It's a dogs life used to be a lot harder on the puppies in Rome...

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Summary: How do you find out which puppy is worthwhile? Make the mother decide...set up a ring of fire, the ones she saves first are the ones, according to Nemesianus, a Roman poet.

BLOT: (06 Jul 2012 - 02:24:59 PM)

It's a dogs life used to be a lot harder on the puppies in Rome...

In the Wonders & Marvels entry—Names of Dogs in Ancient Greece—they mention Roman "hunting dogs" expert [and poet] Nemesianus and his advice: "Take away her puppies, surround them with an oil-soaked string and set it on fire. The mother will jump over the ring of flames and rescue each puppy, one by one, in order of their merit." I felt that was worth looking more into, and so I found this translation of Cynegetica [or, "The Chase"].

Furthermore, you should get a series of flames made in a wide circuit with the smoke of the fire to mark a convenient round space, so that you may stand unharmed in the middle of the circle: to this all the puppies, to this the whole crowd as yet unseparated must be brought: the mother will provide the test of her progeny, saving the valuable young ones by her selection and from their alarming peril. For when she sees her offspring shut in by flames, at once with a leap she clears the blazing boundaries of the fire-zone, snatches the first in her jaws and carries it to the kennel; next another, next another in turn: so does the intelligent mother distinguish her nobler progeny by her love of merit.

If you are up to it, you can even read it in the original Latin, which will make it seem all scholarly.

Note that it relies on some borderline crazy assumptions, namely: (1) That a mother dog will go through flames to get to a new litter and (2) that a female dog has a "love of merit" that will dictate her actions due to her ability to judge danger over time and shape her priorities by weighing future outcomes based on current puppy merit. But, of course, she will be too stupid to reason that a smoldering cloth that is obviously doing no harm to the owner or to the puppies is not actually a danger that requires quick judgement.

I can see Romans, with their unfettered love of masculine beauty and noble existence, thinking that an animal would instinctively know things like "merit" and have things like "noble love", but my guess is that female dog probably will just run back and forth and bark and hate you. It doesn't actually specify what to do with the puppies that aren't immediately saved, or how long to wait or if the cut off is the top three saved or the top five, or how many times to repeat the experiment to factor out things like proximity bias and happenstance. I mean, there is no rigor to it at all.

If tossing puppies into a burning circle doesn't excite, how about this erotic-themed description of the perfect bitch?

She must stand high on straight legs; with a comely slope let her carry, under a broad breast, where the ribs end, a width of keel that gradually again contracts in a lean belly: she must be big enough with strong loins, spread at the hips, and with the silkiest of ears floating in air as she runs.

And then there is this insight into how Ancient people considered rabies, both the cause and the cure...partially quoted here for being the most Clark Ashton Smith translation possible (with "languid rays", "saddened sky", and "pallid face" raised to a "world dismayed"):

Dogs also get rabies, a deadly peril. Whether it emanates from taint in a heavenly body when the Sun-God shoots but languid rays from a saddened sky, raising a pallid face in a world dismayed; or whether, rather, in striking the glowing back of the fire-tressed Lion, he drives deep into our friendly dogs his feverish heats, whether earth breathes forth contagion from its bosom, or harmful air is the cause of the evil, or whether, when cool water runs short, the torrid germs of fire grow strong throughout the veins...whatever it is1, it stirs the inmost marrow beneath the heart, and with black venomous foam darts forth into ferocious snarls, compelling the dog to imprint its bites in madness. Learn, therefore, the curative potions and the treatment that brings health. In such cases you will take the fetid drug got from the beaver and work it well, forcing it to grow viscous with the friction of a flint: to this should be added powder from pounded or chopped ivory, and by a long process of blending you will got both to harden together: next put in gradually the liquid flow of milk besides, to enable you to pour in through an inserted horn doses which do not stick in the throat, and so banish the melancholy Furies, and settle the dogs' minds once more to friendliness.

I don't know what the fetid drug from a beaver is2, but I do see that you mix it with ivory until it hardens, and then use milk to pour it down a dog's throat. And since this almost assuredly would not cure rabies in the real world, presumably they are not talking about what we call rabies or maybe beaver based fetid drugs are a lost art we should bring back.

I'm actually sad that when he got to horses, he didn't describe the perfect mare or go into breeding tricks like putting foals into acid pits to see if the mare swims for them and so forth.

1: To sum up, "Who knows, man."

2: Frankly, I'm not sure a Google search for "fetid beaver" would be work safe...


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