March 16, 2006

Dumb Dog

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

your take on literature is very interesting. nice reader-response crit.

Posted by: andrea at March 16, 2006 10:43 PM

Not to be picky, but it's actually Satan that has Judas in his maw in The Divine Comedy. Dante's Cerberus actually fits your description pretty well, though--Virgil satiates his appetite with a few clods of dirt and walks right on by.

Posted by: Scipio at March 16, 2006 11:21 PM

um so can i have my book back now please?

Posted by: the metamorpheses' owner at March 17, 2006 02:10 AM

Ah, Jordan, you are right. I'll have to read Dante again and refresh those lessons as well. My lit teacher would have my head!

Posted by: timf at March 17, 2006 10:26 AM

Now read Kafka's "Metamorphosis" and prepare for some wackiness/awesomeness.

Posted by: Brade at March 17, 2006 03:37 PM

I love the Orpheus and Euridice story!

Posted by: Katherine at March 22, 2006 02:47 PM
Post a comment

Please note: Comments will not appear immediately. Your comment will appear upon approval by the blog's editor. We had to implement this to decrease the amount of spam that our site receives. Please forgive the inconvenience. We are looking into other, friendlier options.

Remember personal info?

Receive an email if someone
else comments on this post?

(by leaving this box checked you will also receive your own comment via email to confirm your subscription)