foolishly reasonable. Heraclitus, [Greek: Peri apistôn] 331, states
that Kerberos had two pups. They always attended their father, and
therefore he appeared to be three-headed. The mythographer
Palaephatos(39) states that Kerberos was considered three-headed from
his name [Greek: Trikarênos] which he obtained from the city Trikarenos
in Phliasia. And a late Roman rationalistic mythographer by the name of
Fulgentius[11] tells us that Petronius defined Cerberus as the lawyer of
Hades, apparently because of his three jaws, or the cumulative glibness
of three tongues. Fulgentius himself has a _fabula_ in which he says
that Cerberus means _Creaboros_, that is, "flesh-eating," and that the
three heads of Cerberus are respectively, infancy, youth, and old age,
through which death has entered the circle of the earth--_per quas
introivit mors in orbem terrarum_.[12]


  "_Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch' entrate_"

Can we bid this "_schwankende Gestalt_," this monstrous vision, floating
about upon the filmy photographs of murky Hades, stand still, emerge
into light, and assume clear and reasonable outlines?

  "Hence loathed melancholy of Cerberus and blackest Midnight born."

An American humorist, John Kendrick Bangs, who likes to place his skits
in Hades, steps in "where angels fear to tread," and launches with a
light heart the discussion as to whether Cerberus is one or more dogs.
The city of Cimmeria in Hades, having tried asphalt pavement, which was
found too sloppy for that climate, and Nicholson wood pavement, which
kept taking fire, decides on Belgian blocks. In order to meet the new
expense a dog-tax is imposed. Since Cerberus belongs to Hades as a
whole, the state must pay his tax, and is willing enough to do so--on
Cerberus as one dog. The city, however, endeavors to collect on three
dogs--one license for each head. Two infernal coppers, sent to impound
Cerberus, fare not well, one of them being badly chewed up by Cerberus,
the other nabbed bodily and thrown into the Styx. In consequence of this
they obtain damages from the city. The city then decides to bring suit
against the state. The bench consists of Apollyon himself and Judge
Blackstone; Coke appears for the city, Catiline for the state. The first
dog-catcher, called to testify, and asked whether he is familiar with
dogs, replies in the affirmative, adding that he had never got quite so
intimate with one as he got with him.

"With whom?" asks Coke.

"Cerberus," replies the witness.

"Do you consider him to be one dog, two dogs, or three dogs?"

Catiline objects to this question as a leading one, but Coke manages to
get it in under another form: "How many dogs did you see when you saw

"Three, anyhow," replies the witness with feeling, "though afterwards I
thought there was a whole bench-show atop of me."

On cross-examination Catiline asks him blandly: "My poor friend, if you
considered Cerberus to be three dogs anyhow, why did you in your
examination a moment since refer to the avalanche of caninity, of which
you so affectingly speak, as him?"

"He is a him," sturdily says the witness. After this Coke, discomfited,
decides to call his second witness: "What is your business?" asks Coke,
after the usual preliminaries.

"I'm out of business. Livin' on my damages."

"What damages?"

"Them I got from the city for injuries did me by that there--I should
say them there--dorgs, Cerberus."

And so on. Catiline gains the day for the state by his superior logic;
the city of Cimmeria must content itself with taxes on a single dog. But
the logic of the facts, it will appear, are with the dog-catchers, Judge
Coke, and the city of Cimmeria as against the state of Hades: Cerberus
is more than one dog.


India is the home of the Cerberus myth in its clearest and fullest
development. In order to appreciate its nature we must bear in mind that
the early Hindu conceptions of a future life are auspicious, and quite
the reverse of sombre. The statements in the Veda about life after death
exclude all notions of hell. The early visions are simple, poetic and
cheerful. The bodies of the dead are burned and their ashes are
consigned to earth. But this is viewed merely as a symbolic act of
preparation--cooking it is called forthright--for another life of joy.
The righteous forefathers of old who died before, they have found
another good place. Especially Yama, the first mortal, has gone to the
great rivers on high; he has searched out, like a pioneer, the way for
all his descendants: "He went before and found a dwelling which no power
can debar us from. Our fathers of old have traveled the path; it leads
every earth-born mortal thither. There in the midst of the highest
heaven beams unfading light and eternal waters flow; there every wish is
fulfilled on the rich meadows of Yama." Day by day Yama sends forth two
dogs, his messengers, to search out among men those who are to join the
fathers that are having an excellent time in Yama's company.


