In Greek mythology, Cerberus, the monstrous three-headed dog with a serpent for a tail, guards the gate to Hades to prevent the spirits of the dead from leaving. When, in The Deadliest Lie, Miriam visits the precinct for Serapis, the god that Ptolemy Soter created, she sees an enormous, exquisitely sculpted statue of marble adorned with gold plate, precious stones, and gem-chiseled ivory. (See my blog “Kissed by the Sun,” December 20, 2016.) In his right hand, Serapis is restraining Cerberus.
Maybe you’re scoffing. How could people believe that Cerberus really existed? Well, it does these days too. In 1687, Johannes Hevelius identified a constellation, drew it as a three-headed snake, and named it Cerberus. Then in 1829, Cerberus came to exist as the name for a genus of Asian snakes known as the dog-faced water snakes. But don’t worry. Those snakes only have one head.
Likewise, in The Deadliest Hate, the Egyptian cobra has only one head. It is liberated when, in his scuffle with Miriam, her adversary accidentally smashes the urn in which he keeps the snake. Miriam remembers when her antagonist pounces on her:
We roll and twist with the intimacy of lovers.
He bashes my head against the floor.
A siren of pain.
My teeth bite my tongue.
Aroused by the vibrations, the coppery red snake slithers toward us.
What is Miriam going to do? What are you going to do? Check out The Deadliest Hate, 2016 winner at the New York Book Festival. Click here.