It should come as no surprise that here at Dog School Ltd. we dote on dogs. The companionship they offer, their quirkiness. Going for a ramble with your dog or playing with them can be one of the highlights of your day. At these times it’s difficult to remember their kinship with wolves.
Literature has never forgotten the link. For every guardian of the hearth or man’s best friend, there are plenty who’d give you sleepless nights. Bill Sikes’ bull terrier Bullseye. The Frankendog in Bulgakov’s Heart of a Dog. Mr Chartwell, the personification of Winston Churchill’s depression.
Where would these fearsome beasts be without a forerunner? Lying behind every sinister canine in literature is the original and best…
As befits a world where gods freely mingle with men, the Greek underworld was like an airport lounge, heroes flitting in and out. To prevent unwanted outgoing traffic, Hades had to appoint a guardian. And what a guardian!
Cerberus is a paperboy’s worst nightmare. Multi headed (usually three), with a serpent’s tail, a mane of snakes and lion’s claws, he was the son of Echidna (half-woman, half serpent) and Typhon (a fire breathing giant). Writers knew when they were onto a good thing: he features in countless classical works, from Virgil’s Aenid through to the Iliad. Harry Potter fans should recognise him straight away- the monstrously misnamed ‘Fluffy’ is inspired by him.
His most famous appearance is as the last of Hercules’s twelve labours. The task was that he should overpower the brute without weapons. Slinging Cerberus over his back, Hercules dragged him back to King Eurystheus, who jumped into a nearby jar. This story illustrates the strangest thing about Cerberus: formidable appearance apart, he’s something of a punch clock villain, constantly drugged or lulled to sleep by soothing music. Perhaps this was to teach that even the scariest opponent has a weakness.