The tenth book of the _Rig-Veda_ contains in hymns 14-18 a collection of
funeral stanzas quite unrivaled for mythological and ethnological
interest in the literature of ancient peoples. In hymn 14 there are
three stanzas (10-12) that deal with the two dogs of Yama. This is the
classical passage, all depends upon its interpretation. They contain
detached statements which take up the idea from different points of
view, that are not easily harmonized as long as the dogs are merely
ordinary canines; they resolve themselves fitly and neatly into a pair
of natural objects, if we follow closely all the ideas which the Hindus
associated with them.

In the first place, it is clear that we are dealing with the conception
of Cerberus. In stanza 10 the two dogs are conceived as ill-disposed
creatures, standing guard to keep the departed souls out of bliss. The
soul on its way to heaven is addressed as follows:

"Run past straightway the two four-eyed dogs, the spotted and (the
dark), the brood of Saram[=a]; enter in among the propitious fathers who
hold high feast with Yama."

A somewhat later text, the book of house-rite of [=A]çval[=a]yana, has
the notion of the sop to Cerberus: "To the two dogs born in the house
of (Yama) Vivasvant's son, to the dark and the spotted, I have given a
cake; do ye guard me ever on my road!"

The twelfth stanza of the _Rig-Veda_ hymn strikes a somewhat different
note which suggests both good and evil in the character of the two dogs:
"The two brown, broad-nosed messengers of Yama, life-robbing, wander
among men. May they restore to us to-day the auspicious breath of life,
that we may behold the sun." Evidently the part of the Cerberi here is
not in harmony with their function in stanza 10: instead of debarring
men from the abodes of bliss they pick out the dead that are ultimately
destined to boon companionship with Yama. The same idea is expressed
simply and clearly in prayers for long life in the _Atharva-Veda_: "The
two dogs of Yama, the dark and the spotted, that guard the road (to
heaven), that have been dispatched, shall not (go after) thee! Come
hither, do not long to be away! Do not tarry here with thy mind turned
to a distance." (viii. 1. 9.) And again: "Remain here, O man, with thy
soul entire! Do not follow the two messengers of Yama; come to the
abodes of the living." (v. 30. 6.)

These prayers contain the natural, yet under the circumstances rather
paradoxical, desire to live yet a little longer upon the earth in the
light of the sun. Fitfully the mortal Hindu regales himself with
saccharine promises of paradise; in his every-day mood he clings to life
and shrinks with the uneasy sense that his paradise may not materialize,
even if the hope is expressed glibly and fluently. The real craving is
expressed in numberless passages: "May we live a hundred autumns,
surrounded by lusty sons." Homer's Hades has wiped out this
inconsistency, only to substitute another. Odysseus, on returning from
his visit to Hades, exclaims baldly: "Better a swineherd on the surface
of the earth in the light of the sun than king of the shades in Hades."
It is almost adding insult to injury to have the road to such a Hades
barred by Cerberus. This latter paradox must be removed in order that
the myth shall become intelligible.

The eleventh of the _Rig-Veda_ stanzas presents the two dogs as guides
of the soul [Greek: psychopompoi] to heaven: "To thy two four-eyed,
road-guarding, man-beholding watch-dogs entrust him, O King Yama, and
bestow on him prosperity and health."


With the change of the abode of the dead from inferno to heaven the two
Cerberi are _eo ipso_ also evicted. That follows of itself, even if we
had not explicit testimony. A legend of the Br[=a]hmana-texts, the Hindu
equivalent of the Talmud, tells repeatedly that there are two dogs _in
heaven_, and that these two dogs are Yama's dogs. I shall present two
versions of the story, a kind of [Greek: Gigantomachia] in order to
establish the equation between the terms "two dogs of Yama," and "two
heavenly dogs."

