What about Romans and "man's best friend"?

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What about Romans and "man's best friend"?

Postby Valerius Claudius Iohanes on Thu Apr 28, 2005 1:12 am

- Salvete omnes.

Something Marius said in a different thread prompted a thought: What about the Romans and "man's best friend"? Does the surviving Roman literature ever mention dogs as pets? The references would have to be few, I suppose, but I've never found any in my all-too limited Latin reading...

"Catellus" is Latin for puppy, as I recall. This sticks in my mind because to an English-speaker it's an absurd name for a young dog: "little cat".

But have any of you ever read of references to dogs and their Roman people?

- Valete omnes.
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All the Little Dogs

Postby Aldus Marius on Thu Apr 28, 2005 6:13 am

Ave iterum, Iohannes...!

This is off the cuff, so I may be back with more specific info, references and the like. But my impression is that, if we restrict ourselves to the available literature, there ain't much. Many of the agricultural poems and manuals mention dogs; and someone wrote a treatise on hunting called the Cynegetica. I think Pliny the Elder might have a chapter on dog breeds. But as far as 'Lassie stories', odes to beloved pets, and that sort of thing...they may be out there, but the Romans seem to have been more interested in keeping dogs than in writing about them.

Expand the search to art, however...! Representations of dogs abound in painting, sculpture, and mosaic. Some, naturally enough, are hunting-scenes; but others, lots of them, are tender scenes lovingly rendered, of small dogs up to mischief...street dogs taking part in city life...pairs of dogs playing, or sleeping together, or grooming each other. And the sculptures, especially, tend to be so sensitively-executed that I cannot doubt that the Romans had house-dogs, and loved them very much.

The Maltese is said to be from Roman antiquity, as is the Italian Greyhound. The latter had the duty of snuggling up under his master's covers to warm him if he had a chill! (They still do this today; the IG is not the pet to have if you can't stand dogs on the furniture.)

Does that give you some places to start looking...?

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Postby Q Valerius on Thu Apr 28, 2005 8:24 am

Rottweilers were used by Romans in war, no? Hrm, doesn't Petronius mention something about dogs in Satyricon? My memory isn't so good, but I swore I remembered something about his pet there.
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Postby Q Valerius on Thu Apr 28, 2005 8:29 am

Here is an outline of Satyricon. If you just do a search on the page for all the references to "dog" there are some interesting thoughts about them. Also, it mentions that Cave Canem was a common sign in Rome, which was one of the first phrases we learnt in Latin way back in school.
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Re: What about Romans and "man's best friend"?

Postby UrsusofUNRV on Sat Apr 11, 2009 7:38 pm

Salvete!

The Roman state didn't seem to treat dogs very kindly from what little I can gather. Supposedly a dog was crucified every year because the guard dogs failed to bark when the Gauls tried to storm the Capitoline (it was instead Juno's sacred geese that saved the day). More generally when the Romans sacked a city, they killed everything, including the dogs on the street.

But there seems to have been another side in private life. A colleague of mine has compiled a list of names Romans gave to their four-legged friends, and she cites her sources. For those interested, you may read it here: http://www.unrv.com/culture/names-for-roman-dogs.php

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Re: What about Romans and "man's best friend"?

Postby Valerius Claudius Iohanes on Sat Apr 11, 2009 10:22 pm

Salve, Urse -

Good list!

Additionally, it's interesting to see given names which are neither praenomina or agnomina. I'm not sure what other context one might see them in aside from this.

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Re: What about Romans and "man's best friend"?

Postby Nephele on Mon Apr 13, 2009 2:28 pm

Valerius Claudius Iohanes wrote:
Good list!


Thank you! :)

Additionally, it's interesting to see given names which are neither praenomina or agnomina. I'm not sure what other context one might see them in aside from this.


A friend of mine, Caroline Lawrence (author of The Roman Mysteries) has suggested that a number of those dog names on my list might make good names for gladiators or gladiatrices in stories about Rome.

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