||When hunting, people of all races were assisted by hunting dogs of every breed. The past centuries witnessed this fact in the countries of Asia and Egypt, and the situation was the same in Greece and later on in Rome; the latter countries will be discussed in the next chapter.
The vital role that the hunting dogs played in providing food for humans is evidenced by a story written in 1962 B.C. by Sinuhet, an Egyptian nobleman, prince, judge and a regional custodian of the sovereign´s estates in an Asian country. In a report on Syria and Palestine, Sinuhet expresses his utmost satisfaction, saying:"the King made me a chieftain of a selected tribe living in his country. The tribesmen daily provided me with pastry and wine, and apart from the game of the desert they gave me boiled meat and baked birds. They hunted animals for me and presented me with their catch in addition to the food brought in by the hunting dogs." Sinuhet´s narrative from the depth of almost 40 centuries testifies to the fact that the ancient people valued a hunting dog high above its fighting or "combat" counterpart, in stark contrast to the opinions expressed by many contemporary authors of canine literature! Thanks to the meat of animals caught by dogs the man of Antiquity could survive just as could the man of Primeval times before him. The measure of supply of other foodstuffs like cereals, fruit and vegetable that could count as sufficient was rather relative.
A hunting dog was also an inseparable companion of Odysseus, another well-known figure of Greek legends. Having finished his heroic voyages Odysseus returns to his home, where everybody considers him dead. He is recognized neither by the maids, nor by his wife and son; the only creature that recognizes him is an old hunting dog Argos.
"As soon as the dog recognized that Odysseus stood close by,
it wagged its tail and dropped its ears,
nevertheless it was too feeble to come any closer to its master."
Argos, the once beloved dog that Odysseus trained and took along to hunt with him for "wild goats and does and timid hares", much admired for its grace, tracking abilities and swift legs, now old and decrepit, lay outcast on a mound of manure, with its body full of ticks. As soon as the dog laid its eyes on Odysseus its fate fulfilled and after twenty years of waiting for its master the dog died.
This moving story shows that in Greece each personality of some importance owned hunting dogs. But it also proves that common people regarded the dog as just a utility animal and when it grew old they started to consider it quite useless. How sad to imagine the hosts of such dogs in the past, the present and undoubtedly in the future.
While hunting dogs figure in many works of ancient art and literature, the fighting dogs employed in battles are mentioned very rarely. The conclusion is obvious - dogs were used mostly for hunting, shepherding and herding cattle, for protecting living quarters and military installations.
Artemis used to be a very busy young lady, since she moonlighted also as a goddess of the moon. She took care of forests, groves, meadows and fields - of everything supposed to grow, blossom and yield crop. She supervised the delivery of babies and had healing springs on her agenda as well. Whoever made her angry could be struck with insanity, paralysis and sudden death.
"On his way from Megar, the pilgrim will find a spring and just a few steps further a rock known as the Bed of Aktaión", said in the 2nd century B.C. Pausanias in his Greek Travels.
"Aktaión rested on the rock tired of hunting. Looking down from the rock he spotted Artemis bathing in the spring. Though Stesichorus of Hímera wrote that the goddess threw a deer skin on Aktaión thus instigating his dogs to tear him to pieces...I believe that Aktaión´s dogs went into a fit of rabies without the goddess´s intervention, and recognizing no one in their fury they were inclined to dismember anybody coming their way"
What lessons can be learned from this story? That it is not a good idea to snoop around a virgin goddess when she takes a bath; that hunting with a pack of dogs was a daily routine of professional hunters; that skins of wild animals or predators were used to get dogs into the proper fighting spirit; and that people knew the dramatic symptoms of rabies as early as 18 centuries ago and feared them.
The problems brought about by rabies, a disease quite beyond people in antiquity, treated Plinius in his History of Nature.