"There were Asuras (demons) named K[=a]lak[=a]njas. They piled up a fire
altar in order to obtain the world of heaven. Man by man they placed a
brick upon it. The god Indra, passing himself off for a Brahmin, put on
a brick for himself. They climbed up to heaven. Indra pulled out his
brick; they tumbled down. And they who tumbled down became spiders; two
flew up, and became the two heavenly dogs." (Br[=a]hmana of the
_T[=a]ittir[=i]yas_ 1. 1. 2.)

"The Asuras (demons) called K[=a]lak[=a]njas piled bricks for an altar,
saying: 'We will ascend to heaven.' Indra, passing himself off for a
Brahmin, came to them; he put on a brick. They at first came near
getting to heaven; then Indra tore out his brick. The Asuras becoming
quite feeble fell down; the two that were uppermost became the dogs of
Yama, those which were lower became spiders." (Br[=a]hmana of the
_M[=a]itra_ 1. 6. 9.)

This theme is so well fixed in the minds of the time that it is
elaborated in a charm to preserve from some kind of injury, addressed to
the mythic figures of the legend:

"Through the air he flies looking down upon all beings: with the majesty
of the heavenly dog, with that oblation would we pay homage to thee.

"The three K[=a]lak[=a]njas, that are fixed upon the sky like gods, all
these I have called to help, to render this person free from harm.

"In the waters is thy origin, upon the heavens thy home, in the middle
of the sea, and upon the earth, thy greatness; with the majesty of the
heavenly dog, with that oblation would we pay homage to thee."
(_Atharva-Veda_ vi., 80.)

The single heavenly dog that is described here is of no mean interest.
The passage proves the individual character of each of the two dogs of
Yama; they cannot be a vague pair of heavenly dogs, but must be based
each upon some definite phenomenon in the heavens.

Yet another text, Hiranyakeçin's book of house-rites, locates the dogs
of Yama, describing them in unmistakable language, in heaven: "The brood
of Saram[=a], dark beneath and brown, run, looking down upon the sea."
(ii. 7. 2.)


There are not many things in heaven that can be represented as a pair,
coursing across the sky, looking down upon the sea, and having other
related properties. My readers will make a shrewd guess, but I prefer to
let the texts themselves unfold the transparent mystery. The Veda of the
_Katha_ school (xxxvii. 14) says: "These two dogs of Yama, verily, are
day and night," and the Br[=a]hmana of the _K[=a]ush[=i]takins_ (ii. 9)
argues in Talmudic strain: "At eve, when the sun has gone down, before
darkness has set in, one should sacrifice the _agnihotra_-sacrifice; in
the morning before sunrise, when darkness is dispelled, at that time,
one should sacrifice the _agnihotra_-sacrifice; at that time the gods
arrive. Therefore (the two dogs of Yama) Çy[=a]ma and Çabala (the dark
and the spotted) tear to pieces the _agnihotra_ of him that sacrifices
otherwise. Çabala is the day; Çy[=a]ma is the night. He who sacrifices
in the night, his _agnihotra_ Çy[=a]ma tears asunder; he who sacrifices
in broad daylight, his _agnihotra_ Çabala tears asunder." Even more
drily the two dogs of Yama are correlated with the time-markers of
heaven in a passage of the _T[=a]ittir[=i]ya-Veda_ (v. 7. 19); here
sundry parts of the sacrificial horse are assigned to four cosmic
phenomena in the following order: 1. Sun and moon. 2. Çy[=a]ma and
Çabala (the two dogs of Yama). 3. Dawn. 4. Evening twilight. So that the
dogs of Yama are sandwiched in between sun and moon on the one side,
dawn and evening twilight on the other. Obviously they are here, either
as a special designation of day and night, or their physical
equivalents, sun and moon. And now the _Çatapatha-Br[=a]hmana_ says
explicitly: "The moon verily is the divine dog; he looks down upon the
cattle of the sacrificer." And again a passage in the Kashmir version of
the _Atharva-Veda_ says: "The four-eyed dog (the moon) surveys by night
the sphere of the night."


