A LEGEND tells us that after the creation a gulf gradually opened between Adam and the beasts he had named. Among them stood the dog, gazing wistfully at the ever widening chasm till, when the separation was all but complete, he leaped the gulf and stood by man's side. There, with such slight exceptions as prove the rule, in his master's hour of need he has stood ever since.
There are many myths of his first relationship with the creature he has served.
The Koumis, a tribe of eastern India, so Sir James Frazer tells us in "The Golden Bough," give him an important role. In their account of the beginning of years man and woman were not the Maker's crowning achievement, though he evidently intended them to be. He took twelve hours to mold the human forms, and, satisfied with his handiwork, went to sleep. The same night the serpent, who was either indigenous or an unhappy inspiration of the Creator's craft, glided to its prey, and destroyed the Koumis' Adam and Eve. Undaunted, their deity set to work next morning and framed them anew, to have once more labored in vain, owing to the reptile's cunning. A third failure, due to the same cause, decided him to change his tactics. Rising early the following day he proceeded to fashion a guardian in the shape of a dog, and finished his day's Work by—what by now must have been a somewhat wearisome task—remodeling the human pair. In the evening the serpent, crawling through the long grass to the first resting-place of primitive man, horrified by the growling of the faithful watch, abandoned his intention once and for all.
This is why, so the Koumis believe, when a man is dying his dog begins to howl. But in the passing of time he has lost his ancient power, and, despite his protest, the Koumis sleep their last sleep.
A similar legend, with vindictive horses who trampled to death the first of the race ere the dog is created for their protection, is found among the Korkus, a tribe of the central provinces of India.
Unfortunately the canine reputation does not stand so high among all native races. In Togoland the belief is held that it was owing to a dog's greediness that man lost his immortality.
The Togo tribesmen sent the hound with a message to the Deity to inform him that when they died they desired rebirth. He set out with alacrity, but on his way passed a wizard's hut and sniffed a smell of cooking. Walking inside to wait till the savory brew was ready, he saw the frog, who had been annoyed at the choice of a messenger, hopping along on a self-imposed mission to the All-powerful. The true legate, relying on his swiftness, awaited his meal. The frog arrived first at the Togomen's paradise, interviewed the Deity, and informed him that the tribesmen, when they died, did not want to live again.
Shortly afterward the dog appeared in the presence and gave his message. "I do not understand," replied the god, "I have already received intelligence to the opposite effect, and having given my promise to the frog I shall abide by it."
Civilized races, too, believed in the power of the dog. The Greeks held that Cerberus, that most renowned of mythical hounds, guarded the portals of Hades. When old Charon had performed his office and rowed the phantom host in his ferry-boat across the Styx, they wended their way to Pluto's realm of darkness. At the entrance gate stood Cerberus on guard, a three-headed monster, with a serpent's tail, cordial to the spirits who entered, hostile to those who would depart.
Time was when Cerberus left Hades, for it was the twelfth and last labor of Hercules, imposed by Eurystheus, to bring him to earth. Hercules, led by Hermes, descended to the under-world. The thin shades fled before his robust personality as he made his way to Pluto to request permission to carry off the guardian of the portal. "You may do so," was the reply, "but you must be weaponless."
Hercules met Cerberus at the mouth of the Acheron, and with his powerful hands gripped him by the throat, though all the heads were barking at once, the serpent's tail lashing, and the teeth dropping poison. His strength was equal to this, the most arduous of all his labors. With his mighty arm he swung the monster over his back and returned with him to earth. Taking him on a strong leash he reported to Eurystheus, who, when he saw the captive, decided that there was now no task that the hero could not fulfill and released him from further bondage. One condition was imposed: Pluto's portals were not to lose their porter, and Cerberus must be returned forthwith to what, to him, must have been a more congenial clime.
With the passing of paganism and the coming of Christianity the dim abode changed its ruler. Satan replaced Pluto but retained the services of Cerberus, at any rate for a time. There one of the early Christian fathers saw him still on guard. And there, in the third circle of the Inferno, Dante and Vergil met the monster "fierce and strange" torturing the unhappy multitude, who were paying the penalty of gluttony, himself symbolizing the effect of gluttony on the soul. He can hardly be said to have welcomed these illustrious visitors; his red eyes glowered, his jaws opened, and his six sets of teeth looked so ready to devour them that Vergil, hastily filling his hand with the mud with which the place abounded, "cast it in his ravenous maw" and continued his personally conducted tour of the poet, leaving Cerberus, to the agonies of indigestion.
