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For the genus of jumping spiders, see Orthrus (spider).
A two-headed Orthrus, with snake tail, lying wounded at the feet of Heracles (left) and the three-bodied Geryon (right). Detail from a red-figure kylix by Euphronios, 550–500 BC, Staatliche Antikensammlungen (Munich 2620).

In Greek mythology, Orthrus (Greek: Ὄρθρος, Orthros) or Orthus (Greek: Ὄρθος, Orthos) was a two-headed dog who guarded Geryon's cattle and was killed by Heracles. He was the offspring of the monsters Echidna and Typhon, and the brother of Cerberus, who was also a multi-headed guard dog.[1]

According to Hesiod, Orthrus was the father of the Sphinx and the Nemean Lion, though who Hesiod meant as the mother, whether Echidna, the Chimera, or Ceto, is unclear.[2]

Killed by Heracles[edit]

Orthrus and his master Eurytion were charged with guarding Geryon's herd of red cattle in the "sunset" land of Erytheia ("red one"), an island in the far west of the Mediterranean.[3] Heracles killed Orthrus, and later slew Eurytion, and Geryon, before taking the red cattle to complete his tenth labor. According to Apollodorus Heracles killed Orthrus with his club, although in art Orthrus is often depicted pierced by arrows.

The poet Pindar refers to the "hounds of Geryon" trembling before Heracles.[4] Pindar's use of the plural "hounds" in connection with Geryon is unique.[5] He may have used the plural because Orthus had multiple heads, or perhaps because he knew a tradition in which Geryon had more than one dog.[6]

In art[edit]

A two-headed Orthrus and a three-bodied Geryon. Attic black-figure neck amphora, by the Swing Painter, c. 550–500 (Paris, Cab. Med. 223).

In art Orthrus appears together with Geryon, the three-headed, or three-bodied giant, confronting Heracles, wearing his traditional lion skin.[7] A red-figure cup by Euphronios from Vulci c. 550–500 BC (Munich 2620) shows Heracles, on the left, wearing his traditional lion-skin, fighting a three-bodied Geryon, on the right, with a two-headed, Orthrus lying belly-up between them at their feet, with an arrow piercing his chest, and his snake tail still writhing behind him.[8] An Attic black-figure neck amphora, by the Swing Painter c. 550–500 BC (Cab. Med. 223), shows a two-headed Orthrus, at the feet of a three-bodied Geryon, with two arrows protruding through one of his heads, and a dog tail.[9]

According to Apollodorus, Orthrus had two heads, however in art, the number varies.[10] As in Euphronios' cup, Orthrus is usually depicted with two heads, including the earliest image, found on a bronze pectoral from Samos, c. 600 BC (Samos B2518),[11] although, from the mid sixth century, he is sometimes depicted with only one head,[12] while one early fifth century BC Cypriot stone relief gives him three heads, á la Cerberus.[13]

The Euphronios cup, and the stone relief depict Orthrus, like Cerberus, with a snake tail, though usually he is shown with a dog tail, as in the Swing Painter's amphora.[14]

Orthrus and Cerberus[edit]

Orthrus bears a close resemblance to Cerberus, the hound of Hades. The classical scholar Arthur Bernard Cook called Orthrus Cerberus' "doublet".[15] According to Hesiod, Cerberus, like Orthrus was the offspring of Echidna and Typhon. And like Orthrus, Cerberus was multi-headed. The earliest accounts gave Cerberus fifty,[16] or even one hundred heads,[17] though in literature three heads for Cerberus became the standard.[18] However, in art, often only two heads for Cerberus are shown.[19] Cerberus was also usually depicted with a snake tail, just as Orthrus was sometimes. Both became guard dogs, with Cerberus guarding the gates of Hades, and both were overcome by Heracles in one of his labours.


His name is given as either "Orthrus" (Ὄρθρος) or "Orthus" (Ὄρθος). For example Hesiod, the oldest source, calls the hound "Orthus", while Apollodorus calls him "Orthrus".[20]


  1. ^ Hesiod, Theogony 306–312; Apollodorus, 2.5.10. Quintus Smyrnaeus, Posthomerica (or Fall of Troy) 6.249 ff. (pp. 272–273) has Cerberus as the offspring of Echidna and Typhon, and Orthrus as his brother.
  2. ^ Hesiod, Theogony 326–329. The referent of "she" in line 326 of the Theogony is uncertain, see Clay, p.159, with n. 34.
  3. ^ Hesiod, Theogony 287–294, 979–983; Apollodorus, 2.5.10; Gantz, pp. 402–408.
  4. ^ Pindar, Isthmian 1.13–15.
  5. ^ Race, p. 139 n. 3.
  6. ^ Bury, pp. 12–13 n. 13; Fennell, p. 129 n. 13.
  7. ^ Woodford, "Orthos I".
  8. ^ Beazley Archive 200080; LIMC Orthros I 14; Schefold, pp. 126–128, figs. 147, 148; Stafford, p. 45; Gantz, p. 403.
  9. ^ Beazley Archive 301557; LIMC Orthros I 12; Ogden, p. 114 n. 257; Gantz, p. 403.
  10. ^ Apollodorus, 2.5.10; Cook, p. 410; Ogden, p. 114.
  11. ^ Ogden, p. 114, with n. 326; Stafford, p. 43; LIMC Orthros I 19. Other two-headed examples include: LIMC Orthros I 6–18, 20.
  12. ^ Ogden, p. 114, with n. 326. For an example of a one-headed Orthrus see: British Museum B194 (Bristish Museum 1836,0224.103; Beazley Archive 310316; LIMC Orthros I 2). Other one-headed examples include: LIMC Orthros I 1, 3–5.
  13. ^ LIMC Orthros I 21; Metropolitan Museum of Art 74.51.2853; Mertens, p. 78, fig. 31.
  14. ^ Ogden, Ogden, p. 114, with n. 326.
  15. ^ Cook, p. 410.
  16. ^ Hesiod, Theogony 311–312.
  17. ^ Pindar fragment F249a/b SM, from a lost Pindar poem on Heracles in the underworld, according to a scholia on the Iliad, Gantz p. 22; Ogden, p. 105, with n. 182.
  18. ^ Ogden, pp. 105–106, with n. 183.
  19. ^ Ogden, p. 106, wonders whether "such images salute or establish a tradition of a two-headed Cerberus, or are we to imagine a third head concealed behind the two that can be seen?"
  20. ^ Hesiod Theogony 293, 309, 327; Apollodorus, 2.5.10. For the form of the name used in other sources see West, pp. 248–249 line 293 Ὄρθον; Frazer's note 4 to Apollodorus, 2.5.10.


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