Cerberus, The Dog of Hades: The History of an Idea

9781537193359: Cerberus, The Dog of Hades: The History of an Idea

An American humorist, John Kendrick Bangs, who likes to place his skits in Hades, steps in "where angels fear to tread," and launches with a light heart the discussion as to whether Cerberus is one or more dogs. The city of Cimmeria in Hades, having tried asphalt pavement, which was found too sloppy for that climate, and Nicholson wood pavement, which kept taking fire, decides on Belgian blocks. In order to meet the new expense a dog-tax is imposed. Since Cerberus belongs to Hades as a whole, the state must pay his tax, and is willing enough to do so—on Cerberus as one dog. The city, however, endeavors to collect on three dogs—one license for each head. Two infernal coppers, sent to impound Cerberus, fare not well, one of them being badly chewed up by Cerberus, the other nabbed bodily and thrown into the Styx. In consequence of this they obtain damages from the city. The city then decides to bring suit against the state. The bench consists of Apollyon himself and Judge Blackstone; Coke appears for the city, Catiline for the state. The first dog-catcher, called to testify, and asked whether he is familiar with dogs, replies in the affirmative, adding that he had never got quite so intimate with one as he got with him.

"With whom?" asks Coke.

"Cerberus," replies the witness.

"Do you consider him to be one dog, two dogs, or three dogs?"

Catiline objects to this question as a leading one, but Coke manages to get it in under another form: "How many dogs did you see when you saw Cerberus?"

"Three, anyhow," replies the witness with feeling, "though afterwards I thought there was a whole bench-show atop of me."

On cross-examination Catiline asks him blandly: "My poor friend, if you considered Cerberus to be three dogs anyhow, why did you in your examination a moment since refer to the avalanche of caninity, of which you so affectingly speak, as him?"

"He is a him," sturdily says the witness. After this Coke, discomfited, decides to call his second witness: "What is your business?" asks Coke, after the usual preliminaries.

"I'm out of business. Livin' on my damages."

"What damages?"

"Them I got from the city for injuries did me by that there—I should say them there—dorgs, Cerberus."

And so on. Catiline gains the day for the state by his superior logic; the city of Cimmeria must content itself with taxes on a single dog. But the logic of the facts, it will appear, are with the dog-catchers, Judge Coke, and the city of Cimmeria as against the state of Hades: Cerberus is more than one dog.

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About the Author:

Maurice Bloomfield, Ph.D., LL.D. (February 23, 1855 – June 12, 1928) was an American philologist and Sanskrit scholar. He went to the United States in 1867, and 10 years later graduated from Furman University, Greenville, South Carolina. He then studied Sanskrit at Yale, under W. D. Whitney, and at Johns Hopkins University, to which university he returned as associate professor in 1881 after a stay of two years in Berlin and Leipzig, and soon afterwards was promoted professor of Sanskrit and comparative philology. In 1896 Princeton University bestowed the LL.D. degree upon him.

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