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The Jennings Dog

"A fine dog it was, and a lucky dog was I to discover and to purchase it."

Henry Constantine Jennings

One of the very few examples of a Hellenistic animal sculpture copied in the Roman period, this marble figure depicts the Molossian, an ancestor, now extinct, of the modern mastiff. The dog was native to Epirus in northwestern Greece, which was sacked by Rome in 168 BC. The original second-century BC bronze likely was part of a civic monument there. Or the dog, its forelegs spread and head tilted as if responding to its master, may be associated with Pyrrhus, the king of Epirus, whose faithful hound leapt on his funeral pyre when he died in 272 BC (Pollux, Onomasticon, V.42).

The statue of the dog, which had lost its tail, was acquired by Henry Constantine Jennings sometime during his three-year stay in Rome, perhaps in 1758 or 1759, when Jennings met his friend, the Duke of Marlborough, in Rome. He records that, strolling the streets of the city, he chanced upon "the shop of a statuary, in an obscure street, I entered it, and began to look around for any curious productions of art." The remark is a bit disingenuous, however, as it was the atelier of Bartolomeo Cavaceppi, a restorer and dealer in antiquities, whose studio was a favorite destination for British tourists. There Jennings discovered what, when dragged from behind a heap of rubbish, "proved to be a huge but fine dog....On turning it round I perceived it was without a tail—this gave me a hint. I also saw, that the limbs were finely proportioned; that the figure was noble; that the sculpture, in short, was worthy of the best age of Athens; and that it must be coeval with Alcibiades, whose favourite dog it certainly was." A bargain immediately was struck for 400 scudi, and a bit more to repair the damaged muzzle (the left foreleg was restored as well). The sculpture then was carefully packed and shipped to his estate, Jennings boasting that the cost had been just £80 and wishing that all his other bargains had been like it.

Since the tail was missing, he called it the "Dog of Alcibiades" after the fourth-century BC Athenian who, relates Plutarch, was said to have purchased a large and handsome dog with a particularly attractive tail, only to have it docked. Better, Alcibiades laughed, to give the Athenians something to talk about other than himself (Life of Alcibiades, IX.1). The purchase earned Jennings himself the sobriquet of "Dog Jennings," who declared he would not part with it, even though offered £1,400 by the Duke of Marlborough. "I had bought him for myself, and I liked to contemplate his fine proportions, and admire him at my leisure, for he was doubly dear to me, as being my own property, and of my own selection." He no doubt was all the more proud of his acquisition when, in 1774, Horace Walpole declared it to be one of the five most important animal statues in classical art.

Nevertheless, Jennings' debts from wagering on the horses eventually forced its sale; indeed, "Of all the men in England, he must be allowed to have been the least qualified for such a pursuit." In 1778, the statue was purchased at auction by Charles Duncombe, member of Parliament, for 1,000 guineas (£1,050). On the first day of the sale, Edmund Burke was said to have remarked with some incredulity, "A thousand guineas! The representation of no animal whatever is worth so much," to which Dr. Johnson replied, "Sir, it is not the worth of the thing, but the skill in forming it, which is so highly estimated. Every thing that enlarges the sphere of human powers, that shews man he can do what he thought he could not do, is valuable" (Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson, April 3, 1778).

In the first century AD, Pliny spoke of art and its worth.

"our own generation saw on the Capitol, before it went up in flames burnt at the hands of the adherents of Vitellius [AD 69], in the shrine of Juno, a bronze figure of a hound licking its wound, the miraculous excellence and absolute truth to life of which is shown not only by the fact of its dedication in that place but also by the method taken for insuring it; for as no sum of money seemed to equal its value, the government enacted that its custodians should be answerable for its safety with their lives" (Natural History, XXXIV.38).

Sold by the Duncombe estate in 2001, the Jennings Dog now is in the British Museum, after an appeal raised the $950,000 price being offered by the Houston Museum in Texas. Curiously, the dog does, in fact, have a tail.

"Mastiff, greyhound, mongrel grim."

Shakespeare, King Lear (III.6)

A similar pair of mastiffs (above) are in the Pio Clementino Museum (Vatican). These dogs have retained their tails and more pointed ears but otherwise have been heavily restored. Another copy, too, is in the Uffizi Museum (Florence), its long, bushy tail looking especially luxurious.

Mentioned in the literature more often than any other breed, the Molossian is cited (in addition to references in the previous essay) by Aristophanes Thesmophoriazusae, 416), where it frightens off adulterers; Aristotle (The History of Animals, IX.1), where, as a sheep-dog, it is considered superior to other breeds in size and courage; Plautus (Captivi, 86), where the parasite is like a greyhound (venaticus) when business is put aside and a Molossian when it recommences; Statius (Thebaid, III.203), where the maddened hounds do not recognize Actaeon, their master; Lucretius (De Rerum Natura, V.1063ff), where the dog growls and bays, fawns over its pups, howls when left alone, and whimpers when threatened with the whip; Horace (Satires, VI), where the country mouse has his fill of the city when the house resounds with the barking of Molossians.