"When Sirius rises at dawn (around 20 July), the dogs´ rabies is dangerous to humans. As mentioned before, a person thus bitten is dying of thirst while abhorring any idea of drinking water. To protect dogs against rabies within these thirty days (after the dawn rise of Sirius) it is recommended to complement the dogs´ food with ample volumes of hen droppings, and in case the disease breaks out the dogs should be given sneezewort. Only one medicine, revealed to humankind through a prophecy, avails against a bite by a rabid dog - the root of a forest rose also known as kynorhodon."
Columella maintains that "if, forty days after it was born, a dog has its tail curtailed and the last article removed together with the spinal cord, the tail shall never grow long again and the dog shall never contract rabies".
Beware of falling out of grace with Hecate, a goddess of the underworld. On a dark night she could come to scare you to death with her pack of pitch-black dogs. A black dog has always been considered a companion of the empress of the darkness and witchery. You could earn her favor back only through an offering of honey, a dog or a black sheep. Do you find it cruel to reconcile the goddess by sacrificing a dog? Even today thousands of so-called combat dogs have been sacrificed on the altar of a bloodthirsty goddess known as Politics, and the people of the third millennium are quite incapable to prevent it.
In their utility and importance, the shepherd dogs ranked by a dog´s whisker behind the hunting dogs. As opposed to the many-headed herds possessed by Asian nations, the herds grazing on highland pastures of the small country of Greece were just tiny and consequently all the more precious to their owners.
In Greece, just like in Asia, a white variety of the shepherd dog became most popular, since in darkness it could be easily distinguished from a gray wolf.
As evidenced by historical sources wolves were so numerous in Greece that they attacked not just the white-fleeced sheep, but people too. Also the Nemean lion was much feared - and venerated. It was venerated so vehemently that in time the lion became extinct. The herds were guarded by armed shepherds assisted by huge dogs procured in the neighboring Epirus.
A white dog came to be the subject of a widely-known Greek legend. As the tradition dictated Diomos, a citizen of Athens, made offerings to the gods in his abode. All of a sudden a white dog materialized by his side, snatched the meat offering with its teeth and ran away. Based on a prophecy, a sacred shrine dedicated to Herakles, the most famous of the Greek heroes, was erected at the place where the dog buried the captured meat and called kyón - a dog. Did you know that it was Herakles who brought to this world Cerberus, the three-headed guardian dog of the underworld? (see page 14) The dog followed him of its own volition - Herakles offered the dog honey cakes. People with slanderous tongues assert that the cakes contained a poppy seed extract - opium. Be that as it may, Herakles managed to duly return the dog to the underworld and no historical sources indicate that Hades´ dog became a drug addict.
White-skinned and white-furred animals generically called albinos have always been considered precious and held in reverence. That is why just kings and noblemen possessed them. Pausanias in his Greek Travels mentions albino blackbirds nesting on the Kylléne mountain; eagles, whose white color lends them a swan-like appearance; white boars and bears encountered in Thrace; white Roman deer; Libyan white hares... The rulers of the Orient possessed menageries full of white lions, tigers and elephants.
White alabaj dogs became legendary with the old Turkmen too. Even today an all-white dog is regarded as a precious curiosity. A white alabaj dog named Aku, i.e. white bird in Turkish, won fame as a winning fighter in dog fights. In Turkmenia the dog fights have always been an event kept in the spirit of chivalry unlike the bloody butchery organized for pit bull terriers. On many occasions the dog emerging as the winner could paralyze its rival only with a stare, or discourage it with a mighty blow delivered by the chest. As soon as the weaker dog surrenders, its stronger opponent stops fighting.
Aku was so revered that it even became a subject of a movie entitled Ochalamon. In the scenes of the movie Aku was gradually represented by a female alabaj dog named Akbaj, then by its son Bergut, and in the end by Aku itself, a giant snow-white alabaj dog. Whenever an alabaj dog breeder now living in Russia comes to see her relatives in Turkmenia, she is invariably accompanied by her pet - a female dog Altyn, a grand-daughter of Aku. Seeing the dog the Turkmen stop and shout much pleased: "Aku is back!"
Who were the Greeks, that they elected to worship a virgin maiden as their goddess of hunt?