Attitudes toward Animals in Ancient Greece

Lonsdale, S.H.  1979.  “Attitudes toward Animals in Ancient Greece.”  Greece and Rome 26(2): 146-159.

Presenter: Christina Gentil


  • Sean Hipps
  • Sarah Kendall
  • Mary Catherine Pflug
  • Mallory Pigmon
  • Abby Rosenson

21 thoughts on “Attitudes toward Animals in Ancient Greece

  1. To start off our discussion, please answer as many of the following questions as you would like. Respond by clicking the “reply” button directly beneath the question you intend to answer. Be sure to explain thoroughly, and support your responses with evidence from the text. In addition, feel free to pose any further, relevant questions.

  2. Based on the information given in the article, how do you think the relationship between a dog and its owner was in Greece during antiquity? Would social class have anything to say? Is it any different from our modern interactions with dogs? Why/why not?

    • The relationship between dogs and humans was, I think, a clear “slave-master” relationship. Though there are records of man having personal attachments to their dogs (via animal burials and eulogies), dogs were used for a specific purpose: sheepdogs guarded the flocks, hounds accompanied the hunters, and even household pets were charged with guarding the home from intruders. Unlike today where we tend to attribute animals with human-like qualities, dogs represented spiritual entities and were bred solely for the benefit of the master. In regards to social class, I think it is more likely that those in the upper strata of society would be able to afford better bred dogs. As pointed out in the article, rare or strange new breeds of dogs were held in fascination. Therefore, it would only make sense that these specially bred dogs would only be available to the wealthy, whereas a poor shepherd would have to settle for the local breed variety.

      • Sarah, do you think dogs were viewed as status symbols? What I mean is that could certain types of breeds signify something about its master? If so, what kind of statement would they make?

        • Absolutely. I mean, if I had a dog that was part tiger (impossible, but you know, theoretically) it would show that I had the money and influence to acquire such a rare animal. He also mentions that with different breeds, they can embody the different qualities of their sires (tigers/lions/wolves/etc). So I think that if there is a breed that symbolizes power, like a rare lion-mix (again, impossible), the owner might be trying to project his own image of power.

          • To relate this back to modern day, I think the idea of dog breeds signifying status in antiquity as seen in this article CAN be seen in modern day dog owners! Granted, they seem to be less attached in antiquity, but there are owners today that are just as unattached. Thinking of these rare breeds conveying ones status reminds me of modern day dog shows, like the Thanksgiving National Dog Show! But instead of a show of status, today it’s a portrayal of ones luxury (I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive today as they were in antiquity). The rarer the breed, the more expensive and sought after they are. I think we can look farther into this and find some similarities.

      • I really like the notion of the slave-master relationship here. The dog appears to be used in the same ways an expensive slave in a Roman household. Some dogs were revered simply for their beauty, while others were bred for a specific task (eg. hunting).

        • While reading this article, I definitely get an overall notion of slave-master relationships between dogs and people, but I don’t know that this was always completely the case. As Christina mentioned in class (via a particular quote from page 149 of the article), there is some sense of reciprocity in the relationship. If nothing else, dogs did provide companionship in many cases, as is noted in several parts of the article. Although the dogs never received human names, they were still valued as more than servants. However, I suppose providing companionship does not necessarily make the dog less of a servant, it just makes the service provided much less harsh. Essentially, the dogs did serve the human masters more than the masters served the dogs.

  3. Do you think having a pet was an upper class commodity or could anyone have one? Do you think there was even such a concept in antiquity of owning an animal for the sole purpose of its companionship?

    • I believe dogs could have been a commodity of not only the Elite class but also the middle class with some poor possibly having dogs. I believe this from reading of how, “Hesiod warns the farmer not to neglect the sharp-toothed hound”. If Hesiod is talking to farmers in general that includes the middle class and maybe some higher standing lower class people. The quote is saying how farmers in general posessed hounds and to treat them well for they would prove very useful. I also believe that dogs could have been owned not only for a specific function but also for companionship. One quote in the article says, “The Greeks kept dogs as pets, whereas cats are mostly absent from the record until Hellenistic times”, this illustrates that dogs did not only serve working purposes but also provided love and companionship. While I also noticed that, “Dogs were buried in
      cemeteries alongside humans”, which in my eyes is a clear indicator of the importance of a dog not only on a service providing level but on a emotional level that the owner and hound had to have reached for the owner to bury the dog near him.

