Cornelia and Cerberus


Detail of Cornélie, Mère des Gracques, by Joseph-Benoît Suvée

Cornelia Scipionis Africana (190–100 BCE) appears on Page 24, Canto IV of Inferno, as one of the righteous people condemned to Limbo for not being Christians. She’s mentioned again on Page 447, Canto XV of Paradiso, as one of the examples of a good woman.

Cornelia was the second daughter of Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus (hero of the Second Punic War) and Aemilia Paulia. She and her husband, Tiberius Gracchus the Elder, had 12 children, three of whom lived to adulthood (Sempronia, Tiberius, and Gaius). Since her husband was 27 years her senior, and about 45 when she married him at age 18, she was widowed by age 36.

Cornelia chose to remain a widow, and even refused the marriage proposal of King Ptolemy VII Physcon of Egypt. She focused on educating her children, supporting her two sons’ political careers, and studying Greek, Latin, and literature. Everybody adored her, and she was considered the epitome of a good Roman woman.

Cornelia is the feminine form of Cornelius, a Latin name which possibly derives from the word cornu, “horn.”

Dante and Virgil with Cerberus

Cerberus is a three-headed dog who guards the entrance to the Third Circle of Hell (gluttons). According to legend, Hercules dragged him into Hell, and the foam from his mouth created the poisonous plant aconite. His parents were Echidna (half-woman, half-snake) and Typhon (a monstrous creature with many different descriptions). Cerberus has a snake for a tail.

Cerberus is the Latin form of Kerberos, a Greek name which possibly means “spotted.”


6 thoughts on “Cornelia and Cerberus

  1. Cornelia sounds like an honorable person with her priorities straight. I never much cared for Cerebrus. One headed dogs are quite nice, but three-headed ones not so much.

  2. Pingback: A to Z Reflections 2016 | Onomastics Outside the Box

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