Thursday, March 10, 2016

Dog Days of Rolling Rock

It was a typical twilight in Tartarus, the most abysmal part of the underworld where dwell lost souls, the impious lot condemned to eternal torment for offending the gods – Tartarus where time stands still.

Sisyphus, late of Corinth, sat leaning against a large roundish boulder, the stone that for millennia he’d pushed ceaselessly up a steep hill, only to have it roll back down just short of the top. Many crimes had Sisyphus to his account, including theft, rape, and murder, but the offense that had got him wrangling this rock was his betrayal of Zeus, king of all the gods on Olympus.

For to betray the gods was a gross impiety. In exchange for a trifle, Sisyphus had revealed to Asopus the river god the whereabouts of his daughter Aegina whom Zeus had abducted, intending to ravish. Far better for Sisyphus to have left Zeus to rape her in peace.

It was on account of this disloyalty – as well as chaining up Thanatos, Death itself, in an attempt to thwart justice – that Sisyphus found himself doing hard time in Tartarus, keeping company with the likes of the Danaides, forty-nine sisters condemned to carrying water in leaky jugs for murdering their husbands; Ixion, bound to a flaming wheel for trying to rape Hera, Zeus’s wife; and Tantalus, sentenced to starvation with food and drink dangling just out of reach, for serving up his own son as a meal to the gods.

Such were the punishments of Tartarus, divinely ingenious and dreadful yet somehow condign.

But here Sisyphus slouched unaccountably idle, conversing at leisure with two Greek heroes and demi-gods, Heracles of the Twelve Labors and Theseus of Minotaur fame, quaffing beer from slender, vitreous, sea-green bottles that read “Rolling Rock.” Compared to the drudgery of actually rolling the rock rolling, this seemed  bucolic indeed.

By command of King Eurystheus of Tiryns, Heracles had come to Tartarus to perform the last of twelve labors: to bring back Cerberus, the monstrous three-headed dog who guarded the gates of the underworld. Cerberus’s master, Hades, king of the nether regions, had already granted Heracles leave to borrow the dog on condition that no weapons be used in subduing the creature. And it was about this last that Heracles now sought the counsel of Sisyphus.

For his part, Theseus was being held prisoner in Tartarus for attempting to abduct  Persephone, Hades’ wife. But now, thanks to the good offices of Heracles, he was about to go free. Thus it was with great enthusiasm – and fleeting sobriety – that Theseus chugalugged one Rolling Rock after another.

“I’m ‘bout as plastered right now as the Minotaur was when I offed him!” he blurted, steadying himself against Sisyphus’s boulder.

“What do you mean?” asked Sisyphus, surprised. “I thought you slew him in a mighty struggle.”

The Intervention of Theseus
“You could say so,” grinned Theseus. “But it was the Minotaur who struggled mightily – mostly to get back on his feet after slamming down an entire case of Rolling Rock I left in the labyrinth for him to find. He was maybe the craziest two-fisted drinker I’ve ever seen, worse even than a Sigma Chi frat boy during hell week. After the twenty-four brews, vanquishing him seemed almost too easy.  Still, somebody had to intervene. We couldn’t have him devouring the best kids of Athens every year.”

“You did the right thing,” agreed Heracles, “and you were as clever as Odysseus about it, too. Without Circe’s knockout potion, Rolling Rock was your next best option. I’m certain the Minotaur perished sloppy and happy, which is the best anyone could hope for.

Say, Sisyphus,” Heracles continued, turning to his friend, “how is it that ‘rolling rock’ is – you know – what you brew these days, not what you do? I mean, how come you’re making beer instead of pushing your stone? Aren’t you worried Zeus or Hades or even Apollo, say, might strike you down for shirking your torment?"

Sisyphus, setting an empty beer bottle on his familiar old boulder, which now bore an engraved ad for Rolling Rock, looked amused and a little smug.

“Hey, get your jugs outta here!” he shouted suddenly at the Danaides sisters who had appeared out of nowhere and were about to soak all three of the men with their leaky pottery.

“Give us beer,” one of the sisters demanded, “or get a spritz of the Styx. A few more cracks in these pots of ours wouldn’t make any difference.”

