Greek Mythology >> Bestiary >> Giants >> Cacus (Kakos)


Greek Name




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Evil, Bad (kakos)

KAKOS (Cacus) was a monstrous, fire-breathing giant who dwelt in a cave on the Aventine Hill in Latium--later the site of Rome. He was slain by Herakles as the hero was on his way back to Greece after fetching the cattle of Geryon from Erytheia (Spain).



HEPHAISTOS (Virgil Aeneid 8.195, Ovid Fasti 1.543)


CACUS, a fabulous Italian shepherd, who was believed to have lived in a cave, and to have committed various kinds of robberies. Among others, he also stole a part of the cattle of Hercules or Recaranus; and, as he dragged the animals into his cave by their tails, it was impossible to discover their traces. But when the remaining oxen passed by the cave, those within began to bellow, and were thus discovered. Another tradition stated, that Caca, the sister of Cacus, betrayed the place of their concealment. Cacus was slain by Hercules. (Liv. i. 7.) He is usually called a son of Vulcan, and Ovid, who gives his story with considerable embellishments, describes Cacus as a fearful giant, who was the terror of the whole land. (Ov. Fast. i. 554; comp. Virg. Aen. viii. 190, &c.; Propert. iv. 9; Dionys. i. 32, 43; Aurel. Vict. De Orig. Gent. Rom. 6.) Evander, who then ruled over the country in which Cacus had resided, shewed his gratitude to the conqueror of Cacus by dedicating to him a sanctuary, and appointing the Potitii and Pinarii as his priests. The common opinion respecting the original character of Cacus is, that lie was the personification of some evil daemon, and this opinion is chiefly founded upon the descriptions of him given by the Roman poets. Hartung (Die Relig. d. Röm. i. p. 318, &c.), however, thinks that Cacus, whom he identifies with Cacius (Diod. iv. 21; Solin. i. 1), and his sister Caca were Roman penates, whose names he connects with Kaiô, caleo, and coquo. There were at Rome various things connected with the legends about Cacus. On the side of the Palatine hill, not far from the hut of Faustulus, there was a foot-path leading up the hill, with a wooden ladder called "the ladder of Cacus," and the ancient cave of Cacus, which is still shewn at Rome, was in the Salina, near the Porta Trigemina. (Diod., Solin., ll.. cc..)

Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.


Virgil, Aeneid 8. 195 ff (trans. Day-Lewis) (Roman epic C1st B.C.) :
"[King Evander of Latium tells Aeneas the story of Heracles and Cacus :] These solemn ceremonies [of the god Heracles], this ritual feast, this altar hallowed by deity were not imposed on us by some fanciful heresy regardless of older gods. We keep up these rites, Aeneas, in honour of one who saved us from cruel danger and well deserves them. Look at that scarp up there, that overhanging rock face! See the wide scatter of boulders! How desolate stands the mountain abode, with the crags that have toppled down, gigantic debris! Once a cavern there, deeply recessed in the hill-side, impervious to the sun's rays; its occupant was a half-human, horrible creature, Cacus; its floor was for ever warm with new-spilt blood, and nailed to its insolent doors you could see men's heads hung up, their faces pallid, ghastly, decaying. This ogre was the son of Vulcanus [Hephaistos]; as he moved in titan bulk, he breathed out his father's deadly flame. But to us too, in our longing that help would some day come, time brought deliverance, aid divine. For the great avenger Hercules [Heracles] came, in the glory of having slain and despoiled triform Geryon; victorious, he drove this way his great bulls, and his herds were thronged by our marshy river.
Cacus, beside himself with lunatic greed, so that nothing crooked or criminal should remain undared, unattempted, rustled four bulls of surpassing build out of the steadings, and with them as many heifers, very fine creatures. These, to ensure that they left no tracks pointing the way they had gone, he dragged by their tails backwards into his cave, reversing the trail, and hid his plunder deep in the sunless rock there, a searcher would find no clues leading him to the cave. Well, when the time had come for Hercules to move on his herds from the pasturage they had cropped down, as he was going, his oxen plaintively mooed at leaving the place, our hills and woods all rang with the lowings of the departing herd. Just then one of the heifers, corralled within that desolate cavern, bellowed in answer, betraying Cacus' plot. Then, bitterly galled, the son of Alcides [Heracles] erupted in furious anger: seizing his weapons, his heavily-knotted club, he made hot-foot for the top of that mountain, right up there. Then did our folk for the first time see Cacus thoroughly frightened, with panic in his eyes: he was off in a flash and running towards his cave like the wind; fear gave wings to his feet. His father's handiwork, which held a huge rock poised, so that it fell, blocking and reinforcing the entrance like a portucullis: next moment Hercules, wild with rage, was there, looking this way and that to find a possible way in, grinding his teeth. Three times all over Mount Aventine he scoured in furious anger; three times he vainly went for that rock barricade; three times sank down in the valley, exhausted.
There stood a tapering needle of flint, sheer upon all sides, which soared up out of the cave's roof, dizzily high to view--a convenient place for carrion birds to lodge their nests in. This pinnacle leaned from the ridge at an angle over the stream to its left: Hercules threw his whole weight against its right side, shook it, wrenching it loose from its deep-rooted base; then suddenly pushed: at that push a crack like thunder rang through the wide sky, the river-banks leapt apart, the river recoiled in terror. But the den of Cacus, his whole great castle, unroofed, was now visible, the dark cavern revealed to its inmost depths. It was as if the earth, violently fissured and yawning right to its depths, should uncover the regions of hell, the spectral domain unloved by the gods, and you could peer into the abyss from above and see the ghosts there flinch at the gush of daylight.
As Cacus, caught in his rocky chamber, startled and shocked by the unexpected torrent of light, was uncouthly roaring, Hercules showered down arrows upon him, then anything that would do to pelt him with--boughs and immense boulders. Cacus, seeing no other escape from his predicament, belched a great cloud of smoke (you may well be amazed at this part of the story), so that a smoke-screen went rolling over his lair, blotting out everything from sight, and the cave was all one thick, black, fog-bound night, shot through with glares of flame.
Hercules lost all restraint, in his fury at this: he hurled himself down through the fire with a headlong leap, to the point where the smoke rolled thickest and billowed about the huge cave in eddying black clouds. He laid hands on the ogre, who vainly was vomiting flame through the mirk, got a quick hold, knotted him double, and throttled him so that his eyes started, a haemorrhage came in his dry throat. At once the doors were torn open and the dark den exposed, bringing to light the cattle which Cacus had stolen, the loot he'd dragged out by the heels. Our people could never be done with gazing at the bestial creature--his terrible eyes, his face, the bristling hair on his breast, the extinct volcano of his gullet.
Since then these rites have been practised, this day kept holy by grateful posterity, headed by its founder, Potitius, and by the Pinarian family, wardens of the worship of Hercules. This alter, which he himself set up in the grove here, always shall be for us, in name and in truth, the Ara Maxima."

