views updated Jun 11 2018


DOGS . Recent archaeological discoveries place the domestication of the dog thousands if not tens of thousands of years prior to that of any of the other animals with which humanity has shared its cultural evolution. This shared heritage is reflected in the ritual, mythology, and religious doctrine of nearly every human society. The ancient Phoenicians, Chinese, Meso-Americans, and Egyptians buried, entombed, or mummified dogs, separately or together with their human masters; archaic astronomical systems from Europe, Asia, Africa, and North America identify star clusters or planets with supernatural dogs; and dogs figure prominently in a wide variety of myths and rituals, particularly those concerned with death and afterlife.

The place of Canis familiaris in religious traditions closely corresponds to the social roles, behaviors, and spatial orientations of dogs in relationship to humans, as protectors of the home, in hunting, and in herding. In every case, the dog is located at a problematic boundary between "us"the living members of a human communityand "them": the dead, wild animals, interlopers, and human enemies of that community. As a watchdog, it prowls the zone of demarcation between within and without, inhabited space and outside world. As a herding animal, it constitutes a moving periphery, enclosing the herd that it guards from savage predators and human rustlers, but also culling animals that have been designated for slaughter. In the hunt, the hound leadsseeing, hearing, and scenting the prey before its master, who follows its bark, is able to do soand fetches back small game in its mouth. Man's best friend has a dark side as well: the domesticated dog can turn rabid, predatory, or feral, in which cases it may endanger the very humans and livestock it normally protects. Furthermore, the dog's gluttony may be a stronger impulse than its faithfulness to its master, and its indiscriminate eating habits allow it to consume carrion, excrements, and other impure substances, including the bodies of humans slain in battle.

All of these canine qualities and behaviors have made for an intimate association between dogs and death in the world's religions. Gods of death, such as the Greek Hekate, the Indian Yama and Bhairava, and the Teutonic Garmr, are often identified with or accompanied by dogs that guard the gates to their realms. Very often, the dog is cast as a hell-hound that tracks down and even devours the errant dead, for which reason the dead may be buried together with a sop to distract it, as in the case of the Sārameyathe twin dogs of the Indian death god Yamathe Greek Cerberus, and the Nicaraguan Tausun Tara. Alternatively, the dog serves as a psychopomp, a guide who leads or herds the recently deceased over the dangerous paths leading to the world of the deadhence the sacrifice of dogs or the burial of dog effigies with the dead in Nahuatl, Chamba (northern Nigeria), and ancient Chinese traditions. In several northern European traditions, a spectral pack of dogs accompanies the storm god Woden, or the Christian Devil, on his wild hunt after the souls of the damned. At different periods, the Tibetans, Kalmuks, Parsis, Bactrians, Hyrcanians, Mongols, Javanese, and Kamchatkans have exposed their dead in "sky burials," relying on necrophagous dogs and birds of prey to consume the bodily remains and thereby carry off the pollution of death.

Numerous myths of the origin of death involve a dog. In several western African traditions, the dog is a messenger whose failure to deliver a message to a high god results in human mortality. A central Asian mytheme, found from the Balkans to Siberia and northern Japan, features a primal dog who is charged by a deus otiosis -type figure with protecting the bodies of a primal human pair; the dog succumbs to the temptations of the Devil, who befouls humans and dog with his spittle, thereby rendering them mortal.

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam generally cast the dog in a negative light, especially by emphasizing its impurity, and often identify dogs as demons or minions of the Devil. A striking exception is the role of the dog in the early Christian and later Islamic myth of the "Cave of the Seven Sleepers," which draws on a widespread Indo-European mytheme that has a faithful watchdog guard the mouth of a cave where six saints sleep for hundreds of years. From the high Middle Ages down to the twentieth century, a greyhound was venerated in the Dombes region of southeastern France as Saint Guignefort, the healer of sick children, in spite of repeated attempts by the Roman Church to suppress the cult of this decidedly noncanonical saint.