Two of the canine race were admitted to Olympus. The first of these was Jupiter's dog Lelaps, wrought by Vulcan in his forge, a hunting dog of renown who, in the course of his earthly life, came into possession of the beautiful nymph Procris and followed her light and fairy footsteps in joyous companionship. Procris loved Cephalus, a young huntsman, and made herself miserable thinking that his heart was given to another. As he started on a solitary ramble, the nymph, calling Lelaps to her side, secretly followed him. The hunter, preparing his arrows for the chase, concealed behind some bushes, was calling to the happy elements that bright spring morning, "Sweet air, oh, come," and echo answered, "Come, sweet air." Procris, listening in the shadow of the trees, thought such words of tenderness were addressed to her rival. The leaves rustled, as she trembled in an agony of jealousy, and Cephalus, hearing the sound and fearing that a wild beast was about to spring upon him, drew his bow and pierced Procris in the throat.
The Florentine painter Piero di Cosimo, himself a great friend of animals, found inspiration for his brush in "The Death of Procris," which hangs in the National Gallery and shows us Lelaps watching the dead body.
None saw her die but Lelaps the swift hound,
That watched her dumbly with a wistful fear,
and with a look which seems to say, "What is this change which has come upon her?"
Lelaps had other adventures. Among them was his great fight with Alopex, the fox, which so enraged Jupiter that he turned both dog and fox into marble statues, afterward propitiating Vulcan, whose wrath was aroused by Lelaps's fate, by admitting the dog into Olympus under the name of Canicule.
He had for companion in the dwelling-place of the gods Mera, the dog of Icarius. When on earth Mera followed her master, and was present when the drunken shepherds slew him and threw his body into a well. The deed done Mera sought Erigone, the Athenian's daughter, and, pulling her by her robe, dragged her to the place where her father lay. The poor girl, overcome by grief, hung herself from the nearest tree, and Mera's lifeless body was found lying in its shadow. Mera was accordingly raised to heaven under the title of Procyon (little dog).
Diana, the twin sister of Apollo, was the first patroness of hunting. No special dog is recorded by name as having been her favorite, but, when she was in the Arcadian territory of Pan, there were presented to her some beautiful hunting dogs, who were her body-guard.
The virgin goddess, when bathing, was covertly watched by Acteon. Her wrath at this outrage was such that she turned him into a stag, and bade her hounds tear him to pieces. Diana's festival, with all its attendant rites, was shared by hunters and dogs alike.
The greatest of the Olympians, Jupiter, was saved by his mother, Rhea, from the appetite of his father, Saturn, who devoured his male children at birth, and was hidden in a cave at Crete. Here he was nourished by the nymph Oex and watched over by a golden dog, which subsequently became the guardian of the island and had a medal struck in its honor. Unfortunately it excited the cupidity of Pandarus, who stole it, and presented it to Jupiter's son, Tantalus. Shortly afterward, however, he wished to regain possession of this valuable trophy and requested its return.
"I never received it," Tantalus declared boldly.
It was time for Jupiter to intervene, and he immediately turned Pandarus into stone as a punishment for theft, and hurled Tantalus, on account of his lie, from the mountain top into the abyss.
First in fame for faithfulness stands Argus, the hound of Ulysses, king of Ithaca. A mighty hunter in his happy youth, with Argus his companion in the chase, he pursued the deer and swift hares and wild goats through the woodlands.
Ulysses was summoned from peaceful pursuits to take part in the ten years' siege of Troy; and after the city fell into the hands of the Greeks, on whose side he fought, for ten years more he wandered, enduring many misfortunes, ere he returned to his island kingdom. Garbed as a beggar he set foot once more on the ground where he and Argus had roamed together. No one recognized him.
On his tramp to his home he fell in with his shepherd, Eumeus, guarding his flocks, and sought his company. As the palace came in sight he observed a miserable neglected old dog lying on a dunghill, -who, when he heard the king's voice, feebly pricked his ears and wagged his tail and with a dying effort attempted to crawl to lick his long-absent master's hand. Argus's hour had struck, and Ulysses turning away his head lest Eumeus should see his tears and guess his identity, mourned the one who had not forgotten.
