Let loose the hunting dogs of Classical Greece

After I posted the Dog of Xanthippus, Mimzy asked what was the breed? I had no idea. After some research here is what I think is the answer. If there are any dog breed experts out there, could you please correct me if (when) I go wrong?

The Greeks kept two kinds of dog: sheep dogs (no surprise there) and hunting dogs. Here are the obverses from two ancient coins showing hunters:


Xenophon wrote a treatise about hunting with dogs. Yes, that's the same Xenophon who led the 10,000 out of Persia and the same Xenophon who was a student of Socrates. In fact he's probably the second most important source we have about Socrates, after Plato.

Xenophon deeply admired the Spartans. This made Athens an uncomfortable place for him, so he spent much of his life out of it, during which he wrote. Most of his work was about various manly pursuits, one being Cynegeticus, meaning On Hunting. He had this to say about breeds:
There are two breeds of sporting dogs: the Castorian and the fox-like. The former get their name from Castor, in memory of the delight he took in the business of the chase, for which he kept this breed by preference. The other breed is literally foxy, being the progeny originally of the dog and the fox, whose natures have in the course of ages blended.
Interesting they were using dog/fox crosses! I didn't think that was possible but Xenophon seems quite sure of himself. Then again, Xenophon is always sure of himself. A very quick internet check suggests it might be possible, but if anyone knowledgable is reading this, please tell us.

The descendants of the hunting dogs of Classical Greece are probably what today are called Greek Hounds.

I can't resist finishing with Xenophon's advice (from Chapter 7) on the correct names for your hunting dog.
They should have short names given them, which will be easy to call out. The following may serve as specimens:—Psyche, Pluck, Buckler, Spigot, Lance, Lurcher, Watch, Keeper, Brigade, Fencer, Butcher, Blazer, Prowess, Craftsman, Forester, Counsellor, Spoiler, Hurry, Fury, Growler, Riot, Bloomer, Strength, Blossom, Hebe, Hilary, Jolity, Gazer, Eyebright, Much, Force, Trooper, Bustle, Bubbler, Rockdove, Stubborn, Yelp, Killer, Pele-mele, Strongboy, Sky, Sunbeam, Bodkin, Wistful, Gnome, Tracks, Dash.
As you can see Xenophon had a firm opinion for almost any subject. You could almost say he was, errr, dogmatic.


23 comments:

RWMG said...

I am now trying to visualise Xenophon standing at the edge of a wood calling, "Here, Blossom, here, Bloomer, aren't you good boys."

And why would a 5th/4th century Greek call a dog Rome?

Gary Corby said...

Hi Robert, I wondered that too. But I checked Perseus and the Greek says "Rhome". Either a later copyist has inserted a couple of his own fave's, or else the Goddess Roma was known then (unlikely), or Rhome has another meaning.

RWMG said...

Ah, I see from this list that it's Greek ΄ΡΩΜΗ rather than English Rome.

RWMG said...

΄ΡΩΜΗ is a Greek word meaning 'strength'. Why the translator felt the need to keep the Greek word in amongst the English ones I don't know.

Gary Corby said...

Ahah! Thanks so much. I'll fix it in my post.

That's weird. They've got it wrong in the main text but right in the footnotes.

CamilleKimball said...

Looks like an Ibizan. Or maybe a Pharoah Hound. I'm no expert, though. Just a big fan of dogdom.

Very interesting post. And the dog is beautiful! I can't believe how much art they managed to cram even on to a small coin.

Camille Kimball

camille said...

Ok, I looked at Greek hounds and I'm sticking with my Ibizan or Pharoah guess. The dog on the coin has long narrow legs and a sleek build. It has the fabulous arrowhead shaped head. It looks to me like it does not have drop ears.

The Greek hounds are shorter, heavier, have stockier legs, the head is very different and it definitely has drop ears.

The dog on the coin has very pronounced musculature which is more typical of the greyhound type which includes the Ibizan and Pharoah. The Greek hound looked much fleshier.

Okay, obviously, that was a fun little Saturday morning obsession for me. Hey, some people do crosswords.... :)

Tabitha Bird said...

so I'm guessing no chihuahuas? Fox/dog breed probably ate chihuahuas on the run or picked their teeth with them after. Xenophon has some interesting ideas about what constitutes a 'short' 'easy to call out' name! "Here Pele-Mele, come here boy. There's a good Pele-Mele."

Love 'Blossom' too. Some strapping great big Greek dude yelling for 'Blossom.' Sorry, you gotta laugh.

Gary, your posts are always interesting:) I can't imagine how much you like research. :)
Those coins are amazing too.

Have a great weekend. Thanks for your advise on my blog. I will try not to freak out when the time comes to query. You survived, right! Of course you also write pretty well, that might have saved you butt too :)

Gary Corby said...

Camille, you are now my designated expert on matters canine. I would never have worked out something like that.

