Cerberus Unleashed: Delving into Ancient Greece's Mythological Treasures in Italy

A sealed tomb featuring a fresco of Cerberus

In Italy, an ancient sealed tomb adorned with a fresco depicting Cerberus, the famous three-headed dog from Greek mythology, has recently come to light.

This remarkable burial chamber, located in Giugliano, a suburb of Naples, is estimated to be around 2,000 years old. Its discovery occurred during an archaeological survey conducted before commencing maintenance work on the city's water system in a neighbouring farmland. Interestingly, this area has yielded numerous burial sites dating from the Roman Republic era (510-31 BC) to the Roman Imperial Age (31 BC – AD 476).

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Cerberus Unleashed: Delving into Ancient Greece's Mythological Treasures in Italy 1

The pristine condition of this untouched tomb is particularly striking, with frescoes adorning the walls and ceilings. Among these captivating mythological depictions, Cerberus, the guardian of the underworld, takes centre stage, earning the chamber its nickname, the 'Tomb of Cerberus.' The artwork vividly portrays the twelfth and most perilous of Hercules' Labors: his descent into Hades, guided by Mercury, to capture the menacing three-headed beast, Cerberus.

Additional mythological figures grace the walls, including ichthyocentaurs, beings with a centaur-like form, possessing a human upper body, the forelegs and lower anterior half of a horse, and the tail of a fish. The fresco showcases two ichthyocentaurs facing each other, holding an ancient Greco-Roman shield. Each figure carries an erote, a winged, Cupid-like infant symbolizing love and desire, on their arm.

The discovery of the burial chamber stemmed from identifying a wall constructed using an ancient Roman technique called opus incertum. This wall served as the entrance to the tomb, sealed by a substantial tuff slab—a lightweight, porous rock composed of volcanic ash and other sediments. Gaining access to the chamber required the meticulous removal of the tiles covering the ceiling opening, revealing what experts describe as an unparalleled find. Mariano Nuzzo, the superintendent of Archaeology, Fine Arts, and Landscape for the Naples metropolitan area, says, "The tomb boasts impeccably preserved frescoed ceilings and walls, featuring mythological scenes that encircle the entire room. Among these representations, the three-headed dog stands out. Three painted klìnai, an altar with vessels for libations, and the deceased, still resting on funeral beds surrounded by valuable objects, complete the captivating tableau of a truly unprecedented discovery in this region."

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