Dogs : Myths Legends of the Middle Ages : Having put an end to high antiquity, humanity returned to childhood with its simple fairy tales, full of rude exploits, wars, and love. And the dog from a friend and a god for some time again turned into a warrior in the first place. The ancient Germans successfully fought the last Romans with the help of ancient mastiff-like dogs; Gaius Marius lost the battle to them, Arminius defeated Vara with them, they defended the marching Wagenburgs of the barbarians. A couple of centuries passed, and all of Europe trembled in fear of the “knights of the high seas” – the Vikings, who terrified not only with their atrocities but also with their dogs.
The warlike Celts, whose imagination was struck by huge busty Greyhounds, composed ballads about them … The Irish, who deified the dog at the turn of the millennium, gave the name Cuchulainn (Culann’s Dog) to one of the main characters of their sagas. However, tamed and turned into wolfhounds, the evil dogs became part of the already peaceful folklore, a striking example of which is the Irish legend of Gelert.
In 1210 John Landless presented Gelert to the Prince of Wales. Once the prince went hunting and left his little son under the care of the faithful Gelert. Returning home, the prince saw that the child was gone, and the dog’s face was covered in blood. The enraged prince drew his sword and hacked to death the dog – and only after that he saw the wolf, bitten by Gelert, and heard the babbling of his son. The prince bitterly repented and ordered to erect a monument to the faithful Gelert.
But the early Middle Ages gives way to the mature, Christianity finally conquers the world, and in parallel with military exploits, the peaceful activity of dogs inevitably develops, primarily associated, of course, with hunting. For many centuries, the hunting dog has occupied the dominant position in the life of a European and in his oral and written work. The beautiful legend of Saint Hubert dates back to the 7th century.
There was a small town in the Ardennes forest, and the cheerful knight and chief hunter of Pepin the Hairy Francis Hubert hunted near it. And so on Maundy Thursday, Hubert went hunting with his dogs. The dogs drove a luxurious deer with huge antlers in ten branches. The dogs passionately set off in pursuit, but the deer suddenly froze, turned to the knight, and the shocked chief hunter saw between the horns a crucifix sparkling with heavenly light. “Oh Hubert, Hubert! A voice suddenly rang out. – Why are you following me? How long, because of your passion for hunting, will you forget about your spiritual salvation ?! ” Shocked Hubert left the hustle and bustle of the world, became a priest, and built a monastery at the place where he met the deer.
His dogs began to be called the hounds of Saint Hubert, and he himself became the patron saint of all hunters, always depicted with a dog. Also, with the dog, St. Francis, St. Bernard, and St. Roch were traditionally depicted, to whom she brought bread and never left him. A special place was occupied by the image of the dog-headed saint of the medieval legend “Christoforus Kinocephalus”. Handsome Reprev from Antioch in the 3rd century A.D. was so handsome that in order to avoid temptations he asked God to disfigure him, which was done. The saint received the name Christopher and the head of a dog, becoming the embodiment of fidelity to Christ. So the image grew into a symbol. Alas, the church did not tolerate such sacrilege, and since 1969 this saint has been excluded from all calendars and references.
In general, the dog appears more and more often in connection with the image of the keeper of the flock – the bishop-preacher – the Good Shepherd – Christ; that is, the New Testament is much more loyal to the dog than the Old Testament. In contrast to the Old Testament tradition and even the Gospel texts, the Middle Ages sees in the dog a symbol of devotion and fidelity, a symbol of vigilance, which was expressed in the well-known definition of the monks of the Dominican order Domini canis – the Dogs of the Lord. They even wore black and white robes and often used a black and white dog as their symbol.
The dog’s devotion to man is the main theme of the Middle Ages. Although the sly parable of how a dog swam across the river with a piece of meat in its teeth is not forgotten and saw its reflection in the water. Chasing the reflection, she missed the real meat, and this story, so often mentioned in the Middle Ages, telling people about the dangers of pursuing unknown pleasures.
Such famous church fathers as Pierre from Beauvais and Hugo from Folleto, Albertus Magnus, and Brunetto Latini write about dogs; numerous (more than five hundred have come down to our time!) bestiaries, where a lot of space is given to the dog and its symbolism. After all, as before, a person is associated with a dog with love and fear, but he is no longer only admired, but also touched by the love of a dog and a person.
However, despite the strengthening of the religious element, everyday life also does not standstill. Hunting is improving, endless sets of rules and regulations appear, and the hunting dog is firmly established not only in verbal and visual clerical art but also in secular art. She accompanies courtly engravings, images of betrothal, everyday and edifying scenes, becomes a constant character of folk legends, fables, and fairy tales while remaining in the everyday sense a symbol of marital fidelity. The legend about the dog that found the owner’s killer and proved his guilt before the court of the king becomes an ideal synthesis of secular and religious trends.
The XIV century ended. Two friends, French aristocrats Jacques de Chevantier and André de Marchand, hunted in the Bois de Boulogne. But Marchand returned from hunting alone. Chevalier did not return in a day or a week. And, probably, the monks would have prayed for his poor soul, and this would be the end of the matter, if not for the beloved hound of the missing. She howled at the sight of her master’s friend, and at every possible opportunity, she tried to grab his throat.