"I am astonished that a dog is thus left on the dung heap," he said, turning to the shepherd once more. "He is still a beautiful dog. I do not know if his lightness and his swiftness were equal to his beauty, or was he one that was only fed at the table, that princes kept through their vanity?"
"This dog," was the reply, "belonged to a master who is dead, alas far from here. If you had seen him in his full strength as he was when Ulysses departed you would have admired his swiftness. Now he is worn out with work and with suffering and with old age, for his master is dead far from here, as I have already said. The women of the palace will not even trouble to take care of him and are allowing him to perish alone."
One of the gallant Trojan defenders was Hector, son of Hecuba, who was slain by Achilles. When Troy fell into the hands of the Greeks Ulysses carried away Hecuba as a slave. Poor Hecuba, overwhelmed with sorrow, had to be dragged away from the graves of her husband and children.
Dedicated to my beloved friend, Teddy Schmitz
In revenge for her many wrongs and for the murder of her son, Polydorus, she assassinated the king of Thrace. Pursued by the angry populace, behind her the snowy hills of Thrace, beyond the stormy waters of the Hellespont, wounded by dart and stone, "attempting to speak out, her jaws just ready for the words," she barked, and it was in the semblance of a dog that she leaped the cliff to be engulfed in the depths.
The city of Cynomessa was built in the honor of this hapless queen, and on her monument were engraved the words, "The tomb of an unhappy dog, landmark for lost mariners."
The Northern sagas have their dog heroes. Among them stands the Irish hound Samr, "huge of limb and for a follower equal to an able man," the gift of Olaf Paa to Gunnar. "He hath a man's wit and will bark at thine enemies, but never at thy friends. And he will see by each man's face whether he be well or ill disposed toward thee, and he will lay down his life to be true to thee."
"Samr," commanded Olaf, "from this day follow Gunnar, and do him all the service that thou canst"; and the hound went up to his new master and fawned upon him.
Gunnar had need of Samr's services, for his enemies had decided, when the hay-making time came, to take his village by surprise. As a preliminary, they forced Thorkel, the bond, in peril of his life, to undertake to capture Samr. Thorkel therefore led the marauding party as they filed along a hidden road between fences which bordered Gunnar's farmstead. On the low roof of the house Samr lay on guard, and the moment Thorkel leaped the parapet into the yard, Samr jumped upon him: his fierce attack settled the bondman's fate. An instant later Onund, the next in the file, crashed his mighty battle-ax on Samr's head. With "a great and wonderful cry" the mortally wounded dog roused Gunnar, who was sleeping in his hall: "Thou hast been sorely treated, Samr, my fosterling, and this warning is so meant that our two deaths will not be far apart."
Olaf Trygvesson the Norwegian sea-king who introduced Christianity to the Northern lands, did not consider his conversion inconsistent with pillage. His dragon ship, the Long Worm, its rude carvings gleaming in azure and gold, was a dreaded sight as it moored its bark on some wild coast, and the inhabitants would fly inland from the Christians, sword in hand. On one such expedition he landed in Ireland, and, encountering a beautiful hound, immediately appropriated it, named it Vigi, and returned with it to his vessel. Vigi had every qualification for a viking's dog, for he combined the courage of a fighting man with the craft of a pilot. As Olaf threaded the gloomy fiords on his double business of Christianity and crime he was sometimes ignorant of their windings.
"Take the rudder," he bade an Icelandic member of the crew.
"Not I, King Olaf," replied the sailor, "it is Vigi who can steer the vessel."
And Olaf, holding Vigi's paws at the rudder, proceeded safely on his way.
Olaf fought his last fight in an encounter with a rival sea-king. As the Long Worm made ready for action Vigi stood in his place of honor with the chief fighters under the great mast and played his part well, till one of Olaf's men exclaimed in anguish:
"O Vigi, we have lost our master."
The dog leaped the ship's side and swam ashore, climbing on the top of the nearest hill to be on the watch for that day when, so he believed, as did Olaf's countrymen, the king would come again in his country's hour of need. Since he decided, till that happy morn dawned, to refuse all food, he succumbed to starvation.
