Sunday, May 1, 2011

Anthropomorphism in Antiquity

Consider the following account:

"I myself reared a hound with the greyest of grey eyes, and she was fast and a hard worker and spirited and agile, so that when she was young she once dealt with four hares in a day. And apart from that she is most gentle (I still had her when I was writing this) and most fond of humans, and never previously did any other dog long to be with me and my fellow huntsman Megillus as she does. For since she was retired from the chase, she never leaves us, or at least one of us. If I am indoors she stays with me, and accompanies me if I go out anywhere; she escorts me to the gymnasium, and sits by while I am exercising, and goes in front as I return, frequently turning round as if to check that I have not left the road somewhere; when she sees I am there she smiles and goes on again in front. But if I go off to some public business, she stays with my friend, and behaves in the same way to him. If one of us is ill, she does not leave him. If she sees us even after a short period of time, she jumps up in the air gently, as if welcoming him, and she gives a bark with the welcome, showing her affection. When she is with one of us at dinner she touches him with her paws alternately, reminding him that she too should be given some of the food. And indeed she makes many different noises, more than any other dog that I think I have seen; and she shows audibly what she wants. And because when she was being trained as a puppy she was punished with a whip, if anyone even to this day should mention a whip, she goes up to the one who has said it and crouches down like one beseeching, and fits her mouth to his mouth as if she is kissing, and jumps up and hangs from his neck, and does not let him go until the angry one gives up the threat. And so I think that I should not hesitate to write down the name of this dog, for it to survive her even in the future, viz. that Xenophon the Athenian had a dog called Hormé, very fast and very clever and quite out of this world."

This passage was written in the second century AD in a book on hunting with hounds, Cynegeticus, by Arrian of Nicomedia, who refers to himself as Xenophon (from either part of his name or a nickname taken from his idol, Xenophon son of Gryllus, who lived six centuries earlier). In his book on Arrian, Philip Stadter describes this passage as revealing more about Arrian’s life than any other passage in his works.

"We are permitted a brief glimpse into his life at Athens with his friend Megillus and his daily routine visiting the gymnasium or doing public business. More evident, however, is his feeling for his hound, his pride in its hunting skill, its little tricks and habits. The passage implies a reciprocity of friendship between man and dog, seen in the walk from the gymnasium or the awareness of the dog at dinner. Such faithfulness and devotion prompt Arrian finally to immortalize his dog by including its name in his work."

Arrian’s writing is remarkably modern, as is often true of works from the Silver Age of Roman literature. (Just read Lucian of Samosata’s account of traveling to the moon in A True Story.) The description of a favorite dog could be written today, though the use of a whip (μάστιξ) would now be considered barbaric. Phillips, in his commentary on Arrian, notes that the primary function of the whip may have been as a sound to get a dog's attention, but the fact that Hormé supplicated anyone who mentioned it suggests that some aversive conditioning was involved.

The phrase “dealt with” in the first sentence, ανταρκέω (perfect, αντήρκεσεν), is translated as “hold out against” or “persist against” in the Liddell & Scott Greek-English Lexicon, and presumably means that the dog could either catch four hares a day or be close to the hare when it was caught by another dog or driven into a net. In other words, it could keep up with a very fast animal and was certainly a gazehound (sighthound). The dog was probably what Arrian referred to in an earlier passage as a Celtic hound, vertragus in the Latin spelling (ούετραγος in Greek). D.B. Hull, in his book on ancient Greek hounds and hunting, states that the word reappears in Old French as veltre, meaning greyhound.

A word that is made perhaps somewhat too modern in the translation of the passage is the adjective that M.M. Willcock renders as “out of this world.” The adjective, ίερωτάτη, a superlative of ίερός, could be translated as supernatural, but also as divine, sacred, mystical, under divine protection. It seems to me that Arrian finds something of the divine in his dog’s powers, and in their ability to understand each other.

Arrian had a distinguished career, including holding the office of proconsul of Hispania Baetica in southwest Spain, around 126 AD, where Richard Hawkins suggests he may have first encountered the vertragus. (See the statue from the Rijksmuseum on the Fern Hill website.) A genome study published in Nature in 2010 found two distinct groups of sighthounds. The larger group includes greyhounds, Italian greyhounds, whippets, Irish wolfhounds, Scottish deerhounds, and Borzois, while two breeds fit within the ancient breeds, the Saluki and the Afghan hound. It would appear that the Celtic running hound may have been a progenitor of one or more of the breeds in the first group.