The relatives suspected something was wrong and turned to the king himself. The wise king listened to both sides and ordered to arrange a duel of God, a test in which the Lord himself will point out the guilty one. Marchand had to agree. And so in the royal court, in the presence of the king and the priests, a man and a dog came out one on one against each other. As a weapon, Marchand chose a club with iron spikes, and the dog chose his own teeth. The fight was short. As soon as the dog was released from the chain, he knocked Marchand down with one jump and grabbed him by the throat. The killer managed to confess to the murder and died.
This legend served as the basis for the most popular and varied legends about the dog in different countries until the end of the 18th century. Somewhat separately, both in secular and church traditions, there are legends about werewolf dogs. There are not many of them, but still, they exist, as, for example, the famous legend about the werewolf countess, with which the front paw was chopped off in the form of a dog – and the witch was calculated and punished by the bloody stump of the castle mistress.
It is the motive of werewolf dogs, which comes from ancient civilizations, and has not yet been eradicated by Christianity, that indicates some duality in relation to these animals. On the one hand – loyalty and reckless readiness for faith, but on the other, the dog often symbolizes the sin of indomitable anger. Hellhounds accompany the soul hunter – Satan. The dog is opposed to the shrine, insults it, personifying paganism and heresy.
The Age of Enlightenment, firmly establishing the dog’s symbolism as fidelity, almost eradicated its negative aspect. But, as you know, dark forces do not give up so easily – they only mutate, and satanic werewolves have turned into classic “horror stories.” The most common story of this kind is, of course, the tale of the “black dog,” a mysterious beast that roams the countryside. The origin of the story in English, but in a slightly modified form, it can be heard throughout Europe.
For hundreds of years of existence, this phenomenon has not undergone any changes: “The bogeyman on four legs, black, and his eyes are huge, like saucers.” In Norfolk this beast is called “black dog”, in Ireland – “goblin Pook”, in Somerset – “big dog”, and in Surrey it is traditionally called “Surrey cougar”. From here, as you may have guessed, it is not far from the Baskervilles dog. The “black dog” has not lost its eternal dualism: it can bring both good and evil. He will lead some to the right path and keep walking children, for others it becomes the cause of death. Alas, we can’t get away from ancient archetypes …
While the Christian West saw in the dog a symbol of fidelity, and sometimes even devilry, the pampered East weaved the pattern of its fantastic legends about them. Here is how they say about the origin of the “sweet lotus flower”, “pearl of the sun” – Pekingese: The lion king – the king of beasts fell in love with a monkey, but to be with his beloved, he had to sacrifice his strength and size. Love turned out to be stronger than power and glory, and the “lion dog” was its fruit.
Or even more subtle: An evil sorcerer decided to separate the loving princess and prince. She became a lotus flower that can live only in water, and he became a squirrel that lives only on land. But the great Buddha took pity on them, and although the evil spell did not allow the prince and the princess to regain their human form, they gave birth to a creature as beautiful as a lotus flower and fluffy as a squirrel. And the real-life of these dogs was mysterious, taking them out of the palace was punishable by death, they participated in religious sacraments since according to legend, they accompanied Buddha and Confucius on their wanderings.
Despite the mystery, the dog in medieval China also had a dual nature of good and evil. The same Red Heavenly Dog Tien-Ku belonged to Yang and helped Er-lang (the deity of the waters of late Chinese folk mythology) to drive away evil spirits; but, being the guardian of the night hours, she became “yin” and symbolized destruction, catastrophe and other frightening phenomena of nature. During these periods, the dog became furious and bit the sun or moon.
In Tibet, the monks believed that their souls dwell in the Lhasa Apso, who are able to predict natural disasters. In a word, in the East, the dog continued to remain a sacred animal, symbolizing peace, prosperity, and virtue. And only insular Japan avoided this interpretation, symbolically considering their Akitas a symbol of loyalty, like dogs in Europe, although in real life the dog there served rather as a symbol of protection.
America, discovered by the Europeans, in principle, did not reveal anything new to them in relation to dogs, except for the use of them for food, which, of course, did not take root. Among the Incas and Aztecs, the dog was a sign of the 10th day, representing a period of chaos, and she herself symbolized death and at the same time resurrection. Dogs were sacrificed to the dead, and on the basis of the belief that they transported the dead across the river to the afterlife, they were buried with the dead.
It was believed that dogs born on the day are destined to rule and give away rich gifts. Among the Aztecs, Sholotl (Xolotl), the God of Death and the Setting Sun, had the head of a dog and was the patron saint of dogs. The sun, going in the west into the mouth of the earth, was accompanied by Sholotl. He led him through the darkness of the underworld to the place of sunrise, then died and came to life again as a guide. As you can see, this is a classic ancient belief.
Worlds, civilizations, legends, and traditions are a thing of the past – but in all of nature, humans still have no one closer to a dog. And, looking into the clever eyes of your pet, remember at least sometimes that once his ancestors were at such heights of deification and power that you and I, his humble masters, never dreamed of …