Herakles and Cerberus



This Kylix, a broad drinking vessel, has an image painted inside ( which would be revealed as you drank) painted by Paseas around 525-520 BCE and it is now in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.


Cerberus looks cute, the kind of dog who would like to settle down to a life of chewing Herakles’ leather slippers instead of returning to his post at Hades’ gates as he does. Paseas the artist has chosen a very particular moment in the story. Herakles was told by Hades that he would be allowed to take the dog to the upper world if only he didn’t use his club or sword. No violence!  Hades loved that hound. Here Paseas has caught the very moment when Cerberus and Herakles lock eyes. It’s a moment of seduction, of spell binding, at which Cerberus, who is still resisting, finds himself compelled to give in. Hermes, who is the god of communication, of travel, of change from one state to another, is helping the whole process along, joining the two figures and propelling Herakles’ motion forward. His more usual role is that of accompanying spirits down to the Underworld, but here he is doing the journey in reverse. It’s clear that the two men are travelling at speed , with force, which wouldn’t work if Cerberus were really as rooted to the spot as he appears. This gives the image a sense of a photo shutter moment in time. It’s always possible, though unprovable, that the artist knew of  contemporary theories of sight which decried vision as a ray of light which was emitted by the eye.In this image the line of sight is emphasised by Hermes’ staff and Herakles arm and even the tail of Hermes’ hat.

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