The first picture above of a dog in a supplicating posture was taken by Barbara McManus, Professor of Classics emerita at the College of New Rochelle, showing the lower portion of a statue of Diana with a hunting dog in the Vatican Museum (provided courtesy of the VRoma Project). The dog is probably a Laconian, but could be a vertragus. I've changed my opinion on this since I first posted this blog because Richard Hawkins, who has a better eye for this than I do, is inclined to think the dog a Laconian. Also, though I haven't found anything on the dating or provenance of the statue, it's condition suggests a Roman imperial date. Statues of that vintage are often copies of Greek originals, and if that applies here, the statue was probably of Artemis with a Laconian since Celtic running hounds were not known in the Attic period. Of course, an argument could be made that a Roman copyist might modernize the representation of a dog to the most popular contemporary breed.

I fully understand the desire to immortalize a favorite dog, as Arrian did for Hormé (΄Ορμη, Greek for dasher, impulse, onrush). When I suggested that a picture of my dog appear on the cover of Service and Therapy Dogs in American Society, the art director of my publisher discouraged the idea and offered several other alternatives. Only when my wife found a picture of Chloe that captured much of the purpose of the book was the idea accepted. (Don’t tell me I was wrong if you want to keep me in a good mood.)

The second picture is from a funeral stele found in Boeotia, executed by Alxenor of Naxos, who left his name on an inscription. Percy Gardner describes the monument as follows:

"This delightful monument represents a worthy Greek citizen in one of his lighter moods.  Standing in a position of ease, he rests his weight on a staff which supports his shoulder, and holds out in sport a grasshopper to a favourite dog, who leaps up in an attitude somewhat constrained, and clearly resulting from the narrow limits of the monument."

Grasshoppers were apparently treats in antiquity. The third plate is also from Gardner's book and shows a funeral stele of a man holding a wine cup and a pomegranate. Professor Adolf Fürtwangler of the University of Berlin had argued that the horse symbolized Hades and the dog Hecate. 

Gardner believed the horse and dog were "really a survival of an ancient custom, whereof we find traces in the graves of Greece and Italy, by which the horse and dog of a deceased warrior were slain and buried in the same place with him. Whether their bones were mingled with their master's, or whether they are merely figured on his gravestone, the meaning is much the same, that wherever the lord is, there are his faithful attendants: 'Admitted to that equal sky, his faithful dog shall bear him company,' as Pope says.  In any case, horse and dog on a tomb are certainly a mark of knightly rank."

The quote from Pope is actually about North American Indians, who had a similar burial practice. The supplicating posture of the dog indicates the closeness of the relationship that the deceased had with it, or at least that the sculpture of the tomb wanted it to appear the two had. 

A wonderful understanding of affection between dogs is found in a marble statue of two hounds now in the Vatican Museum, the fourth picture here, possibly from the 2d century AD. A similar pair is displayed in the British Museum. These statues were found near Civita Lavinia (modern Lanuvio south of Rome, a few miles below Lake Nemi), not far from where the second century Roman emperor, Antoninus Pius (138-161), had a palace, though a connection to the emperor or his estate is not assured. The dogs are most likely Celtic running hounds as well, but could arguably be Laconians, another sleek hunting dog from antiquity, which takes its name from the region of Laconia around Sparta.

Sources: A.A. Phillips & M.M. Willcock, Xenophon and Arrian on Hunting with Hounds (Aris & Phillips, Ltd. 1999); Philip A. Stadter, Arrian of Nicomedia (University of North Carolina Press 1980); Richard Hawkins, An Jansen & Waidman, Arrianus, De Lange Jacht en Lurecoursing (Eburon 2003); D.B. Hull, Hounds and Hunting in Ancient Greece (U. Chicago Press, 1964); B. vonHoldt et al., Genome-wide SNP and haplotype analyses reveal a rich history underlying dog domestication. Nature 464, doi:10.1038 (April 2010) (See Figure 1.); W. Dansey, Arrian on Coursing (J. Bohn, London 1831); P. Gardner (1896). Sculptured Tombs of Hellas.  Macmillan & Co., London. For a small dog in a Pompeian fresco, see the blog of July 19, 2010. Many interesting images of Roman dogs can be found by trolling through the VRoma Image Archive.

Thanks to Richard Hawkins who told me that Arrian's Cynegeticus may be the best dog book ever written. I'm beginning to agree. Thanks to James Grout for permission to use the picture from the SPQR website.

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