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Source: Kongelige Bibliotek (Bestiarius - Bestiary of Anne Walsh (Gl. kgl. S. 1633 4)) Copyright 2003 Kongelige Bibliotek / Used by permission Manuscript description Kongelige Bibliotek, Gl. kgl. S. 1633 4, Folio 18r



Latin name: Canis

Other names: Chien

A young dog bound to a patient cures internal wounds


General Attributes

Dogs are unable to live without men. There are several kinds of dogs: those that guard their master's property; those that are useful for hunting wild animals or birds; and those that watch over sheep. A dog cures its own wounds by licking, and a young dog bound to a patient cures internal wounds. A dog will always return to its vomit. When a dog is swimming across a river while holding meat in its mouth, if it sees its own reflection it will drop the meat it is carrying while trying to get the meat it sees in the reflection.

Several stories are told about the actions of dogs. King Garamantes, captured by his enemies, was rescued by his dogs. When a man was murdered and there were no witnesses to say who did it, the man's dog pointed out the slayer in the crowd. Jason's dog was said to have refused to eat and died of hunger after his master's death. A Roman dog accompanied his master to prison, and when the man was executed and his body thrown into the Tiber River, the dog tried to hold up the corpse.

A dog that crosses a hyena's shadow will lose its voice.

Hungry dogs are used to pull up the deadly mandrake plant.


The dog's ability to heal wounds by licking them represents how the wounds of sin can be cured by confession. The dog returning to its vomit signifies those who make confession but then return to their sinfull ways. The dog dropping the meat it has to try to gain the meat it sees is like foolish people who give up what they already have for the illusion presented by desire, and so lose what they have without gaining what they desire.

Sources (chronological order)

Aesop's Fables [6th century BCE] (Aesop: The Complete Fables (London, 1998) Temple 185): A dog who was crossing a river carrying a piece of meat looked down and saw his reflection in the water. Thinking the reflection was another dog with a bigger piece of meat, the dog dropped the meat he had and jumped into the water to take the larger piece, and ended up with no meat at all.

Pliny the Elder [1st century CE] (Natural History, Book 8, 61): The domestic animal that is most faithful to man is the dog. Stories are told of the faithfulness of dogs: of a dog that fought robbers that attacked his master, which though badly wounded would not abandon the man's corpse, driving off other beasts and birds; of a dog in Epirus which recognized its master's murderer in a crowd and pointed him out by barking; of the 200 dogs of the King of Garamantes which escorted him home from exile and fought anyone who got in the way; of the dog of a condemned prisoner which refused to leave its master, tried to put food in the dead man's mouth, and when the corpse was thrown in the river, tried to keep it afloat. Only dogs recognize their master, know when someone is a stranger, recognize their own names, and never forget the way to distant places. The people of India breed dogs with tigers, but discard the first two litters as being too fierce, keeping only the third litter. A dog with rabies is only dangerous to humans during the period when the dog-star is shining; the disease can be prevented by mixing dung with the dog's food.

Isidore of Seville [7th century CE] (Etymologies, Book 12, 2:25-26): The name of the dog (canis) comes either from the Greek kuon, or from the noise it makes when barking (canere). Dogs are smarter than other animals; only dogs recognize their own names, know their masters, and will protect their master's house, die for their master, hunt with their master, and refuse to leave the dead body of their master. Dogs do not live separately from men. Dogs have two qualities: bravery or speed. (Book 12, 2:28): In India female dogs are tied up in the forest at night, where wild tigers mate with them; dogs born in this way are fierce and can overcome lions.