Even the theosophic Upanishads are compelled to make their way through
this tolerably crude mythology when they come to deal with the passage
of the soul to release from existence and absorption in the universal
Brahma. The human mind does not easily escape some kind of
eschatological topography. The Brahma itself may be devoid of all
properties, universal, pervasive, situated below as well as above, the
one true thing everywhere; still even the Upanishads finally fix upon a
world of Brahma, and that is above, not below, nor elsewhere; hence the
soul must pass the great cosmic potencies that seem to lie on the road
from the sublunary regions to Brahma. The _K[=a]ush[=i]taki Upanishad_
(1. 2. 3) arranges that all who leave this world first go to the moon,
the moon being the door of the world of light. The moon asks certain
theosophic questions; he alone who can answer them is considered
sufficiently emancipated to advance to the world of Brahma. He who
cannot--alas!--is born again as worm or as fly; as fish or as fowl; as
lion or as boar; as bull or tiger or man; or as something else--any old
thing, as we should say--in this place or in that place, according to
the quality of his works and the degree of his knowledge; that is, in
accordance with the doctrine of _Karma_. Similarly the _M[=a]itri
Upanishad_ (vi. 38) sketches salvation as follows: When a mortal no
longer approves of wrath, and ponders the true wish, he penetrates the
veil that encloses the Brahma, breaks through the concentric circles of
sun, moon, fire, etc., that occupy the ether. Only then does he behold
the supreme thing that is founded upon its own greatness only. And now
the _Ch[=a]ndogya Upanishad_ (viii. 13) has the same idea, mentioning
both moon and sun by their ancient names and in their capacity as dogs
of Yama. The soul of the aspirant for fusion with Brahma resorts
purgatorio-fashion alternately to Çy[=a]ma (the moon-dog) and Çabala
(the sun-dog): "From Çy[=a]ma (the moon) do I resort to Çabala (the
sun); from Çabala to Çy[=a]ma. Shaking off sin, as a steed shakes off
(the loose hair of) its mane, as the moon frees itself from the maw of
R[=a]hu, the demon of eclipse, casting aside my body, my real self
delivered, do I enter into the uncreated world of Brahma."[13]


Hindu mythology is famous for what I should like to hear called arrested
personification, or arrested anthropomorphism. More than elsewhere
mythic figures seem here to cling to the dear memories of their birth
and youth. This is due in part to the unequaled impressiveness of nature
in India; in part to the dogged schematism of the Hindu mind, which
dislikes to let go of any part of a thing from the beginning to end. On
the one hand, their constant, almost too rhythmic resort to nature in
their poetry, and on the other, their Ved[=a]nta philosophy, or for
that matter their _Ars amatoria_ (_K[=a]maç[=a]stra_), the latter worked
out with painstaking and undignified detail, illustrate the two points.
Hence we find here a situation which is familiar enough in the Veda, but
scarcely and rarely exhibited in other mythological fields. Dogs, the
two dogs of Yama are, but yet, too, sun and moon. It is quite surprising
how well the attributes of things so different keep on fitting them both
well enough. The color and brightness of the sun jumps with the fixed
epithet, "spotted," of the sun-dog Çabala; the moon-dog is black
(Çy[=a]ma or Çy[=a]va). Sun and moon, as they move across the sky, are
the natural messengers of Yama, seated on high in the abode of the
blessed, but Yama is after all death, and death hounds us all. Epithets
like "man-beholding," or "guarding the way," suit neutrally both
conceptions. Above all, the earliest statements about Yama's dogs are
relieved of their inconsistencies. On the one hand the exhortation to
the dead to run past the two dogs in order to get to heaven, suits the
idea of the heavenly dogs who are coursing across the sky. On the other
hand, by an easy, though quite contrary, change of mental position, the
same two heavenly dogs are the guides who guard the way and look upon
men favorably; hence they are ordered by Yama to take charge of the dead
and to furnish them such health and prosperity as the shades happen to
have use for. Again, by an equally simple shift of position, sun and
moon move among men as the messengers of death; by night and by day men
perish, while these heavenly bodies alternate in their presence among
men.[14] Hence a text of the Veda can say in a similar mood: "May Day
and Night procure for us long life" (House-book of [=A]çval[=a]yana, ii.
4. 14). Conversely it is a commonplace of the Veda to say that day and
night destroy the lives of men. One text says that, "day and night are
the encircling arms of death" (Br[=a]hmana of the _K[=a]ush[=i]takin_,
ii. 9). Another, more explicitly, "the year is death"; by means of day
and night does it destroy the life of mortals (_Çatapatha-Br[=a]hmana_,
x. 4. 3. 1). He who wishes to be released from the grim grip of day and
night sacrifices (symbolically) white and black rice, and pronounces the
words: "Hail to Day; hail to Night; hail to Release" (Br[=a]hmana of the
_T[=a]ittiriya_, iii. 1. 6. 2). Who does not remember in this connection
the parable widely current in the Orient, in which two rats, one white,
the other black, gnaw alternately, but without let-up, the plant or tree
of life?[15]


