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Peritas


"To Alexander he presented many impressive gifts, among them one hundred and fifty dogs remarkable for their size and courage and other good qualities. People said that they had a strain of tiger blood. He wanted Alexander to test their mettle in action, and he brought into a ring a full grown lion and two of the poorest of the dogs. He set these on the lion, and when they were having a hard time of it he released two others to assist them. The four were getting the upper hand over the lion when Sopeithes sent in a man with a scimitar who hacked at the right leg of one of the dogs. At this Alexander shouted out indignantly and the guards rushed up and seized the arm of the Indian, but Sopeithes said that he would give him three other dogs for that one, and the handler, taking a firm grip on the leg, severed it slowly. The dog, in the meanwhile, uttered neither yelp nor whimper, but continued with his teeth clamped shut until, fainting with loss of blood, he died on top of the lion."

Diodorus Siculus, Library of History (XVII.92)

Strabo also relates the story of Sopeithes and his Indian dogs, which were said to have excellent qualities. In this retelling, the dog does let loose its grip (Geography, XV.1.31; also Aelian, On Animals, VIII.1; Curtius, History of Alexander, IX.1.32-33; Pollux, Onomasticon, V.43-44). On the march to India, Alexander was said to have been given a dog by the king of Albania. Because it ignored the bears and boars presented to it, an irritated Alexander had the animal killed. The king then sent another dog (the only other one he possessed), saying that it should be tried instead against a lion or elephant, which Alexander did. The lion was torn to pieces and the elephant, turning around to defend itself from attack on one side and then the other, crashed loudly to the ground from sheer dizziness (Pliny, VIII.149-150). When Alexander's horse Bucephalus died on the banks of the Hydaspes (326 BC), he founded a city there in its honor (Curtius, IX.3.23; Justin, XII.8). "It is said, too, that when he lost a dog also, named Peritas, which had been reared by him and was loved by him, he founded a city and gave it the dog's name" (Plutarch, Life, LXI.3).

Plutarch is the only ancient authority to mention Peritas, which is to say, contrary to what one reads on the Web, that the dog did not save the life of Alexander by biting the lip of an elephant in the Battle of Gaugamela (331 BC). Nor did it attack the Mallians, allowing a wounded Alexander to be removed from the field (326 BC).


The sculpted relief (above) of a powerful mastiff is from the lion hunt of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal (c.668-626 BC) that decorated his palace in Nineveh. It now is in the British Museum. Herodotus speaks of the governor of Babylon, who kept so many Indian dogs "that four great villages of the plain were appointed to provide food for the dogs and exempted from all other burdens" (I.192.4). Xerxes, too, had an uncountable number of Indian dogs (7.187.1).

This small clay figurine in the British Museum also is from the palace at Nineveh and dates to about 645 BC. There are five on display, each painted a different color and the name of the dog inscribed. This one is black and has the cuneiform inscription "Loud is his bark."

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