Gerald of Wales [12th century CE] (The Journey Through Wales, book 1, chapter 7): A dog, of all animals, is most attached to man, and most easily distinguishes him; sometimes, when deprived of his master, he refuses to live, and in his master's defence is bold enough to brave death; ready, therefore, to die, either with or for his master. I do not think it superfluous to insert here an example which Suetonius gives in his book on the nature of animals, and which Ambrosius also relates in his Exameron. "A man, accompanied by a dog, was killed in a remote part of the city of Antioch, by a soldier, for the sake of plunder. The murderer, concealed by the darkness of the morning, escaped into another part of the city; the corpse lay unburied; a large concourse of people assembled; and the dog, with bitter howlings, lamented his master's fate. The murderer, by chance, passed that way, and, in order to prove his innocence, mingled with the crowd of spectators, and, as if moved by compassion, approached the body of the deceased. The dog, suspending for a while his moans, assumed the arms of revenge; rushed upon the man, and seized him, howling at the same time in so dolorous a manner, that all present shed tears. It was considered as a proof against the murderer, that the dog seized him from amongst so many, and would not let him go; and especially, as neither the crime of hatred, envy, or injury, could possibly, in this case, be urged against the dog. On account, therefore, of such a strong suspicion of murder (which the soldier constantly denied), it was determined that the truth of the matter should be tried by combat. The parties being assembled in a field, with a crowd of people around, the dog on one side, and the soldier, armed with a stick of a cubit's length, on the other, the murderer was at length overcome by the victorious dog, and suffered an ignominious death on the common gallows. Pliny and Solinus relate that a certain king, who was very fond of dogs, and addicted to hunting, was taken and imprisoned by his enemies, and in a most wonderful manner liberated, without any assistance from his friends, by a pack of dogs, who had spontaneously sequestered themselves in the mountainous and woody regions, and from thence committed many atrocious acts of depredation on the neighbouring herds and flocks. I shall take this opportunity of mentioning what from experience and ocular testimony I have observed respecting the nature of dogs. A dog is in general sagacious, but particularly with respect to his master; for when he has for some time lost him in a crowd, he depends more upon his nose than upon his eyes; and, in endeavouring to find him, he first looks about, and then applies his nose, for greater certainty, to his clothes, as if nature had placed all the powers of infallibility in that feature. The tongue of a dog possesses a medicinal quality; the wolf's, on the contrary, a poisonous: the dog heals his wounds by licking them, the wolf, by a similar practice, infects them; and the dog, if he has received a wound in his neck or head, or any part of his body where he cannot apply his tongue, ingeniously makes use of his hinder foot as a conveyance of the healing qualities to the parts affected. (Book 2, chapter 10): In this wood of Coleshulle, a young Welshman was killed while passing through the king's army; the greyhound who accompanied him did not desert his master's corpse for eight days, though without food; but faithfully defended it from the attacks of dogs, wolves, and birds of prey, with a wonderful attachment. What son to his father, what Nisus to Euryalus, what Polynices to Tydeus, what Orestes to Pylades, would have shewn such an affectionate regard? As a mark of favour to the dog, who was almost starved to death, the English, although bitter enemies to the Welsh, ordered the body, now nearly putrid, to be deposited in the ground with the accustomed offices of humanity. (from the The Itinerary of Archibishop Baldwin through Wales (London, 1908) Everyman edition)

Bartholomaeus Anglicus [13th century CE] (De proprietatibus rerum, book 18): Nothing is more busy and wittier than a hound, for he hath more wit than other beasts. And hounds know their own names, and love their masters, and defend the houses of their masters, and put themselves wilfully in peril of death for their masters, and run to take prey for their masters, and forsake not the dead bodies of their masters. We have known that hounds fought for their lords against thieves, and were sore wounded, and that they kept away beasts and fowls from their masters' bodies dead. And that a hound compelled the slayer of his master with barking and biting to acknowledge his trespass and guilt. Also we read that Garamantus the king came out of exile, and brought with him two hundred hounds, and fought against his enemies with wondrous hardiness. Other hounds flee and avoid the wood [mad] hound as pestilence and venom: and he is always exiled as it were an outlaw, and goeth alone wagging and rolling as a drunken beast, and runneth yawning, and his tongue hangeth out, and his mouth drivelleth and foameth, and his eyes be overturned and reared, and his ears lie backward, and his tail is wrinkled by the legs and thighs; and though his eyes be open, yet he stumbleth and spurneth against every thing. And barketh at his own shadow.... Pliny saith that under the hound's tongue lieth a worm that maketh the hound wood, and if this worm is taken out of the tongue, then the evil ceaseth.... Also an hound is wrathful and malicious, so that for to awreak himself, he biteth oft the stone that is thrown to him: and biteth the stone with great woodness, that he breaketh his own teeth, and grieveth not the stone, but his own teeth full sore. Also he is guileful and deceivable, and so oft he fickleth and fawneth with his tail on men that pass by the way, as though he were a friend, and biteth them sore if they take none heed backward. And the hound hateth stones and rods, and is bold and hardy among them that he knoweth, and busieth to bite and to fear all other, and is not bold when he passeth among strangers. Also the hound is envious, and gathereth herbs privily, and is right sorry if any man know the virtue of those herbs, as is also evil apaid if any strange hounds and unknown come into the place where he dwelleth; and dreadeth lest he should fare the worse for the other hound's presence, and fighteth with him therefore. Also he is covetous and scarce, and busy to lay up and to hide the relief that he leaveth. And therefore he commoneth not, nor giveth flesh and marrow-bones that he may not devour to other hounds: but layeth them up busily, and hideth them until he hungereth again.... And at the last the hound is violently drawn out of the dunghill with a rope or with a whip bound about his neck, and is drowned in the river, or in some other water, and so he endeth his wretched life. And his skin is not taken off, nor his flesh is not eaten or buried, but left finally to flies, and to other divers worms. (Mediaeval Lore from Bartholomew Anglicus (London, 1893/1905) Steele edition of 1905)


The various stories told about dogs are often illustrated. The tale of the dogs of King Garametes is particularly popular, and is sometimes illustrated in three separate panels showing the king captured, the dogs searching for him, and the dogs rescuing him. Dogs are also frequently found in hunting scenes; many marginal illustrations in manuscripts feature dogs chasing deer, rabbits or other game animals.

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