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Greek and Roman Dogs

"Give names that are short and swiftly spoken that they may hear a command swiftly."

Oppian, Cynegetica (I.444ff)

Crouched and ready to dash forward, this Laconian (which is in the Acropolis Museum) may have been one of a pair set up in the precinct of Artemis Brauronia adjacent to the Propylaea on the Acropolis. The shrine was transferred there from the sanctuary at Brauron and is attributed to Peisistratus or his sons. The marble statue dates to about 520 BC and is regarded as an exceptional representation. Columella had contended that a dog's name should be two syllables and provides ten examples (VII.13). Xenophon agrees and then provides almost fifty appropriate namesóall of them two syllablesóbased on the color, strength, spirit, or behavior of the animal. (VII.5).

This metope dates to about 460 BC and is from Temple E dedicated to Hera at Selinunte (Sicily). It is in the Museo Archeologico (Palermo) and depicts Actaeon being punished by Artemis for having seen her bathing (Callimachus, V.109ff; Apollodorus, III.4.4; Diodorus Siculus, IV.81.3ff; Fulgentius, III.3; Nonnus, V.287ff). Hyginus provides the name of all fifty dogs (CLXXXI); Ovid, too, provides most of the names and even the order in which they first attacked their master (Metamorphoses, III.206ff). In this depiction, the hunter is torn apart by his own hounds, several of which are specifically identified by Ovid as Laconians.

"So the hunter: until he surrounds the stags...he checks the noisy mouth of the swift Molossian dog and ties his Spartan and his Cretan hounds, entrusting the forest only to the dog which picks up traces with its muzzle on the ground and when the prey is found knows not to bark, content to show the lair with quivering leash."

Lucan, Pharsalia (437ff)

Fittingly, this dog served as guardian of a grave monument on the Street of Tombs in the Kerameikos, the ancient cemetery of Athens northwest of the Acropolis. It now is in the Oberlaender Museum there. Notice the mane-like hair at the neck, bushy tail, and dewlaps hanging from the throat.

"Let the hounds have ears that are big and soft so that they appear to be broken because of their bigness and softness."

Arrian, Cynegeticus (V.7)

This Vertragus is one of four that are placed in the corners of a marble base that presumably supported a decorative bronze. It dates to the early imperial period and was found in the Horti Maecenatiani (Gardens of Maecenas) in 1877.

"But do you cast off the leashes from the dogs that hunt in silence; still let thongs hold the keen Molossians fast, and let the savage Cretans tug on the stout bonds with well-worn necks. But the Spartans (for their breed is bold and eager for the prey) hold in carefully with a tighter knot. The time will come when the hollow rocks will re-echo with their bayings; now, with heads low-hung, let them snuff the air with keen nostrils, and with muzzles to earth quest through the forest haunts, while the light is still dim, while the dewy ground still retains the well-marked trail."

Seneca, Phaedra (31ff)

This powerful animal, a Roman copy of a Greek original, also was discovered in the Horti Maecenatiani and is sculpted of green serpentine marble, which suggests an Egyptian influence. Both statues are in the Capitoline Museums (Rome).

This marble hound is in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek (Stockholm) and, like the animal above, originally was an Attic funerary monument. Dating to about 360 BC, it watched over its master in death as it had in life.


Reference: "The Basel Dog: A Vindication" (1968) by Cornelius Vermeule, American Journal of Archaeology, 72(2), 95-101.

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