      • Do dogs in antiquity show up in art? If so, do they have the same symbolic meaning as in later Baroque and Renaissance works (fidelity)?

  4. What evidence does the article present of the existence of domesticated animals in Greece? Does the Near East mirror the Greek attitude towards dogs? Why/ why not?

    • The article presents a fair amount of evidence for domesticated dogs in Greece. These include funerary inscriptions that mention dogs, and a wide range of literary evidence (i.e. people mentioning dogs in plays, literature, etc.). The Near Eastern view of dogs was very different from the views in Greece. The author explains that Near Eastern dogs were ravenous scavengers and thus often carried diseases. Because dogs were less hygienic in these areas, they were portrayed in a very negative manner. They were not companion animals and represented many of the least favorable attributes of animal behavior.

  5. In what way were dogs used in mythology and art? Did they represent positive of negative figure? Where dogs ever mistrusted? Give examples.

    • As the article mentions, dogs seem to be represented as monsters in mythology and art. At a glance, this could be negative, but I personally think the author touches on their real meaning: these visuals present dogs as creatures to be feared, awed, and not taken for granted. They are creatures that may seem tamed, but in the end, are wild. I don’t necessarily think this can be labeled positive or negative and reminds me of the portrayal of women in antiquity; many monsters in antiquity were female, wicked women who could not be tamed. I think this lends support to the argument that dogs and humans have a closer relationship today than that in antiquity. Though they relied on each other, owners in antiquity were aware of a dog’s true, wild nature.

      • Mallory, I like the connection you’ve made between animals and women. Do you think this was intentional? Could it be since most authors were men they would portray women as unstable creatures, capable of turning wild, because they didn’t understand women?

        • I just noticed this connection as well when pointed out and think you pose a very good question Christine. I am not sure whether the connection was intentional or not, but they do connect rather well in the way women and dogs were described. I also like the point you make about male authors and how they possibly did not understand women and that is why they described them as somewhat unruly and unpredicatble in situations. I believe you could argue on both sides, one being that it was a known connection, and the other being it was just a coincidence that both were held in close regard to one another. I think the way both women and dogs are described they seem to have some same characteristics whether intentional or not. I think this is a good debate topic though.

          • This is such an interesting question! Coming at this from the domestic angle, could the duality of wild/tame apply to both women and dogs when looked at from the domestic angle (if there were dogs in the domestic setting). The idea of a “trophy” could potentially also apply. If purebred or rare dogs were a status symbol, did women function the same way? (I could be taking this too far.)

  6. How does the author present the act of hunting? Why was it important for Greek men to know how to hunt? Did it prepare them for anything? Explain.

    • The author presents the Greeks as hunting, “In keeping with the Greeks’ love of competition the hunt should ideally be a more or less fair contest”. The Greek hunt did not involve unfair methods such as nets and traps to capture an animal. In Platos eyes, “the only acceptable form of hunting, the athletic young hunter pursues land mammals on foot with his dogs, and overcomes his prey by running, striking, and shooting”. That quote interests me by the mention of dogs in the fair way a Greek could hunt. It was important for Greek men to know how to hunt because, “The pursuit lends prestige to a man and assures him of the right to fight”. Men would gain honor and status by being able to hunt an animal of high standing without any use of unfair tactics. Greeks seemed to have a give and take relationship when it came to the hunt. In some examples they seemed to have high respect for the animals they hunted and killed, while in some other cases the animals hunted or captured seemed to be nothing to them. The example of the cock fighting and urging on of a dog and cat fighting are two examples, though not hunting they both give another representation of Greeks and animals that occurred.

  7. Did the article make good use of its evidence? Where there any instances the sources did not further the discussion? Did you notice if the article had any compositional issues?

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