By Odysseus’ dog

Kenneth Kitchell, Penelope’s Geese: Pets of the Ancient Greeks
Another pet in the Odyssey is justifiably famous— Odysseus’ long-suffering dog. As Odysseus nears his  home in a deformed beggar’s disguise provided by Athena, he has fooled everyone he has met. But at the city gates lies an old dog named Argos. Odysseus had raised him but left for Troy before the dog was fully grown. Argos had been a great hunter in his day, but now he is banished outside the gates of Ithaca, lying “in the dung, all covered with dog ticks” (Od. 17.300, trans. Lattimore), no longer useful to those who are making decisions in Odysseus’ absence. He is at least 20 years old—ancient in dog years—but as soon as Odysseus comes near, he sees through the disguise and recognizes his master. In one of the most heart-wrenching scenes from antiquity, the dog—who can no longer walk—lays his ears back, wags his tail, and closes his eyes for the last time. Homer tells us that tears came to Odysseus’ eyes as he watched the dog first welcome him and then die.

9 thoughts on “By Odysseus’ dog

  1. Grown ass woman and that scene still makes me cry. A friend of mine who is a total dog person–if she were queen animal abuse would be a capital crime–can’t forgive Odysseus for not going over to the dog.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. [Tried posting this once, and it didn’t work the first time–aargh! Or, should I say, “Argos!” ;) ]

    Joannes Scottus Eriugena, the famed Irish Carolingian-period theologian and scholar (and, to some, arch-heretic!), and easily one of if not the most learned man in Western Europe at the time, knew his Greek pretty well (he translated Pseudo-Dionysius’ works, for example!), and one of his only references in his extant work to the Odyssey is to this very passage.

    In the Irish version of the Odyssey, the passage on Odysseus’ dog–who is not named in that text–is expanded, and the description of the dog is made more in line with some Irish texts about famous dogs, in supernatural or at least preternatural ways…interesting stuff!

    The Irish loved their dogs, and dog-stories. It’s not surprising, therefore, that this might have been the only part of the Odyssey that many of them would have known about. The multitude of important characters and incidents that get left out of their version of the Odyssey is staggering, but that Odysseus’ dog makes it in just shows where their own narrative priorities were at! ;)


Comments are closed.