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Arcadia University Senior Thesis

Completed in May 2023 to complete my Bachelor's Degree in Studio Art. Displayed for one week at Arcadia's Senior Thesis Exhibition in 2023.

Illustration of Aeneas and the Cumean Sybil with Cerberus

Bartolommeo Pinelli. Aeneas and the Cumean Sybil Feeding a Cake to Cerberus, 19th Century.

The legend of Cerberus likely started in the Souli mountains, where the river Acheron is said to connect the world of the living with that of the dead⁴. The Souli Mountains are in what was Molossia, an area famed for its giant Molossian hounds, who likely inspired the myth of the ferocious Cerberus himself⁴. Some legends describe Cerberus’ drool as poisonous, and when his three heads slobbered and his saliva touched the ground, a toxic purple flower known as aconite or wolfsbane grew from the spot². This is depicted in the painting where there are small groups of purple flowers around the entrance to the cave, especially under the head directly over the irresistible honey cakes.

For the depiction of Cerberus in this painting, I chose to model him on the primitive Greek hunting breed called the Cretan Hound, or Kressai Kynes. This breed is documented in writing and artifacts for at least 3,500 years, and was extensively cultivated and used by the Minoan civilization¹⁰. This breed has been praised since ancient times, and was recorded to be exported to the Greek colonies and other countries in Europe to mix and improve the local hounds¹⁰. I felt that for my Cerberus to truly look the part of an agile and cunning creature, the Cretan Hound’s particular figure and fame as a truly ancient species would do the myth the greatest justice.

Illustration of yggdrasill

Baxter’s Patent Oil Printing. “Yggdrasill, the Mundane tree”. 1847.

Like Honey to Bees
Humanity's Oldest Friend

Cerberus and Aeneas
Bees and honey are heavily associated with death and the Underworld in Ancient Greek mythology. Some Greek philosophers believed humans could be reincarnated as bees after death, as mentioned in the soul bee stories previously. Persephone, the wife of the God of the Underworld, Hades, was also often referred to as the “Honeyed One”⁸. The Ancient Greeks believed that openings to rocky caves were entrances to the Underworld, and because bees often constructed their hives in similar places for shelter from the elements, people began to associate them with death⁸.
In Virgil’s “Aeneid”¹⁸, an epic poem about the history and founding of Rome, the mythical hero Aeneas must traverse past the three-headed guard dog Cerberus and into the Underworld to receive a prophecy from his dead father². Aeneas was prepared for this, though, as it was common knowledge in Ancient Greece that Cerberus, whose name means “demon from the pit”, was unable to resist the taste of honey cakes²,⁸. The offering of the “loaf with honeyed herbs” was more than just a distraction though– it was laced with something to make him sleep so Aeneas could sneak past and continue his quest².
Much like bees, dogs have been a part of human hi
story since before the written word, with archeological evidence found in Turkey and Israel proving the early domestication of dogs from at least 12,000 BCE¹¹. The dog was a companion, protector, and hunter for the Greeks, who invented the infamous spiked collar to protect the necks of their canine friends from wolves¹¹.

Photo of a Cretan hound

This paper quilling is inspired by my Norwegian heritage, which is greatly celebrated by my mother’s side of the family through stories and traditions. The overall style emulates traditional Norwegian rosemaling art, and the subject of the piece is the concept of a Viking honeymoon¹³. In Viking ceremonies, the married couple drank mead and ate honey-flavored cakes for their first married month, also called a “moon” in reference to the full cycle of the moon⁷. This tradition is one of the possible origins of the word “honeymoon”, which we use today to refer to a vacation or trip taken by newlyweds, usually within the first month of marriage. Shown in the quilling, read from bottom to top: flowers make pollen, from which bees make honey, and honey is made into mead, and that mead is drunk by the newly married lovebirds for the first full cycle of the moon.
In the fifth centuries, honey was collected by Anglo-Saxon beoceorls and mostly used for making mead because the mead hall was the heart of Anglo-Saxon communities⁷. In Scandinavia the mead hall was owned by a lord, who allowed his warriors to use it as a place to rest, feast, and refresh after battle⁷. Mead is also known to be a beverage offered to the resident deceased heroes in Valhalla by the Valkyries, or the Fate Maidens¹⁴.
The honey used to compose this divine drink was regarded as a dew from heaven, or from the world-tree, Yggdrasil¹⁴. This great ash-tree’s branches cover the whole earth, and it has three roots spreading all the way down into the Underworld¹⁴. At one of its roots is the Urthar spring, guarded by the Fates, who sprinkled the sacred water daily over the tree in order to protect it from decay¹⁴. The dew from the water that fell from the tree to earth was called the “honey-fall”, and on it the bees fed¹⁴. In Teutonic heathendom, all arts and culture came from the Underworld, as did swans and bees, which came from a paradise somewhere underground where the Fates lived¹⁴.
Another well connected with the Yggdrasil tree was Mimir’s well. Mimir was one of the guardians of the world-tree, and he drank mead every morning out of the Urthar spring¹⁴. This mead, called Othrörir, bestowed wisdom on those that drank it, making Mimir a valuable advisor to Odin¹⁴. Perhaps mead was gifted to the newlyweds to aid them in making wise decisions in their new life together in addition to being a gift from the world-tree and the divine bees of fate.

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