Norse mythology also contains certain animal pairs which seem to reflect
the two dualities, sun and moon, and day and night. There is here no
certainty as to detail; the Norse myth is advanced and congealed, if not
spurious, as Professor Bugge and his school would have us believe. At
the feet of Odin lie his two wolves, Geri and Freki, "Greedy" and
"Voracious." They hurl themselves across the lands when peace is broken.
Who shall say that they are to be entirely dissociated from Yama's two
dogs of death? The virgin Menglödh sleeps in her wonderful castle on the
mountain called Hyfja, guarded by the two dogs Geri and Gifr, "Greedy"
and "Violent," who take turns in watching; only alternately may they
sleep as they watch the Hyfja mountain. "One sleeps by night, the other
by day, and thus no one may enter" (_Fiölsvinnsmâl_, 16). It is not
necessary to suppose any direct connection between this fable and the
Vedic myth, but the root of the thought, no matter from how great a
distance it may have come, and how completely it may have been worked
over by the Norse skald, is, after all, alternating sun and moon and
their partners, day and night.


No reasonable student of mythology will demand of a myth so clearly
destined for fructification an everlasting virginal inviolateness. From
the start almost the two dogs of Yama are the brood of Saram[=a]. Why?
Saram[=a] is the female messenger of the gods, at the root identical
with Hermes or Hermeias; she is therefore the predestined mother of
those other messengers, the two four-eyed dogs of Yama. And as the
latter are her litter the myth becomes retroactive; she herself is
fancied later on as a four-eyed bitch (_Atharva-Veda_, iv. 20. 7).
Similarly the epithet "broad-nosed" stands not in need of mythic
interpretation, as soon as it has become a question of life-hunting
dogs. Elusive and vague, I confess, is the persistent and important
attribute "four-eyed." This touch is both old and widespread. The
_Avesta_, the bible of the ancient Iranians, has reduced the Cerberus
myth to stunted rudiments. In _Vendidad_, xiii. 8. 9, the killing of
dogs is forbidden, because the soul of the slayer "when passing to the
other world, shall fly amid louder howling and fiercer pursuit than the
sheep does when the wolf rushes upon it in the lofty forest. No soul
will come and meet his departing soul and help it through the howls and
pursuit in the other world; nor will the dogs that keep the Cinvad
bridge (the bridge to paradise) help his departing soul through the
howls and pursuit in the other world." The _Avesta_ also conceives this
dog to be four-eyed. When a man dies, as soon as the soul has parted
from the body, the evil one, the corpse-devil (Druj Nasu), from the
regions of hell, falls upon the dead. Whoever henceforth touches the
corpse becomes unclean, and makes unclean whomsoever he touches. The
devil is expelled from the dead by means of the "look of the dog": a
"four-eyed dog" is brought near the body and is made to look at the
dead; as soon as he has done so the devil flees back to hell
(_Vendidad_, vii. 7; viii. 41). It is not easy to fetch from a
mythological hell mythological monsters for casual purposes, especially
as men are always engaged in dying upon the earth. Herakles is the only
one who, one single time, performed this notable "stunt." So the
Parsis, being at a loss to find four-eyed dogs, interpret the name as
meaning a dog with two spots over the eyes. Curiously enough the Hindu
scholiasts also regularly interpret the term "four-eyed" in exactly the
same way, "with spots over the eyes." And the Vedic ritual in its turn
has occasion to realize the mythological four-eyed dog in practice. The
horse, at the horse-sacrifice, must take a bath for consecration to the
holy end to which it is put. It must also be guarded against hostile
influences. A low-caste man brings a four-eyed dog--here obviously the
symbol of the hostile powers--kills him with a club, and afterwards
places him under the feet of the horse. It is scarcely necessary to
state that this is a dog with spots over his eyes, and that he is a
symbol of Cerberus.[16]