In Zoroastrianism, the dog plays a particularly positive role in postmortem ritual. A dog is fed three times daily for three days following a death, as a conduit for nurturing the soul of the dead. In the celebrated rite of sag did, the powerful gaze of a "four-eyed dog" drives away the demonic Nasus spirits that swarm around the corpse of the deceased. In Zoroastrian otherworldly geography, one or two four-eyed dogs are present at the Cinvat bridge in order to aid the souls of the just to cross over to the "Best Existence," which lies beyond. The same four-eyed dog is found, this time with a negative valence, in ancient India, where this creature was put to death beneath the feet of a horse representing the king, as a part of the famous aśvamedha sacrifice. This apotropaic (evil-averting) sacrifice identified the dog with the king's rival in what was essentially a ritual of royal conquest, which concluded with the sacrifice of the horse itself.

This doubling of dogs' eyes is not limited to Indian or Indo-Iranian religions, and is of a piece with a broader phenomenon of doubling in the symbolism of death. Four-eyed dogs are found in the mythology and ritual of numerous cultures, including the Ibo of Nigeria who behead a four-eyed dog (that is, a dog with pronounced markings over its eyes) when burying their chiefs. This they do in order that the dog may transfer its powers of clairvoyance to the deceased. Similar practices involving dogs of this sort are found in hunting rituals in many parts of Africa, while Finnish and Slavic traditions employ four-eyed dogs to root out and protect against evil spirits. Hellhounds are often found in pairs, or with two heads (as in the case of the Greek Orthos, Cerberos's less famous elder brother); and the name of the Indian Yama may itself be read as "Twin," the brother of Manu, "Man," who sacrifices him. As the first being to die, Yama becomes the lord of the world of the dead. A parallel mytheme is found in ancient Rome, in which Romulus kills his twin brother Remus (whose name is an Indo-European cognate of Yama) as a foundation sacrifice. In Mesoamerica, the Nahuatl dog god Xolotl is considered to be the twin brother of Quetzalcoatl, and together the two represent the planet Venus, as the morning and evening stars respectively. The eastern and western entrances to East Asian Buddhist temples are guarded by Foo (or Foh) dogs, which are said to symbolize the yin and yang principles. In ancient Egypt, the jackal- or dog-headed Anubis of Cynopolis was considered to be the "opener" of the northern paths of the dead, while the wolf-god Up-uaut or Ap-heru of Lycopolis opened the southern paths. Likewise, the "entrance" to the Milky Way, the starry path of the gods and the dead in several Indo-European traditions, is guarded by two dogs, Canis Major and Canis Minor, with the dog star Sirius being located in the former constellation of the Greco-Roman system. Located at the threshold of two worlds, these beings that symbolize the transition between death need two bodies, two heads, or four eyes to look both backward and forward, toward both the living and the dead who live in a symbiotic relationship not unlike that obtaining between man and dog.

In Roman mythology, the aforementioned twins Romulus and Remus, who had been forsaken at birth, are suckled and protected by a she-wolf in a cave at the base of the Palatine hill. They enjoy the same mythic fate as Cyrus, the founder of the Achaemenid dynasty and the Persian Empire: according to Herodotos, the infant Cyrus, who had been left to die at the order of the Median king Astyages, was saved by a Median woman named "Bitch." Other versions of the story, such as that of Trogus Pompeius, simply state that Cyrus was raised by a she-dog, as were also the Greek Aesculapius, the Persian Afrasiyab, and Lugaid Mac Con of Irish legend. A variation on this Indo-European mytheme of a dynastic founder or culture hero being fostered by an animal nurse, is a central and east Asian ethnogenic myth, which likely spread into the circumpolar regions. This is the myth of the origin of a people or race through the union of a human woman and a male dog, a most illustrious example being that of Chinggis (Genghis) Khan, as is related in the opening lines of the Secret History of the Mongols (c. 1240 ce). The Inuit of the central Arctic trace the origin of the "five human races" back to the union of the daughter of the primordial human pair, a maiden named Uinigumasuittuq ("She Who Did Not Wish to Marry"), with the family dog, Siarnaq. A similar myth is found among several of China's "southern barbarian" peoples, including the Man, Yao, and Liao. In both Chinese and European medieval literatures, this mytheme, which was transmitted along the Silk Road from its original Central Asian source, underwent a transformation that made it a stock fixture of world mythology. As it traveled east and west, it became an account of a remote "Kingdom of Women" that shared its borders with a "Kingdom of Dogs." During the mating season of the former, these dogs, or Dog-Men would cohabit with the women, with female offspring being kept by the women, and males by the dogs or Dog-Men. This was the source of the rich European mythology of races of Dog-Men (Cynanthropoi) or Dog-Headed Men (Cynocephali), who figure in the Alexander Legend and the writings of Marco Polo, as well as in the legends of several medieval Christian saints, who sought to convert these monsters to the true faith.

