Dogs in Homer

Priam to Hector in Lisa Jarnot’s translation from Book XXII of The Iliad:

And then for me
last of all
that at my door
the hungry dogs
will feast upon my flesh,
that someone with a
heave of gleaming bronze
will pull life from my limbs —
and even that the dogs in my own halls
those that I fed and those
that were bred to stand watch at the door —
they will lap up all my blood
in their heart-wild frenzy
and then will sleep fast
at the gate.

(You should also see what she does with crocodiles in Reptile House)

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See also “Dogs and Heroes in Homer” Bernard Knox’s review of
Nature and Culture in the Iliad: The Tragedy of Hector
by James M. Redfield
A Companion to the Iliad (Based on the Translation by Richmond Lattimore)
by Malcolm M. Willcock
in New York Review of Books April 29, 1976 Issue

The dog, in Homer, is a predator and scavenger; he is “the most completely domesticated animal but he remains an animal. The dog thus represents man’s resistance to acculturation” and “stands for an element within us that is permanently uncivilized.” The danger run by the warrior, who, according to Redfield, “stands on the frontier of culture and nature,” is that he may become a dog — a transformation suggested often in the similes — and more, a cannibal. This is a theme often hinted at and finally brought into the open in Achilles’ wish that he could bring himself to chop Hector’s flesh and eat it raw (XXII 347).

The dog is thus an emblem of the impurity of battle. The warrior becomes a mad dog as he enacts the inner contradiction of battle. On behalf of a human community the warrior is impelled to leave community and act in an inhuman way. He becomes a distorted, impure being; great in his power, he is at the same time reduced to something less than himself.

Hector was a mad dog in the rage of battle but he is now a corpse. “To the passive impurity of Hector—marked by the impure condition of his body — corresponds the active impurity of Achilles — marked by his inability to find any limit to his act.”

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Thanks to the work of Jarnot, it is the pathos invoked by Priam that lingers long after reading the speeches of Achilles and Hector. The image of one’s own dogs drinking one’s own blood is rendered all the more striking by the figure of the sleeping dogs at the end of the speech.

And so for day 2211

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