The epithet "four-eyed" may possibly contain a tentative coagulation of
the two dogs in one. The capacity of the two dogs to see both by day
(the sun) and by night (the moon) may have given the myth a slight start
into the direction of the two-headed Greek Cerberus. But there is the
alternate possibility that four-eyed is but a figure of speech for
"sharp-sighted," especially as I have shown elsewhere that the parallel
expression "to run with four feet" is a Vedic figure of speech for
"swift of foot."[17] Certainly the god Agni, "Fire," is once in the
_Rig-Veda_ (i. 31. 13) called "four-eyed," which can only mean


The two dogs of Yama derive their proper names from their color
epithets. The passages above make it clear that Çy[=a]ma (rarely
Çy[=a]va), "the black," is the moon dog, and that Çabala, "the spotted,
or brindled," is the sun dog. In one early passage (_Rig-Veda_, x. 14.
10) both dogs are named in the dual as Çabal[=a]u. But for a certain
Vedic usage one might think that "the two spotted ones" was their
earliest designation. The usage referred to is the eliptic dual: a close
or natural pair, each member of which suggests the other, may be
expressed through the dual of one of them, as when either
_m[=a]tar[=a]u_ or _pitar[=a]u_, literally, "the two mothers," and "the
two fathers," each mean "the two parents."[18] From this we may conclude
that Çabal[=a]u means really Çabala and Çy[=a]ma, and not the two
Çabalas, that is, "the two spotted ones."

IS ÇABALAS = [Greek: Kerberos]?

More than a hundred years ago the Anglo-Indian Wilford, in the _Asiatick
Researches_, iii., page 409, wrote: "Yama, the regent of hell, has two
dogs, according to the Pur[=a]nas; one of them named Cerbura, or varied;
the other Syama, or black." He then compares Cerbura with Kerberos, of
course. The form Cerbura he obtained from his consulting Pandit, who
explained the name Çabala by the Sanskrit word _karbura_ "variegated," a
regular gloss of the Hindu scholiasts.

About fifty years later a number of distinguished scholars of the past
generation, Max Müller, Albrecht Weber, and Theodor Benfey, compared the
word Çabala with Greek [Greek: Kerberos] (rarely [Greek: Kerbelos]),
but, since then, this identification has been assailed in numerous
quarters with some degree of heat, because it suffers from a slight
phonetic difficulty. One need but remember the swift changes which the
name of Apollo passes through in the mouths of the Greeks--[Greek:
Apollôn], [Greek: Apellôn], [Greek: Appellôn], [Greek: Apeilôn], [Greek:
Aploun][19]--to realize that it is useless to demand strict phonetic
conservation of mythic proper names. The nominative Çabalas, translated
sound for sound into Greek, yields [Greek: Keberos], [Greek: Kebelos];
_vice versa_, [Greek: Kerberos?] translated sound for sound into Vedic
Sanskrit yields Çalbalas, or perhaps, dialectically, Çabbalas. It is a
sober view that considers it rather surprising that the two languages
have not manipulated their respective versions of the word so as to
increase still further the phonetic distance between them. Certainly the
burden is now to prove that the identification is to be rejected, and, I
think, that the soundest linguistic science will refuse ultimately to
consider the phonetic discrepancy between the two words as a matter of
serious import.

