The professor of my classical literature course periodically encouraged her students to remember her lessons should we revisit any of the literature ten or twenty years after graduating. I've cheated and I'm finishing the Metamorphoses again a few years early.
Reading Ovid again at a more relaxed pace has been thoroughly enjoyable. I've never noticed until recently how Ovid ends a book with the beginning of a tale and then finishes the story in the beginning of the next. The style evolves one book into the next which reinforces the namesake of the work. He also uses frame stories to encapsulate the various accounts into one book. Brilliant.
But rereading it has brought doubts against one particular lesson. Ovid frequently brings up the nasty topic of Cerberus. Cerby is the ostensibly fierce guard to the underworld. Dante would tell you that he is so mean that he's even eternally gnawing on Judas the betrayer. That is the Cerberus that I took notes on. But the more that I learn of this three-headed dog through the Metamorphoses the more I distrust his reputation.
First, if you've never heard the sad tale of Orpheus and I told you that he died while trying to save his beloved Euridice from the clutches of Hades you may assume that it was the dog that got him in the end. However, the silly dog played no part in Orpheus' death. Instead the beast practically rolled over when Orpheus played a song. Orpheus went skipping through the gates of the underworld unscathed.
Point the second: you've got Psyche's ordeal. She had to go get some beauty cream from Persephone to give to Aphrodite (the latter was still angry at Psyche for being more beautiful so she made her jump through hoops to appease her wrath, the Greek gods hold grudges like that). Surely Cerberus would do the little beauty pageant winner in! But wait! What's that Psyche has up her tunic? Honey cakes! Yes, she throws some treats down for the pooch and Aphrodite gets a new jar of concealer. Word apparently spread because Aeneas did the same thing.
Third, we come to Hercules. His is most believable because he had to actually wrestle the beast into submission for the last of twelve labors set to him by Eurystheus. However, the wrestling (in some accounts) was only done as a technicality. Hades was going to give Hercules the dog but thought it unfair so he told Herc to go ahead and play with it for a while to make the whole labor thing look legit. Hercules even appears to have tamed the ferocious beast because he set the creature in guard of a grove after showing it to Eurystheus. Eventually (somehow) the tamed Cerberus made it back to Hades without a scratch.
So, as you can see, this hound of hell is nothing more than hype.Posted by timf at March 16, 2006 09:25 PM