The Molossian was said by Nicander of Colophon (quoted by Pollux, Onomasticon, XXXIX) to be a descendant of the dog Laelaps ("Whirlwind" or "Tempest"), which was forged in bronze by Hephaestus and animated with a soul. Destined always to catch whatever it pursued, the dog was given by Zeus as a guardian for his consort Europa (hiding her at Teumessus, on the road to Thebes). She was the sister of the hero Cadmus, founder of Thebes, and gave it in turn to her son Minos, the first king of Crete. He then was said to have given Laelaps to Procris, the wife of Cephalus, in appreciation for her having lifted a curse. Or the dog may have been a gift from Artemis, who favored the unhappy Procris. When she accidentally was killed by her husband, it finally went to Cephalus.


To punish the descendents of Cadmus, a fox, so swift and cunning that it could never be caught, was sent by Dionysus to ravage Thebes, issuing from its lair at Teumessus. Cephalus, either to expiate the killing of his wife or to assure the alliance of the Thebans in war, agreed to set his dog on the foxbut, just as nothing could escape the hound, so nothing could catch the Teumessian fox. To resolve the paradox of one creature to catch the uncatchable and another to escape the inescapable, Zeus turned them both to stone so that each would remain unbeaten (Homerica: The Epigoni, Frag. II; Apollodorus, Library, II.4.7); Hyginus, Fables, CLXXXIX); Ovid, Metamorphoses, VII; Pausanias, Description of Greece, IX.19.1). This never-ending chase is commemorated in the constellations of Canis Major and Canis Minor.

A cambist (Latin cambio, "to exchange') is a table of international rates of exchange. In Germany, the merchants of Hamburg had relied upon the Allgemeiner und Besonders Hamburgischer Contorist by J. E. Kruse, published in 1753. But there was not a comparable guide for English merchants until 1811, when Patrick Kelly published his Universal Cambist, having been compiled, he wearily confesses, with "great labour and expense" and regarded as "the most complete work of its class in the English language" (Dictionary of National Biography, 1892). With support from the Board of Trade, London mercantile houses, and the East India Company, Kelly was able to update and expand Kruse's Hamburg Contorist, which by then was almost six decades old, and adapt it to English usage. Gold and silver coins were assayed by the Bank of England for weight and fineness to determine their intrinsic value, which made it possible to correct obsolete exchange rates and add new ones for the East and West Indies and the United States. After the Napoleonic Wars (1793–1815), more than sixty British consuls were directed by the Foreign Office to obtain more accurate weights and measures, which were included in the revision for 1821.

In 1753 and 1754, Pope Benedict XIV issued a scudo moneta (or Roman crown, after the British 5s. piece). As Kelly explained, "The coins here [Rome], even of modern date, are various, as a new coinage is struck by every Pope," the new issue supplanting the old. Based on the price of the pound sterling in England, which was 5s./2d. per ounce, he calculated the exchange rate of one scudo to be 4s./4d. (52 pence). (By comparison, an American dollar had the same value.) Four hundred scudi, therefore, equaled about £86—which is more than the statue itself had cost, even before it had been shipped back to England. Presumably, inflation had decreased the value of the pound over the sixty or so years since Jennings' acquisition. Indeed, by 1810, the year before Kelly published his Universal Cambist, the pound had been so devalued during the Napoleonic Wars that prices in Britain had increased by an estimated 75% over the previous twenty years.

"The workmen desire to get as much, the masters to give as little as possible. The former are disposed to combine in order to raise, the latter in order to lower the wages of labour....Masters are always and everywhere in a sort of tacit, but constant and uniform combination, not to raise the wages of labour above their actual rate. To violate this combination is everywhere a most unpopular action, and a sort of reproach to a master among his neighbours and equals. We seldom, indeed, hear of this combination, because it is the usual, and one may say, the natural state of things, which nobody ever hears of....But though in disputes with their workmen, masters must generally have the advantage, there is however a certain rate below which it seems impossible to reduce, for any considerable time, the ordinary wages even of the lowest species of labour. A man must always live by his work, and his wages must at least be sufficient to maintain him. They must even upon most occasions be somewhat more; otherwise it would be impossible for him to bring up a family, and the race of such workmen could not last beyond the first generation....Thus far at least seems certain, that, in order to bring up a family, the labour of the husband and wife together must, even in the lowest species of common labour, be able to earn something more than what is precisely necessary for their own maintenance; but in what proportion, whether in that above mentioned, or in any other, I shall not take upon me to determine."

Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (I.8), 1776

In calculating the relative monetary value of the Jennings Dog, either then or now, one option is to determine what goods and services £80 would have purchased in the mid-eighteenth century. In 1751, for example, the Countess of Suffolk (the mistress of George II) paid £42 to decorate her dining room with hand-painted wallpaper imported from China, brought to England by ships of the East India Company. And Samuel Johnson was paid 1,500 guineas (£1,075) to compile his Dictionary of the English Language, which was published in 1755.

