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Dogs in History and Folklore

By Edited Oct 25, 2016 0 0

Was primitive man ever depicted alongside a fat dog? It's a highly unlikely scenario.

Primitive man himself was mainly skin and bone... putting on weight was not something anyone worried about in ancient times, when foraging for food was a major factor of life. We do know, however, from archaeological evidence that primitive man enjoyed the company of his dog, because their bones have been found buried together.

Dogs have been man's loyal friend and companion for centuries, there have been many cases of them saving men's lives, seeking out criminals and assisting disabled companions.

Family in Mourning

About 5,000 years ago, when the ancient Egyptians built their temples and tombs, they were decorated with picture of skinny-looking dogs. Some historians maintain that the Egyptians honoured their dogs and considered them sacred. According to the Greek historian Herodotus (who lived during the fifth century, BC), the death of the family dog meant the entire family went into mourning. Even today, the death of the family dog can still send an entire family into mourning.

Hunting Out the Dingo

Ethiopia was another country where the dog was very highly regarded. Ancient Assyrian monuments feature dogs way back in 600 BC. The Greeks and Romans armed their dogs with spiked collars to assist them in hunting and fighting. Sadly, today, the only dogs armed with spiked collars are those accompanying youths with evil intent.

In Australia, farmers hunt out the dingo (wild dog) because it keeps killing sheep. And sheep-farming is big in Australia.

Question Time

A question for quiz enthusiasts. Who or what were Cerberus, Sirius and Procyon?

Answer: Cerberus, according to the ancient Greeks, was the dog who guarded the gates of hell. A strange-looking animal, he is depicted in myth and legend as having three heads and the tail of a snake.

Hercules was supposed to bring him up from the underworld. The Greek hero's other tasks included slaying a lion, capturing a bull, obtaining the girdle of the Amazon Queen and stealing the apples of the Hesperides.

And Sirius? He's the dog star; the brightest of the constellation (group of stars) in the southern hemisphere. When the constellation was discovered people thought it looked dog-shaped and described it with the Latin words canis major (meaning greater dog).

Procyon is the chief star of the constellation in the northern hemisphere immediately above canis major. It is known as canis minor (the lesser dog).

Go to the top of the class those who correctly identified all three characters!

Dogfish, Anyone?

And now for some more obscure questions.

What is the origin of the term 'dog-days' and the expression 'helping a lame dog over a style'?

Answer: Dog-days are thus named because they are the hotttest days of the northern summer. In July and August, the dog star and the sun rise around the same time.

Helping a lame dog over a style is an old-fashioned expression meaning to help someone overcome their problems. Of course, this might be difficult with really fat dogs!

And finally, what exactly is a dogfish? Give up? It is a type of shark that lives down near the seabed. The dogfish moves like a dog and hunts it prey in a pack, hence the name. The type of dogfish living in British waters is often taken to market, skinned, cut up and sold as rock salmon.


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