Another Northern dog held in even greater esteem was Sor, the hound of Oistene, king of Denmark, who had the unique honor of being elected king. Oistene had laid siege to Norway's ancient capital of Drontheim, and, when it fell into his hands, in order to humiliate the citizens, he offered them a choice of monarchs: "My slave or my Sor." They elected Sor unanimously, and, having once accepted him, played the game, treating him with regal dignity, presenting him with a gold and silver collar and chain of office, and even carrying him to and from his appointments in wet weather, lest he should get his paws wet. All went well until one day the dog-king was out without a sufficient body-guard and a pack of wolves, ignorant of his high position or indifferent to it, attacked him as if he had been an ordinary member of his species and tore him to pieces.
Fingal, the hero of Irish and Scottish legends, owned Bran, of giant build and girth, savage and so strong that when his master was engaged in fighting a rival chief and did not require his assistance he could chain him to an enormous boulder. One great mass of rock, near Dunolly Castle in Ireland, was used for this purpose, when his master fought the chief of the Black Danes, and bears to this day the name of Bran's Pillars.
There are two versions of Bran's end. The Irish legend tells that Bran, hunting one day in the forest of Clare, spotted a beautiful white hart and gave chase. Hour after hour he pursued her as she bounded from crag to crag till at length from a high peak she leaped into the lake beneath. Bran, breathless with pursuit, gazed down from the height, now known as the Craig an Bran, to see rising out of the misty lake a beautiful lady stretching out her arms to him with such appeal that he too took the plunge, to be forever engulfed in the siren's embrace.
The Scottish legend is less romantic. On the borders of Glen Loth in Sutherlandshire, Bran, encountering Thorp, the chieftain's dog, met more than his match and was killed in the fight. Fingal's fury that his favorite was vanquished was such that with his own hands he tore out the victor's heart, and with those same bleeding hands piled stone on stone on his favorite's grave, which bears the name Craig an Bran.
The Knights of the Round Table had their dogs. King Arthur himself owned Cavall, the hound "of deepest mouth," who hunted with his master in the thick wet woods round Tintagel, where, till the coming of the king, the wolf and the bear and the boar had roamed unmolested to the terror of the countryside. Many were the good fights put up by Cavall, whose deep baying would send the hunted animals to seek their lair—that deep baying which was heard by Guinevere when she watched with Gerairtt on the knoll above the waters of Usk.
Hunting further afield in the wild country of Breconshire, Cavall, chasing the wild boar, left the print of his paw on one of the rocks. And since a cairn whose stones had volition was built on this spot, it is thought to be Cavall's grave. Should any mischievous youth remove one of the boulders it is returned by some mysterious means to the place where King Arthur had laid it.
Among King Arthur's knights was Sir Tristram, who was sent to Ireland to escort La Belle Isoud to Cornwall where her future husband, Mark, king of Lyonesse, was awaiting her. With them journeyed Tristram's little bratchet, Hodain, the gift of a daughter of the king of France.
On their fateful voyage by mischance they drank of that magic draft which was forever to bind the destinies of these three together. On parting with his loved Isoud, Tristram gave her Hodain, who owed allegiance to them both and himself left the court.
King Mark was not unaware of Tristram's love.
One day he discovered a man unconscious and unclothed in a wood, and had him carried to Tintagel, and laid in the hall. We read in the "Morte d'Arthur" how, as soon as "this little bratchet felt a savour of Sir Tristram, she leapt upon him and licked his tears and his ears, and she whined and quested, and she smelled at his feet and his hands, and on all parts of the body that she might come to."
"Ah, my lady," said Dame Brangwaine unto La Belle Isoud.
"Alas! Alas I" said she, "I see it is my own lord, Sir Tristram."
And thereupon Isoud fell into a swoon, and so lay a great while. And when she might speak, she said:
"My Lord Tristram, blessed be God ye have your life, and now I am sure ye shall be discovered by this little bratchet, for she will never leave you, and also I am sure as my lord, King Mark, do know you he will banish you out of the country of Cornwall." Then the queen departed, but the bratchet would not from them and bayed at them all. Therewithal Sir Andred spake and said:
"Sir, this is Sir Tristram, I see by the bratchet."
"Nay," said the king, "I cannot suppose that."