Sisyphus hastily obliged the women, then returned to Heracles.

“’Tis a tidy tale,” he averred, “and I’ll leave no stone unturned in the telling.

On Mount Olympus
As it happens, ambrosia, the beverage those Olympians drink to feed their immortality, is really just beer. Yet beer only makes them feel immortal – and doesn’t even do that unless they down a ton of it. So they held a council and decided to appoint a full time brewmaster in order to ensure a bigger supply.

And this is where I and my compadres, Fermentides and Brusilenus, came in. We simply submitted the lowest bid. Then we harvested enough barley from the Elysian Fields to submerge Tantalus over there – he's the one real scoundrel down here – in beer up to his waist and still have an ocean of suds left over.”

The Tormentation of 
Sisyphus gestured toward where Tantalus could be seen in the distance vainly grasping at overhead fruit or futilely stooping for a mouthful of beer, only to have them recede just out of reach with every attempt.

“By the way,” Sisyphus went on, “in addition to the extra pale ale you’re drinking now, we also make a sweeter (its dedicated to Apidra, goddess of confections) reduced hops brew, Hop-Lite, that for some reason is particularly popular with Greek troops, including the shades of deceased ones. We made a fortune on it at Troy! You’re welcome to try a pint if you like.

"Very kind of you," replied Heracles. "By all means, set 'em up!"

"And Heracles, you asked about my incurring the wrath of Zeus for skipping out on rock rolling duty. After a few millennia of ‘bowling the stone’” – Sisyphus affectionately patted his now-stationary boulder – “I finally developed an assemblage of anti-deity defenses that gave me some room to negotiate. In Zeus’s case, for example, all I really needed was a lightening rod. Hell, mine is even connected to a super-condenser, so I could return-fire his thunderbolts if I wanted. In the end, he decided it was better to do business with me than fight over a rock.
The Panoply of Sisyphus

Heavy-duty sunscreen, at least SPF 100, is enough to protect you from Apollo and the Chariot of the Sun.

The worst threat from Hades is probably Cerberus who likes me better than his master anyway. Hades is one of those morose existentialists who imagines himself happy and fulfilled, all the while brooding about as though he were stuck in a circle of hell. Its no wonder he rarely drinks beer. After all, why nurture  immortality if you’re pretty much dead already?

Me, I’m a utilitarian, a mover, a doer, and Cerberus relates well to that. Dogs, you know, just want to have fun!”

“Speaking of Cerberus,” said Heracles, brightening, “how’m I going to get him out of here? I could probably strong arm him or something but was hoping for a better approach.”

The Preparation of Cerberus
“Indeed, there’s a much easier way,” encouraged Sisyphus. “Cerberus, you see, is not just a dog with three heads but three different dogs, each with a unique personality, sharing a common chassis. For starters, don’t address them collectively as “Cerberus” – that could be a lethal mistake! – but speak to them individually. You might say ‘Come, doggies!’ or call them by name. From left to right, they go by Fido, Pluto, and Dido. If you respect them, they’ll reciprocate and follow your lead.

With this, Sisyphus called out “Come, Pluto! Come Fido and Dido!” He then fed the pups lavish quantities of beer* and heaps of tasty beef treats he’d baked up from Apollo’s cattle.  This calmed dispositions and readied the dogs  for travel.

Theseus, who’d been silent for awhile, now urged Heracles to thank Sisyphus for his kindness so that they might take their leave. This done, they began the treacherous ascent to the world of the living far above.

“So you’re off with Cerberus to Tiryns and the court of King Eurystheus?” queried Theseus.

“Nope, to New York City and the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show,” replied Heracles. “I have a sponsorship arrangement with Sisyphus and  Rolling Rock Brewing. Cerberus is sure to take best in show. After all, three heads are better than one, and what they can’t beat, they’ll eat. I just have to make sure” – Heracles meaningfully tapped his olive wood club – “that nobody tries to detain them for illegal assembly.”

“It’s a dog eat dog world,” sighed Theseus.

* Don't try this at home. Unless your dog is Cerberus, beer isn't good for him.

Absurdly Delicious!

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