Cacus In Roman mythology, a fire-spitting giant, son of Vulcan and Medusa; brother of Caca, who was goddess of excrement.
When Heracles, with the cattle of Geryon, wandered into the vicinity of Cacus’s cave, Cacus stole some of the cattle while Heracles was sleeping. Cacus dragged them backward into his cave so that their hoof prints would seem to be going in the opposite direction. He then closed the entrance to the cave with a rock so heavy that 10 pairs of oxen could not budge it. The lowing of the cattle in the cave guided Heracles to their hiding place. He moved the rock, opened the cave, and killed Cacus with his club. At the site of the cave Heracles then built an altar to Jupiter, under the title Pater Inventor (the discoverer). He then sacrificed one of the cows on the altar.
Vergil’s Aeneid (book 8) locates the cave of Cacus on the Aventine in Rome. Medieval Christian writers saw Heracles’ triumph over the giant Cacus as a symbol of the forces of evil being vanquished by those of good. The French artist Poussin painted the scene, as did Domenichino. There is an engraving by Dürer on the subject.
In literature Cacus was the standard for thievery. Cervantes wrote: “There you will find the Lord Rinaldo of Montalban, with his friends and companions, all of them greater thieves than Cacus.” The English novelist Sir Walter Scott wrote: “Our hero, feeling his curiosity considerably excited by the idea of visiting the den of an Highland Cacus, took however, the precaution to inquire if his guide might be trusted.”
Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, Third Edition – Written by Anthony S. Mercatante & James R. Dow– Copyright © 2009 by Anthony S. Mercatante