The wages of laborers in eighteenth-century England were not so exalted and varied, in any event, between rural and urban, north and south, summer and winter, skilled and unskilled. For some workers, however, they were dishearteningly invariable. In the London suburbs, those of a mason's laborer remained fixed for more than fifty years at 2s. a day and those of a plasterer at 3s. For almost the entire century, the wages of bricklayers, masons, and plumbers were not less than 2s./6d. or more then 3s. a day. For his piece of marble, Jennings could have employed such men for two full years. If historical monetary calculators are used to determine contemporary purchasing power, even the most authoritative vary in their estimations and return figures of £9,333, £11,970, and £17,871.

Finally, an anecdote from Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson recounting a conversation in 1763 (several years after Jennings' purchase), in which Johnson proposes that a sum of £6 a year

"will fill your belly, shelter you from the weather, and even get you a strong lasting coat, supposing it to be made of good bull's hide. Now, Sir, all beyond this is artificial, and is desired in order to obtain a greater degree of respect from our fellow-creatures. And, Sir, if six hundred pounds a year procure a man more consequence, and, of course, more happiness than six pounds a year, the same proportion will hold as to six thousand, and so on, as far as opulence can be carried. Perhaps he who has a large fortune may not be so happy as he who has a small one; but that must proceed from other causes than from his having the large fortune: for, coeteris paribus, he who is rich in a civilized society, must be happier than he who is poor; as riches, if properly used, (and it is a man's own fault if they are not,) must be productive of the highest advantages. Money, to be sure, of itself is of no use: for its only use is to part with it" (Chap. XIII).

If the Athenians did talk about Alcibiades (c. 451/450–404 BC), it was impossible not to. Charismatic, amoral, and fabulously wealthy, he was the nephew and protégé of Pericles himself, the "first citizen" of Athens in its Golden Age (Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, II.65). Alcibiades had paid 7,000 drachmas for his dog, the wages of a skilled laborer for almost twenty years, although inconsequential, given his 600,000 drachma inheritance (Plutarch, Life of Alcibiades, IX.1) And docking the animal's tail may well have distracted more malicious gossip. He was said to have seduced both his uncle's mistress Aspasia and Socrates the philosopher, finding time for his chariots to win in racing at the Olympic Games in 416 BC, which prompted an ode by Euripides (Plutarch, IX.1). Elated at the victory, he then entertained the entire assemblage (Athenaeus, The Deipnosophists, I.3E). One critic even accused him of sleeping "with his mother, his daughter, and his sister, as Persians do" (cited by Athenaeus, 520C); another that "in his boyhood he drew away the husbands from their wives, and as a young man the wives from their husbands" (cited in Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, IV.7.46). In the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta, while leading the Athenian expedition to capture Syracuse in Sicily, he discovered that he was to be charged with impiety. Defecting to Sparta, he betrayed the Athenian strategy in the war (which ultimately led to Sparta's victory in 404 BC). But, having seduced the wife of the Spartan king, he returned to Athens and was given command of the fleet. When, in his absence, a subordinate lost a major naval battle, Alcibiades was charged with negligence and fled to Persia, where the local governor had him assassinated at the instigation of the Spartans.


References: Export of Works of Art 2000-2001 (2002) by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Case 36); Quintus Curtius Rufus: The History of Alexander (2004) translated by John Yardley (Penguin Classics); "Queries with Answers: Dog Jennings" (October 26, 1865), Notes and Queries, 3rd Series, VIII, 353-354; "Jennings, Henry Constantine" (1892) by Warwick Wroth, in Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. XXIX, edited by Sidney Lee; "Dogged by Debts: The Jennings Dog" (2010) by Dyfri Williams, Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies, No. 104, 225-244; The Universal Cambist and Commercial Instructor, Being a General Treatise on Exchange, Including the Monies, Coins, Weights, and Measures of All Trading Nations and Their Colonies (2 vols.) (1811/1821/1831) by P. Kelly (the two volumes were printed as one in 1835); 'Evoking the Orient' at Marble Hill House, Twickenham (2013) by John Berbuto (English Heritage); An Economic History of England: The Eighteenth Century (1955) by T. S. Ashton; "Henry Constantine Jennings: A Mad Dog" (2002) by Elizabeth Angelicoussis, Journal of the History of Collections, 14(2), 215-223 (based on her entry for the New Dictionary of National Biography); "Henry Constantine Jennings" (1820), in The Annual Biography and Obituary, for the Year 1820, Vol. IV, pp. 326-370; A Description of the Villa of Horace Walpole (1774) [by Horace Walpole]; "The Tale of a Tail" (2016, July) by Richard Mawrey, Historic Gardens Review, 34, 30-31; "Alcibiades and Aspasia: Notes on the Hippolytus" (2000) by Michael Vickers, Dialogues d'Histoire Ancienne, 26(2), 7-17; "The Loves of Alcibiades" (1970) by Robert J. Littman, Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, 101, 263-276.

See also Charles Townley.

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