Ovid, Fasti 1. 543 ff (trans. Boyle) (Roman poet C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Look, here comes the club-carrying hero [Heracles] driving Erythea's cows on his long world journey. And while he is hosted in the Tegean house, cattle roam unguarded through broad acres. It was morning : the acting herder from Tiryns jolts from sleep and counts two bulls missing. He searches, but sees no tracks from the silent theft; Cacus had dragged them backward to his cave, savage Cacus, the Aventine wood's terror and shame, no light problem for neighbours and guests. His face was grim, his strength matched his body, his body huge: this monster's father was Mulciber [Hephaistos]. A vast labyrinthine cavern served as his house, remote: even beasts could barely find it. Faces and limbs hang nailed above the doorposts; the filthy ground blanches with men's bones. Jupiter's [Zeus'] son was leaving with part of the herd lost; the plunder bellowed raucously. ‘I welcome the recall,’ he shouts. The avenger tracks the sound through the woods to the impious lair. Cacus had blocked the entrance with a barricade of rock; scarcely ten ox-teams could have shifted it. Heaving with his shoulders (heaven once rested there), Hercules moves and topples the huge mass. The crash of its dislodgement dismayed heaven itself; the battered earth sank beneath the bulk's weight. Cacus at first fights hand to hand and skirmishes ferociously with boulders and trees. When this does nothing, he resorts unbravely to his father's arts, and retches roaring flame. You would think every blast was Typhoeus' breath, a bolt of lightning hurled from Etna's fire. Alcides [Heracles] grabs him, and sinks the tri-knotted club three or four times in the other man's face. He collapses and vomits smoke mingled with blood, and hits the ground, dying, with his broad chest.
The victor sacrifices one bull to you, Jove [Zeus], and calls Evander and the country folk. He set up an altar to himself called ‘Maxima' in the city district named from the cattle."

Ovid, Fasti 6. 65 ff :
"This land [of Rome] owes me [Juventas-Hebe] something, too, on my great husband's [Heracles'] account. He drove the captured cattle here, where Cacus found no defence in his father's [Hephaistos' (Hephaestus')] gift of flame and dyed Aventine dirt with blood."

Propertius, Elegies 4. 9 ff (trans. Goold) (Roman elegist C1st B.C.) :
"What time Amphitryon's son [Heracles] had driven his steers from the stalls of Erythea [home of Geryon], he came to that unconquerable hill, the sheep-grazed Palatine [i.e. where Rome was later founded]: here the weary drover halted his weary cattle, where the Velabrum made a lake of its river and the mariner hoisted his sails over a city sea. But Cacus proved a treacherous host, and the cattle were not left unharmed: by his theft he violated the law of Jupiter [Zeus]. Cacus was a dweller there, a robber making forays from his dreaded cave, whose utterance issued forth from three separate mouths.
That there might be no sure sign of obvious theft, he dragged the cattle backwards by their tails to his cave, but not unwitnessed by the god : ‘Thief’ bellowed the steers; the thief's implacable doors were battered down by rage. Cacus lay dead, smitten on his three foreheads by the Arcadian mace: and thus Alcides [Heracles] spoke : ‘Go, cattle; go, cattle of Hercules, last labour of my club, cattle twice my quest and twice my booty, and hallow with long-drawn lowing the Fields of Cattle: your pasture will be Rome's famous Forum.’"




Other references not currently quoted here: Dionysius of Halicarnassus 1.39.4.


A complete bibliography of the translations quoted on this page.