|XII. The Future: Capture of Cerberus
Myth and Introduction
The last labor was the most dangerous of all because it involved a perilous journey into the Underworld, which is outside the linear bounds of time, beyond Earth, and even beyond life itself. To reach the miasmal sump, guarded by a fiendish hellhound named Cerberus, Hercules would have to cross five treacherous rivers. The Styx, the “river of hate” that formed the boundary between the Earth and the Underworld, wound around Hades nine times to represent the three manifestations of the Dark Trinity. It was the nine encirclements of the River Styx that inspired Dante Alighieri in the Middle Ages to write in his Inferno of the nine circles of Hell. The Phelgethon, running parallel to the Styx, was known to the Greeks as a river of fire. Dante later called it a river of blood where the souls were boiled. The Lethe was the river of forgetfulness, while Cocytus was the river of lamentation that flowed into Acheron, the river of woe. The dead had to pay a grim reaper by the name of Charon for the privilege of crossing the Acheron lest they be shoved into an effluvium of rotting corpses.
Cerberus was a huge, black dog with three heads that never slept. One head could see the past, another the present, and the third one the future. Each of the heads had a loathsome coiffure consisting of live snakes that collected knowledge of all three aspects of time. King Eurysheus avoided directly confronting Hercules, as he had since seeing the triumphant hero wearing the flayed pelt of the Nemean Lion. Instead he directed his surrogate, a herald-in-arms named Copreus, to order Hercules to capture the guardian of the Hades without using any weapons and without hurting a single snake on any of its three heads. Given Cerberes’ knowledge of time and under the watchful eyes of all those heads and snakes, it was almost impossible for any detail to not be noticed by this beast.
Eurystheus knew that only once in history had the dog been fooled. Orpheus, who was so skilled with music he could get a dead stick on the ground to jump up and dance, had managed to slip past the hound of Hell once by charming the three heads and all their snakes with his magical lyre in the past, the present, and the future all at the same time. Eurystheus believed that Hercules was too clumsy to get past such an observant creature, let alone capture it and drag it from Hades without using any weapons.
Hercules had grave self-doubts and trembled before the task. He had already done the impossible 11 times, but he was suffering performance anxiety on the last labor. After much wailing and teeth gnashing, he swallowed his pride and went to the shrewd and cunning Hermes for help. The messenger god was known as a “thief at the gates” because of his ability to enter and leave Hades at will. Hercules also sought advice from the armed warrior goddess Athena, known for protecting heroic warriors. Because of his understandable fear and caution, and because special skills would be needed to step beyond the known world, Hercules agreed to be instructed by Hermes and Athena and to spend a year in preparation. The most important part of this instruction would be his participation in the Lesser Eleusinian Mysteries, held in the spring, followed at harvest time by initiation into the Greater Eleusinian Mysteries. As explained in the labor on drugs, the second of these sacred rites involved the ingestion of psychedelic drugs to help reenact the Persephone myth based on the Earth-goddess’ participation in the annual dying and rebirth of nature.
Pluto was the ruler of the Underworld, and his alternative name—Hades—has become synonymous with the land of the less virtuous dead. Even though Hades had plenty of frightful places for souls to be tortured, there were at least three other Greek underworlds. The worst was Tartarus, where old Titan gods and other damned souls were thrown into a pit of eternal torment. It lay in total darkness, far beneath Hades and was a place of punishment like the Christian Hell.
Heroes and other virtuous souls got to spend their afterlife in the Elysian Islands (aka The Fortunate Isles and Islands of the Blessed) or the Elysian Fields. Those who have been initiated in the Mysteries are automatically allowed to go there, which partially explains the desire for all Greeks to attend them at least once in their life.
As ruler of the Underworld, Pluto was the black sheep of a trinity of divine brothers. His brother Zeus ruled the Sky and his brother Poseiden ruled the Sea. One day Pluto took notice of Persephone, the beautiful daughter of Demeter and Zeus, who was picking lilies in a field. He opened the ground underneath Persephone, carried her down into the underworld, and forced her to become his wife. Persephone’s mother Demeter frantically searched the four corners of the world but did not think to search the four corners of the Underworld. Eventually she found out what happened from Helios, the sun god who had been shining cheerfully when Persephone was captured. From that point on Demeter abandoned her duties on Mt. Olympus and went to live as an old woman at Eleusis.
Since Demeter was the goddess of nature, nature began to mortally suffer in her absence. Plants turned brown, leaves dropped from the trees, fruit withered, and people began dying from starvation. Zeus soon tired of having to gaze down upon a ruined landscape and ordered Pluto to return Persephone. Pluto agreed, but secretly got Persephone to eat four pomegranate seeds, which would bind her to him for four months out of every year. Persephone could live above ground for eight months each year, but from harvest until spring she would have to return to his servitude. Demeter would thereafter only allow nature to come alive when Persephone was around to frolic in the lilacs.
As a part of the nine-day Eleusinian Mysteries, held primarily in the temple of Eleusis, the hero ingested kykeon, an ambrosial, “food of the gods.” The psychedelic drug, combined with a fast, enabled Hercules to shed his enormous ego and dip into the vast ocean of consciousness. In the Underworld of the Self, Hercules encountered many hideous monsters blocking his passage while in the process of entering the transpersonal realm. He attempted to do battle with the chimera, and in doing so learned that they were illusory phantoms given substance by his own fear. When he finally surrendered his fear, he had the illusion of experiencing his own death in advance of the physical fact. His psychological and spiritual rebirth followed the relinquishment of his fear of death. He was finally ready to enter Hades armed with nothing more than his newly sharpened wits and already considerable brawn.
