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Storytelling in Miniature

Heinrich Aldegrever
German, 1502–about 1561

Hercules and Cerberus, from “The Labors of Hercules”

Engraving, 1550
4 3/16 x 2 5/8 in.
Museum purchase, 1923.3164

Hercules’s last Labor was to subdue Cerberus, the watch-dog of Hades, the Death-Demon of the dark, and to escort him to the surface for the amusement of King Eurystheus. Three-headed and sporting a mane of snakes, the giant hound Cerberus guarded the entrance of Hades, ensuring that no shades of the dead left the Underworld and no living entered the realm of the dead. In this print Heinrich Aldegrever has simplified the three-headed hound, eliminating the mane of snakes and the dragon’s tail mentioned in Greek literature. Threatening the beast with his club as he pulls the chain about its neck, Hercules ultimately gained control by choking the animal into submission. After a short time Cerberus was returned to the gates of Hades where he resumed his eternal duties.