But whether the names Çabalas and Kerberos are identical or not, the
myth itself is the thing. The explanation which we have coaxed step by
step from the texts of the Veda imparts to the myth a definite
character: it is no longer a dark and uncertain touch in the troubled
visions of hell, but an uncommonly lucid treatment of an important
cosmic phenomenon. Sun and moon course across the sky: beyond is the
abode of light and the blessed. The coursers are at one moment regarded
as barring the way to heaven; at another as outposts who may guide the
soul to heaven. In yet another mood, as they constantly, day by day,
look down upon the race of men, dying day by day, they are regarded as
picking daily candidates for the final journey. In due time Yama and his
heaven are degraded to a mere Pluto and hell; then the terrible
character of the two dogs is all that can be left to them. And the two
dogs blend into a unit variously, either a four-eyed Parsi dog, or a
two-headed--finally a plural-headed--Kerberos.


The peace of mind of one or the other reader is likely to be disturbed
by the appearance of a hell-dog here and there among peoples outside of
the Indo-European (Aryan) family. So, e. g., I. G. Müller, in his
_Geschichte der Americanischen Urreligionen_, second edition, p. 88,
mentions a dog who threatens to swallow the souls in their passage of
the river of hell. There was a custom among the Mordwines to put a club
into the coffin with the corpse, to enable him to drive away the
watch-dogs at the gate of the nether world.[20] The Mordwines, however,
have borrowed much of their mythology from the Iranians. The Hurons and
Iroquois told the early missionaries that after death the soul must
cross a deep and swift river on a bridge formed by a single slender
tree, where it had to defend itself against the attacks of a dog.[21] No
sane ethnologist or philologer will insist that all these conceptions
are related _genetically_, that there is nothing accidental in the
repetition of the idea. The dog is prominent in animal mythology; one of
his functions is to watch. It is quite possible, nay likely, that a
dog, pure and simple, has strayed occasionally into this sphere of
conceptions without any further organic meaning--simply as a baying,
hostile watch-dog. But we cannot prove anything by an ignorant _non
possumus_; the conception _may_, even if we cannot say _must_, after all
in each case, have been derived from essentially the same source: the
dead journeying upward to heaven interfered with by a coursing heavenly
body, the sun or the moon, or both. Anyhow, the organic quality of the
Indo-European, or at least the Hindu myth makes it guide and
philosopher. From dual sun and moon coursing across the sky to the two
hell-hounds, each step of development is no less clear than from Zeus
pater, "Father Sky," to breezy Jove, the gentleman about town with his
escapades and amours. To reverse the process, to imagine that the Hindus
started with two visionary dogs and finally identified them with sun and
moon--that is as easy and natural as it is for a river to flow up the
hill back to its source.


The rudiment of the present essay in Comparative Mythology was published
by the writer some years ago in a learned journal, under the title, "The
two dogs of Yama in a new role."[22] My late lamented friend, Max
Müller, the gifted writer who knew best of all men how to rivet the
attention of the cultivated public upon questions of this sort, did me
the honor to notice my proposition in an article in the _London Academy_
of August 13, 1892 (number 1058, page 134-5), entitled "Professor
Bloomfield's Contributions to the Interpretation of the Veda." In this
article he seems to try to establish a certain similarity between his
conception of the Kerberos myth and my own. This similarity seems to me
to be entirely illusory. Professor Müller's own last words on the
subject in the Preface of his _Contributions to the Science of
Mythology_ (p. xvi.), will make clear the difference between our views.
He identifies, as he always has identified, Kerberos with the Vedic stem
_çarvara_, from which is derived _çarvar[=i]_, "night." To quote his own
words: "The germ of the idea ... must be discovered in that nocturnal
darkness, that _ç[=a]rvaram tamas_, which native mythologists in India
had not yet quite forgotten in post-Vedic times." With such a view my
own has not the least point of contact. Çabala, the name of one of the
dogs, means "spotted, bright"; it is the name of the sun-dog; it is
quite the opposite of the _ç[=a]rvaram tamas_. The name of the moon-dog,
and, by transfer, the dog of the night, is Çy[=a]ma or Çy[=a]va "black,"
not Çabala, nor Çarvara. The association of the two dogs with day and
night is the association of sun and moon with their respective diurnal
divisions, and nothing more. Of Cimmerian gloom there can be nothing in
the myth primarily, because it deals at the beginning with heaven, and
not with hell; with an auspicious, and not a gloomy, vision of life
after death.