Numerous mythical traditions cast supernatural dogs in various types of foundation myths. According to the mythology of two Mesoamerican peoples, the Huichol and the Tlapanec, the repopulation of the earth is effected, following a great flood, through the union of a man and a she-dog. The Nahuatl Xolotl reanimates humanity at the beginning of a new creation cycle by fetching the bones of dead humans from a prior cycle back to his dwelling and bleeding on them from his penis. The North American Shoshone and Achowami, as well as several African peoples, identify the dog as the bringer of fire to humanity. Maya manuscripts depict the dog as the bringer of maize to the world, while several southern Chinese and Southeast Asian myths portray the dog as swimming over the waters of a primal flood while carrying grains of rice on its tail, to feed a starving humanity.

Poised on the uncertain boundary between humanity and animality, wildness and domestication, inside and outside, the living and the dead, purity and impurity, even the divine and the demonic, dogs have, throughout the long history of their relationship to humans, been especially "good to think with," whence the abundance of mythology, ritual, and religious precept that we humans have generated around canine modes of being in the world.

See Also



The most comprehensive surveys of dogs in world religions concentrate on mythology. These include Freda Kretschmar's Hundestammvater und Kerberos, 2 vols. (Stuttgart, 1938; reprint, New York, 1968), Maria Leach's God Had a Dog: Folklore of the Dog (New Brunswick, N.J., 1961), and Patricia Dale-Green's The Lore of the Dog (Boston, 1967). Studies with a wide cultural area focus include David Gordon White's Myths of the Dog-Man (Chicago, 1991), which limits itself to Europe and Asian mythology, Barbara Frank's Die Rolle des Hundes in afrikanischen Kulturen (Wiesbaden, 1965), and Wilhelm Köppers's "Der Hund in der Mythologie der zirkumpazifischen Völker," Wiener Beiträge zur Kulturgeschichte und Linguistik 1 (1930): 359399. Several studies extensively treat the dog in death-related mythology and ritual. These include Manabu Waida's "Central Asian Mythology of the Origin of Death: A Comparative Analysis of Its Structure and History," Anthropos 77 (1982): 663701, Bruce Lincoln's "The Hellhound," Journal of Indo-European Studies 7, nos. 34 (Fall/Winter 1979): 273285, Manfred Lurker's "Der Hund als Symboltier für den Übergang vom Diesseits in das Jenseits," Zeitschrift für Religions- und Geistesgeschichte 35 (1983): 132144, and Franke J. Neumann's "The Dragon and the Dog: Two Symbols of Time in Nahuatl Religion," Numen 22, no. 1 (1975): 123.

Works focusing on a single cultural area include Mahasti Ziai Afshar's The Immortal Hound: The Genesis and Transformation of a Symbol in Indo-Iranian Traditions (New York, 1990), Eduard Erkes's "Der Hund im alten China," T'oung Pao 38 (1944): 186225, Frank Jenkins's "The Role of the Dog in Romano-Gaulish Religion," Latomus 16, no. 1 (JanuaryMarch 1957): 6076, Carla Mainoldi's L'image du loup et du chien dans la Grèce ancien d'Homère à Platon (Paris, 1984), and Jean-Claude Schmitt's Le saint lévrier: Guignefort guérisseur d'enfants depuis le XIIIe siècle (Paris, 1979), which focuses on the remarkable cult of a greyhound, which persisted well into the twentieth century in the Dombes region of southeastern France.