But when he was convinced of the identity of the man he had rescued, he sentenced him to ten years' banishment from the country of Cornwall.
Sir Tristram journeyed to Wales to the land of the great Duke Gilian, who did all he could to rouse him from his sad thoughts. One day he invited him into his private room and his servants brought in a tiny dog, bearing round its neck on a golden chain a little bell that tinkled so sweetly that the knight's grief was assuaged. For it was a fairy dog, a gift to Gilian from the Duke of Avalon, and its bell was a charm against pain. "And as Sir Tristram stroked the little thing, the dog that took away his sorrow, he saw how delicate it was and fine, and how it had soft hair like samite; an'd he thought how good a gift it would make for the Queen. But he dared not ask for it right out for he knew that the Duke loved this dog beyond everything in the world." The land was molested by a hairy gaint Urgan, and the duke promised Sir Tristram, if he could rid his territory of this monster, he should have for his reward whatever he should ask. Tristram did battle with the giant and overcame him and as a recompense requested the little fairy dog.
"Friend," said the duke, "take it then, but in taking it you take away all my joy."
The knight was so desirous to please Isoud that he accepted the gift, and sent it to her at Tintagel. Her delight was great when she beheld the dainty little creature. She ordered the goldsmith to make her a tiny kennel, set with jewels and enamel, and she carried her new possession; about with her, happy now after much sorrow.
At first she thought her joy was owing to the fact that she bore with her the gift of her knight, but when she found it was due to the magic bell she refused such consolation, since he could not share it, and threw the bauble out of the open window into the sea.
The lovers met again to end their tragic story and find the happiness of death together. Their bodies were brought to Cornwall to be buried, and as Sir Tristram lay in the chapel, Hodain who had made his way thither, unheeding the stags with which the woods abounded, sought admittance and remained on vigil by his master's body till it was laid in earth.
In the medieval romance of Sir Triamour we have another instance of a dog's relentless memory. Arados, king of Aragon, sets forth on a pilgrimage for the Holy Land, leaving his wife, unaware that she is with child, in the charge of his steward Marrock. This evil genius of the story promptly makes love to the queen, and as his attentions are as promptly spurned, he meditates a subtle revenge. On the monarch's return he tactfully informs him that the expected infant is not of the king's begetting, and that the father is a knight who will no longer trouble the court with his amorous adventures, for the steward has slain him.
Othello himself is outdistanced by Arados's credulity. He refuses to believe his wife's plea of innocence and banishes the poor lady from court, with old Sir Roger to act as her body-guard. Thus sorrowfully she leaves the palace, supported by the knight, with his dog in their wake. Marrock, not yet satisfied and still desirous of the lady, waylays the little party when they have traveled but a short distance. The queen manages to escape but old Sir Roger is killed, and Marrock returns to his stewardship. The hound digs his master's grave, and the queen reappears to lay the faithful knight in the ground. She bids the animal follow her, for she must seek some shelter; but he refuses to leave the spot, and she travels on alone, shortly afterward giving birth to Sir Triamour. The dog remains by the grave-side year in year out, seeking his food in the forest, and as time goes on searching further and further afield for sustenance. On the seventh Christmas after the murder he reappears in the hall of the king of Aragon, who has a dim recollection that he has seen him before. Daily he makes the pilgrimage from the copse to the castle to obtain food, and the king's curiosity is roused. He calls for his steward to bid him accompany the canine visitor to his lair. The result of the meeting between the hound and the murderer can readily be guessed, and Marrock's mauled and lifeless body bears witness to his guilt. The king seeks Sir Roger's grave and removes the remains to a more honorable resting-place, and the hound, his work accomplished, dies on his master's tomb. All which fortunately paves the way for a happy ending and a reunited king and queen.
The Gabriel hounds, known also as eu Mammau (dogs of the fairies), Cwynbir (sky dogs), and Cyn Anwyn (couriers of hell), were spirit hounds of ill omen who rode the clouds. An old man told Wordsworth, who recorded it in a poem, that he had frequently seen the Gabriel hounds sweeping overhead. Far away a droning sound is heard in the air, and as it comes nearer it grows in volume and intensity till it resembles the baying of a bloodhound. The village folk strain their eyes and watch the flying pack, with deep misgiving, since their flight over a house presages the death of one of its inmates.
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