Tabitha, I'm afraid you're right, a chihuahua would have made a light morning snack.

Yes, I find the research lots of fun. But it's also necessary! If I write a scene with a dog, now I can get the description right. Readers expect the details to be spot on.

RWMG said...

Pics of doggy statues from Greece

Yamile said...

I knew I was right about going with short names for dogs. Mine are Coco and Dandi (short for Dandelion), but they're no hunting dogs. Just big dogs in little dogs' bodies.
I'm amazed to the dedication of your followers. I wish I could add some significant comment, but all I could think of was "cool coins!"

Mimzy said...

I have to name my next dog Eyebright now. Xenophon commands it of me! (Besides, it sounds too cute to resist.)

Now I just need a house with a fenced in yard (or a house with a yard in general) and for my cat to not go into 'death from above' mode whenever there's a dog in her presence. Poor puppies never see her coming...

Gary Corby said...

Robert, those images of hunting dog statues are just freakin' amazing.

I swear I'm hiring you to lead my research team after I've won the lottery.

Thank you so much!

Gary Corby said...

Hi Yamile, yes, I'm rather amazed too at all the expertise people bring here. Including you. I can't imagine writing as well as you do in a second language.

Mimzy, sounds like you have one tough cat.

David said...

Great blog - and your book sounds fascinating too.

In my opinion you should work in the title more. I actually had to google it.

For any newcomers like me:

THE EPHAILTES AFFAIR

Mimzy said...

My cat isn't so much tough as evil.

Upon seeing a dog she flees and hides until I can't find her and the dog forgets she's around. Safely hidden, she waits until the dog has dozed off. Only then she reappears, slinking silently through the room. If the dog twitches, she freezes and weighs her options. Should she flee? Is the dog truly asleep?

Sometimes she looses her nerve, but usually she doesn't. She continues on, leaping up off the ground until she can lurk somewhere fairly high above the dog. There she will wait, hunkered down, for the moment.

She makes the decision to strike. Her tail straightens, her behind rises up into the air. For a moment her behind waggles to and fro and then--!

The dog screams as claws dig into his flank. He leaps to his feet to mount his counter attack! But the cat is gone. Vanished back into her dark world in order for her to wait and repeat the process.

And on the couch as the dog owner squeals over her poor abused puppy, I bite my fist and try not to break into hysterical laughter.

Gary Corby said...

Hi David, good to meet you and thanks for dropping in!

There's a reason I've been underplaying the title on the blog: it's a working title. What appears on the cover of the book is guaranteed to be different.

Bizarre as this may sound, I don't yet know what the final title will be. Titles are decided by a loose confederation of the editor, marketing people, sales, agent and author. It's funny you should mention it, because right this moment I have an email from my editor open on the screen talking about suggestions.

I'll post the real title on the blog about 10 seconds after we've worked it out. Promise!

Gary Corby said...

Xenophon never wrote a treatise on evil cats, but if he had, Mimzy, I'm sure yours would have been his first example.

Your moggy's not called Clawkill or somesuch, by any chance?

CKHB said...

Pharaoh Hound would have been my guess as well. I'm really just here to add the requisite bah-dum-BUM drum sting to your "dogmatic" joke...

Mimzy said...

No, the pretty kitty's name is Jade. It's the name the animal shelter gave her after they picked her off of the streets, the poor baby. Coincidentally the word 'jade' has also been part of my e-mail address for years so my mother said that the kitty was destined for me.

Yamile said...

Aawwww! Such kind words. You made my day,
especially because in my comment it said "amazed to"
instead of "amazed at." it's my phone's auto-correct
function's fault. I promise.

Dave in Columbus said...

Some more dog notes: Three kinds of hounds in Athens: Deer, hare, and wild boar (Life in Classical Athens, Webster, page 32). Sparta had small terriers and Spartan (Great Castor) boar hounds. The latter were illegal to export from Sparta (Sparta by Mitchell page 11). The females of the breed were good scenters (Spartans, Paul Cartledge, page 212). An apparent exception to the export rule...Spartan boar hounds accompanied Artemis (I don't have the ref handy). The Persians believed demons fled from the sight of dogs (The World of the Persians, Gobineau, page 9). The Greeks believed dogs could see the invisible Hecate, and dogs were sacrificed to her, as well as to Hecuba (I don't have the ref on that). The only dog sacrifice to an Olympian god was in Sparta, to Ares (Sparta, Michell, page 197). The Phoenicians did not eat pork, but did eat dog, which the Greeks considered abominable (Daily Life in Carthage, Charles-Picard, page 147).

Gary Corby said...

Wow, thanks Dave. You have lots of stuff there I didn't know. You're obviously an expert on modern histories of Greece!

My guess is any dog sacrifice to Hecate and Hecuba would have been limited to Ionia and surrounds.