David Gordon White (2005)


views updated Jun 08 2018

194. Dogs

  1. Argos Odysseus pet, recognizes him after an absence of twenty years. [Gk. Lit.: Odyssey 17:298]3
  2. Asta the thin mans dog. [Am. Lit.: The Thin Man ]
  3. Balthasar almost a Pomeranian, companion of Jolyon Forsyte at Robin Hill. [Br. Lit.: Indian Summer of a Forsyte ]
  4. barghest monstrous goblin-dog, a nocturnal specter portending death. [Br. Folklore: EB (1963) III, 110]
  5. Boatswain Byrons favorite dog. [Br. Hist.: Harvey, 239]
  6. Buck after murder of his master, leads wolf pack. [Am. Lit.: The Call of the Wild ]
  7. Bullet Roy Rogers dog. [TV: The Roy Rogers Show in Terrace, II, 260]
  8. Bulls-eye Bill Sykess dog. [Br. Lit.: Oliver Twist ]
  9. Cerberus three-headed beast guarding gates of hell. [Classical Myth.: Zimmerman, 5556]
  10. Charley elderly poodle that accompanied Steinbeck on trip across U.S. [Am. Lit.: John Steinbeck Travels with Charley in Weiss, 471]
  11. Checkers Richard Nixons cocker spaniel; used in his defense of slush fund (1952). [Am. Hist.: Wallechinsky, 126]
  12. Diogenes Dr. Blimbers clumsy dog. [Br. Lit.: Dombey and Son ]
  13. Dominic hound who travels widely. [Childrens Lit.: Dominic ]
  14. Fala Franklin Roosevelts dog. [Am. Hist.: Wallechinsky, 126]
  15. Flopit small, majestically self-important, and smelling of violets. [Am. Lit.: Booth Tarkington Seventeen in Magill I, 882]
  16. Flush Elizabeth Barrett Brownings spaniel, subject of a biography. [Br. Lit.: Woolf Flush in Barnhart, 446]
  17. Gelert greyhound slain by its master for killing his baby; he discovers that Gelert had killed a wolf menacing the child, who is found safe. [Eng. Ballad: Beddgelert in Brewer Dictionary, 93]
  18. Hound of the Baskervilles gigantic fiend dog of Sir Arthur Conan Doyles tale. [Br. Lit.: The Hound of the Baskervilles ]
  19. Jip Doras little pet, lives in a tiny pagoda. [Br. Lit.: Dickens David Copperf eld ]
  20. Lassie canine star of popular film and TV series. [TV: Terrace, II, 1315; Radio: Buxton, 135]
  21. Marmaduke floppy, self-centered, playful Great Dane. [Comics: Marmaduke ]
  22. Mauthe Doog ghostly black spaniel that haunted Peel Castle. [Br. Folklore: Benét, 649]
  23. Montmorency companion on Thames boat trip. [Br. Lit.: Jerome Three Men in a Boat in Magill II, 1018]
  24. Nana Newfoundland, nurse to the children. [Br. Lit.: J. M. Barrie Peter Pan ]
  25. Peritas Alexander the Greats dog. [Gk. Hist.: Harvey, 239]
  26. Rin-Tin-Tin early film hero; German shepherd. [Radio: Buxton, 200]
  27. Sandy Little Orphan Annies dog. [Comics: Little Orphan Annie in Horn, 459]
  28. Snoopy worlds most famous beagle. [Comics: Peanuts in Horn, 542]
  29. Spot dog accompanying Sally, Dick, and Jane in primers. [Am. Cult.: Misc.]
  30. Toto pet terrier who accompanies Dorothy to Oz. [Am. Lit.: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz ]


views updated May 21 2018

dogs dogs bark, but the caravan goes on trivial criticism will not deflect the progress of something important (caravan here means ‘a company of people travelling together in the desert’). The saying is recorded from the late 19th century.
the dogs of war the havoc accompanying military conflict, originally a quotation from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar (1599), ‘Cry, ‘.Havoc!’. and let slip the dogs of war.’

See also dog, lie down with dogs, you will get up with fleas, rain cats and dogs, let sleeping dogs lie, while two dogs are fighting for a bone.


views updated Jun 08 2018

125. Dogs

See also 16. ANIMALS .

Psychiatry. a delusion in which a person believes himself to be a dog.
a specialist in the care and breeding of dogs.
the branch of zoology that studies the dog, especially its natural history.
an abnormal love of dogs.
an intense dread of dogs.
the state or quality of being a mixed breed. mongrelization , n. mongrely , adj.
the love of dogs. Also called philocyny . philocynic , n., adj. philocynical , adj.