With the help of Hermes and knowledge of the spiritual arts he had acquired at Eleuses, Hercules managed to traverse the rivers and sneak past Cerberus. The hero was advised by Athena to confront Pluto during the months when Persephone was around to distract him. Pluto was initially surprised to see that Herc had gotten past his watchdog, but then caught a glimpse of Hermes and knew he had help. Hercules strategically boasted he could single-handedly capture Cerberus without using a weapon of any kind. The Lord of the Underworld, believing it to an impossibility propped up with macho bluster, did not give it a second’s thought. Eager to keep watch over his reluctant beloved, he agreed with a sardonic laugh and a dismissive wave of his hand, “Sure take Cerb out for a walk. He doesn’t get out much.” What Pluto did not know was that Hercules had become a Cerberus whisperer after his initiation in what today might be called “Zen and the Art of Cerberus Taming.”
A smiling Hercules simply walked up to Cerberus with three meaty bones, stuck one in front of each the yawning jaws of the three heads and patted him reassuringly on the back. While Cerberus was gnawing away, the hero climbed on his back, grabbed the snakes like reins and rode the beast straight out of Hades and all the way back to Mycenae.
When King Eurystheus saw Hercules riding Cerberus toward him, he dove into his brass jar. As the hero approached the trembling king, Eurystheus told his herald to order that Cerberus be set loose on the Mycenaean countryside. Hercules obeyed as ordered, but after he saw how the three-headed dog caused general havoc and terror amongst the population he caught the beast a second time and road him back to Hades. Why did Cerberus allow this? Apparently the clairvoyant Cerberus already knew that Hercules would give him a meal, a good run, a round of mischief in the sunlit world, and bring him back home in the end with some more juicy bones.
Cerberus Capital Management is one of the leading private equity investment firms in the world. It holds controlling or significant minority interests in companies all over the world, which before the financial crisis generated annual revenues of more than $120 billion. Unlike many equity investment firms, which scavenge for undervalued companies to “strip and flip,” Cerberus gobbles up companies, chews them to the bone, and then holds them in its own version of the Underworld. The founder, Steve Feinberg, has reportedly told his employees that he regrets naming the company after the three-headed hellhound and he made this comment before the financial meltdown. If the Cerberus company had been as prescient as its mascot it would clearly have done things differently. It would probably not have bought majority shares in GMAC, the lending arm of General Motors, in 2006. It would not have scooped up 80.1% of Chrysler in 2007 for a $7.4 billion investment upon closing, only to see the debt from this deal help bring down J.P. Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, and Citigroup. The Japanese bank, Aozora, owned by Cerberus, would also never have lost $137 million to Bernard L. Madoff, whose $64.8 billion Ponzi scheme was the largest investor fraud ever perpetrated by a single person.
Like the mythological Cerberus and his master, Hades, Feinberg avoids the light of day and prefers that he, his employees and his company be invisible. “We try to hide religiously,” he said in a rare talk made to Wall Street investors in 2007. “If anyone at Cerberus has his picture in the paper and a picture of his apartment, we will do more than fire that person. We will kill him. The jail sentence will be worth it.”
While managing until recently to avoid public scrutiny, the company seems to have sought government influence behind the scenes as much as possible. Feinberg made former Republican vice-president Dan Quayle one of his co-chairmen. Quayle has been helpful in Asia where he is known as a former vice-president and not as the poor comparison to John F. Kennedy as famously pointed out by Senator Lloyd Bentson in the 1988 vice-presidential debate.
Another co-chairman is George W. Bush’s former Secretary of the Treasury, John Snow. After Cerberus acquired Chrysler, Snow lobbied against improving the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for cars. President Bush was sympathetic, but it appears Snow had even more success with his old employer at the Treasury Department on at least the promise of a government bailout. At the end of 2008 the Federal Reserve allowed GMAC Financial Services LLC to become a holding bank and made it eligible to receive up to $6 billion bailout from the Treasury Department. This was in addition to the other $17.4 billion in loans that President Bush promised to the automobile industry.
The simple fact is, no one can predict the future with certainty, and anyone who claims to do so will eventually be shown the fool. It is with that caveat that we are going to be predicting the future in this labor—not with certainty but somewhat like a weather forecast. We can do pretty well with today’s forecast, but there are so many variables we do not have to go out very far out before the predictions are so wooly as to be useless. Nonetheless, just like the weather, there are certain future trends that can be picked out. We may not be able to forecast very well how many hurricanes there will be 10-20 years from now, but we can say with near certainty that the ten-year period beginning in ten years will have average global temperatures higher than the previous ten years. Therefore, our general predictions will have more likelihood of coming true than our specific ones. The most exciting general trend is the accelerating pace of technological development composed of genetics, robotics, nanotechnology, and the information technologies that tie them all together. Technological development—along with the understanding that drives it—is rushing in like a tsunami, sweeping the detritus of civilization before it and lifting the boats of all who are able to unhitch their boats from the past. The trek into the future will be as perilous as Hercules’ journey into Hades, and like Hercules we need to be prepared.
To prepare for the future click here. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.