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.
Killed by Heracles
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. 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.
In art Othrus appears together with Geryon, the three-headed, or three-bodied giant, confronting Heracles, wearing his traditional lion skin. 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. 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, and a dog tail.
According to Apollodorus, Orthrus had two heads, however in art, the number varies. As in Euphronios' cup, Othrus is usually depicted with two heads, including the earliest image, found on a bronze pectoral from Samos, c. 600 BC (Samos B2518), although, from the mid sixth century, he is sometimes depicted with only one head, while one early fifth century BC Cypriot stone relief gives him three heads, á la Cerberus.
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.
Othrus and Cerberus
Orthrus bears a close resemblance to Cerberus, the hound of Hades. The classical scholar Arthur Bernard Cook called Orthrus Cerberus' "doublet". 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, or even one hundred heads, though in literature three heads for Cerberus became the standard. However in art, often only two heads for Cerberus are shown. 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.
- Hesiod, Theogony 306–312; Apollodorus, 2.5.10 ff.. 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.
- Hesiod, Theogony 326–329. The referent of "she" in line 326 of the Theogony is uncertain, see Clay, p.159, with n. 34.
- Hesiod, Theogony 287–294, 979–983; Apollodorus, 2.5.10 ff.; Gantz, pp. 402–408.
- Beazley Archive 200080; LIMC Orthros I 14; Schefold, pp. 126–128, figs. 147, 148; Stafford, p. 45; Gantz, p. 403.
- Beazley Archive 301557; LIMC Orthros I 12; Ogden, p. 114 n. 257; Gantz, p. 403.
- Apollodorus, 2.5.10 ff.; Cook, p. 410; Ogden, p. 114.
- Ogden, p. 114, with n. 326; Stafford, p. 43; LIMC Orthros I 19 (detail showing a two-headed Orhtrus at the feet of Geryon, who is fighting Heracles, on the left, wearing his lion skin: image 3/12).
- 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).
- LIMC Orthros I 21; Metropolitan Museum of Art 74.51.2853; Mertens, p. 78, fig. 31.
- Ogden, Ogden, p. 114, with n. 326.
- Cook, p. 410.
- Hesiod, Theogony 311–312.
- 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.
- Ogden, pp. 105–106, with n. 183.
- 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?"
- Apollodorus, Apollodorus, The Library, with an English Translation by Sir James George Frazer, F.B.A., F.R.S. in 2 Volumes. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1921. Online version at the Perseus Digital Library.
- Cook, Arthur Bernard, Zeus: A Study in Ancient Religion, Volume III: Zeus God of the Dark Sky (Earthquakes, Clouds, Wind, Dew, Rain, Meteorites), Part I: Text and Notes, Cambridge University Press 1940. Internet Archive
- Clay, Jenny Strauss, Hesiod's Cosmos, Cambridge University Press, 2003. ISBN 978-0-521-82392-0.
- Gantz, Timothy, Early Greek Myth: A Guide to Literary and Artistic Sources, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996, Two volumes: ISBN 978-0-8018-5360-9 (Vol. 1), ISBN 978-0-8018-5362-3 (Vol. 2).
- Mertens, Joan R., How to Read Vases, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2010, ISBN 9781588394040.
- Ogden, Daniel, Drakon: Dragon Myth and Serpent Cult in the Greek and Roman Worlds, Oxford University Press, 2013. ISBN 9780199557325.
- Hesiod, Theogony, in The Homeric Hymns and Homerica with an English Translation by Hugh G. Evelyn-White, Cambridge, MA., Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1914. Online version at the Perseus Digital Library.
- Schefold, Karl, Luca Giuliani, Gods and Heroes in Late Archaic Greek Art, Cambridge University Press, 1992. ISBN 9780521327183
- Quintus Smyrnaeus, Quintus Smyrnaeus: The Fall of Troy, Translator: A.S. Way; Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA, 1913. Internet Archive
- Smith, William; Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, London (1873). "Orthrus"
- Stafford, Emma, Herakles, Routledge, 2013. ISBN 9781136519277.
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