King Eurystheus pondered and pondered trying to think of a challenge that Herakles couldn't meet. Finally he summoned him and directed him to bring him Cerberus, who guarded the gates of Hades' kingdom. Herakles pondered this task heavily as he made his way to the river Styx. The entrance to Hades' underground kingdom was on an island in the middle of the river. The river was so trecherous that even Herakles couldn't swim it! The only way to get to the island was on the ferry that took Hades' workers back and forth. The ferryman, Charon, would not let Herakles on board because he was not one of Hades' workers.
2 "There must be something," Herakles asked, "that you desire that will make it so you will grant me passage! Name it and I will do it for you!"
3 "My only desire," Charon answered, "is that the three great rocks in the river be removed. Despite my best efforts, time and time again, I will hit one of them as I make my passage. Remove those rocks from the river, and I will take you to Hades' kingdom!"
4 Now, Herakles pondered this. Creos had taught him when a river is too swift to cross directly, go with the current and swim across gradually. It may put you many miles from your destination, but it will get you across. Now, Herakles thought if it would help him cross a river, it would help him reach these rocks. So he journeyed many miles upstream, dove in the river, and let the current carry him.
5 He reached the first rock, dove down, broke it apart, and cast each piece further down the river until it was way below the depth of the ferryboat. He then let go and it took him many days to get out of the river, return to his starting place, and begin again!
6 The second rock was more stubborn. Herakles broke off some of it, but the rest was just too strong. So he dug a pit in the lee of it, where the current was not to strong, and pushed it in. He then again, let the current carry him until he got out of the river. Charon was so impressed with these first two efforts that as he returned he told Herakles he would take him across. But Herakles said "No! I promised you I would remove all three rocks! I keep my bargains!" and he again dove into the river.
7 But this rock proved to be so massive and so hard Herakles could not break up any of it! So again, he began to dig a pit, but as he dug the soil underneath the rock slid into the pit. The rock sank deeper, but it was harder and harder for Herakles to dig, and there was always the danger that the rock would fall over on him. But finally, he toppled the rock into the pit and it was well beneath the depth of the ferry!
8 Herakles returned, and the ferryman took him to the island. He descended through the tunnels into Hades' kingdom. At the gate the great three headed dog snarled and growled at him because he did not have one of the amulets that Hades' workers wore that told the dog they could pass.
9 Herakles offered a worker three golden coins if he would let him borrow his amulet so he could visit Hades. The worker agreed and Herakles went on through. When Hades heard his request he scratched his head.
10 "I would gladly let you take Cerberus if you were able," Hades agreed. "But he has an evil power. In my kingdom it is kept under control. But out side of my kingdom he would raise havoc!"
11 "What is this power?" Herakles asked.
12 Hades explained and Herakles grinned. "I think it is just," he answered, "that the one who wants him gets such a burdon. With your leave I will take him."
13 Herakles went back to the gate, returned the worker's amulet, and pondered how he might get the dog. As he waited he saw three lovely maidens approach carrying large bowls of food. The dog immediately became calm. As the maidens sat down the food he lowered his massive heads and they scratched and patted him. Herakles quickly went around behind the dog and undid his chain. He then went back around front, grabbed the maidens, threw them over his shoulders, and headed off with them as they kicked and screamed. The dog immediately took up pursuit!
14 When Herakles got to the ferry he put the maidens in the cabin and the dog sat angrily on the deck, staring up at him. "Be assured," Herakles told the maidens, "as soon as I get the dog back where it's going I will bring you back to Hades' kingdom and in time your friend will be back."
15 The maidens all looked at Herakles and remarked, "We don't have to hurry right back, do we? We will want some payment for this indignity!"
16 Herakles returned their smiles. It took him several days to carry the maidens to King Eurystheus' fortress. "Here is Cerberus!" Herakles cried. "Do you take possession of him?"
17 Reluctantly the King cried "Yes! Yes I do!" Immediately the huge dog broke apart and became thirty great hounds. One of them immediately jumped on the King's oldest son, who, in his usual drunken stupor was watching the festivities with the crowd, and devoured him! Another attacked the King's father and devoured him! Another attacked a lame and crippled old woman and devoured her! The rest scattered in all directions.
18 "What?" the King cried, "What? What is this?"
19 "Hades explained to me," Herakles answered, "this is the dog's power. Away from his influence it divides into thirty great hounds that seek out all that that is useless and destroys it. The only way to be rid of them is to kill them. As each part is killed it will return to Hades' Kingdom and join back with its whole. Now, I have fulfilled my bargain! I must return these maidens to Hades' kingdom. When I come back I want my wife and child ready to travel, no more excuses!"
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