In conclusion I would draw the attention of those scholars, writers, and
publicists that have declared bankruptcy against the methods and results
of Comparative Mythology to the present attempt to establish an
Indo-European naturalistic myth. I would ask them to consider, in the
light of the Veda, that it is probable that the early notions of future
life turn to the visible heaven with its sun and moon, rather than to
the topographically unstable and elusive caves and gullies that lead to
a wide-gated Hades. In heaven, therefore, and not in hell, is the likely
breeding spot of the Cerberus myth. On the way to heaven there is but
one pair that can have shaped itself reasonably in the minds of
primitive observers into a pair of Cerberi. Sun and moon, the Veda
declares, are the Cerberi. In due time, and by gradual stages, the
heaven myth became a hell myth. The Vedic seers had no Pluto, no Hades,
no Styx, and no Charon; yet they had the pair of dogs. Now when Yama and
his heaven become Pluto and hell, then, and only then, Yama's dogs are
on a plane with the three-headed, or two-headed, Greek Kerberos. Is it
not likely that the chthonic hell visions of the Greeks were also
preceded by heavenly visions, and that Kerberos originally sprang from
heaven? Consider, too, the breadth and the persistence of these ideas,
their simple background, and their natural transition from one feature
to another in the myth of Cerberus; that is, the notions of sun and moon
(day and night) in their relation to the precarious life of man upon the
earth, his death, and his future life. For my part, I do not believe
that the honest critics of the methods and results of Comparative
Mythology, though they have been made justly suspicious by the many
failures in this field, will ever successfully "run past, straightway,
the two four-eyed dogs, the spotted and the dark, the Çabal[=a]u, the
brood of Saram[=a]."


[1] _Iliad_ viii. 368; _Odyssey_ xi. 623.

[2] _Theogony_, 311 ff.; cf. also 769 ff.

[3] _Republic_, 588 C.

[4] Baumeister, volume I., page 620 (figure 690).

[5] Baumeister, volume I., page 379 (figure 415).

[6] Baumeister, volume I., page 653 (figure 721).

[7] Baumeister, volume I., page 663 (figure 730). See the Frontispiece
and its explanation.

[8] _American Journal of Archæology_, volume XI., page 14 (figure 12,
page 15).

[9] _Custos opaci pervigil regni canis._ Seneca.

[10] _Inferno_, Canto vi., 13 ff.

[11] See p. 99 of the Teubner edition of his writings.

[12] Fulgentius, Liber I., Fabula VI., de Tricerbero, p. 20 of the
Teubner edition.

[13] Both Çankara, the great Hindu theologian and commentator of the
Upanishads, as well as all modern interpreters of the Upanishads, have
failed to see the sense of this passage.

[14] Cf. the notion of the sun as the "highest death" in
_T[=a]ittir[=i]va Br[=a]hmana_, i. 8. 4.

[15] See Ernst Kuhn, Festgruss an Otto von Böhtlingk, page 68 ff.

[16] Similar notions in Russia and Russian Asia are reported by Wsevolod
Miller, Atti del iv. _Congresso Internazionale degli Orientalisti_, vol.
ii. p. 43; and by Casartelli, _Babylonian and Oriental Record_, iv. 266
ff. They are most likely derived from Iranian sources.

[17] See _American Journal of Philology_, vol. XI., p. 355.

[18] Similarly in Greek [Greek: Aiante] means Ajax and Teukros; see
Delbrück, _Vergleichende Syntax_, i. 137.

[19] See Usener, Götternamen, p. 303 ff.

[20] Max Müller, _Contributions to the Science of Mythology_, p. 240.

[21] Brinton, _The Myths of the New World_. Second Edition, p. 265.

[22] Presented to the American Oriental Society at its meeting May 5,
1891; and printed in its Journal, Vol. XV., pp. 163 ff.

|Transcriber's Notes:                                    |
|Standardized Punctuation.                               |
|Page 29: Changed whomsover to whomsoever.               |
|Page 34: Changed [Greek: Kebreros] to [Greek: Kerberos].|
|Footnote 18: Changed I. 137. to i. 137.                 |

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