Sighthounds in the Art of the Ancient World

     

    The Townley Greyhounds

    The Townley Greyhounds

     

    The artistic expression of human relationships with animals has been and remains deeply complex and shifting. From the shaggy predators of the Lascaux Cave paintings to the costumed, hyperreal Weimareiners in the photos of William Wegman, the canine form has been especially popular with artists as both an ad hoc subject and a highbrow icon. A particular type of dog, the Cirneco dell Aetna, or Italian Greyhound, appears quite often in the art of ancient Greece and Rome, enjoying a commonality shared only with cattle and horses.

    The Italian Greyhounds, however (as we shall call them henceforth), literally crossed the threshold in the ancient world, entering households not as steeds for work and war or sacrificial offerings, but as companions and objects of beauty.

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    The aim of this paper is to point out for consideration some examples of Italian Greyhound imagery from several ancient eras and geographical locations, to describe the history of this breed of dog in relation to its popularity in Greece and Italy, to draw a few conclusions about the dogs’ visual evolution and the reasons for its prevalence, and to show how both the animal and its image continued as both an influence and a viable species beyond the end of the Roman Empire. A starting point is to describe the nature and appearance of the Italian Greyhound, a species which exists fundamentally unchanged from its earliest days.

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    Marcie Carey, 2003-2013

     

    marcie02112Marcie Carey died on Wednesday, 12 June 2013 in Munich, Germany. She would have been 11 years old in a few more weeks. I never knew her exact date of birth but we always celebrated her birthday on 15 July since that is the anniversary of the day she came to Miami to join Queequeg, Astra, and me.

    Marcie began her life in a puppy mill in Georgia, where she had three litters of puppies before she was 15 months old. When the puppy mill was raided and closed, Marcie was for several months in the care of Italian Greyhound Rescue to whom I am grateful for choosing me as Marcie’s permanent parent. Of the 16 IGs seized with Marcie, 11 could not recover from whatever physical and psychological horrors they had been subjected to, and they died. I always knew, intellectually, that because of her past health history (her teeth were so terrible she had to have all of them removed, she had a pronounced heart murmur, and intermittent idiopathic seizures) that Marcie would not have as long a life as her very long-lived sisters, but, really, I didn’t accept this…

    Marcie must have used all her resolve to survive the puppy mill. During her life with me, she was always very quiet and introverted, a dog after my own heart. Marcie bonded with her sisters, made friends with a tiny few humans, and having been taught to do so by Astra, was extremely fond of cats. Marcie once adopted and cared for a fragile, days-old kitten until a home could be found for the kitten and I saw during these days what a brave and loving mother dog she must have been under terrible circumstances.

    Toward the end of her life Marcie had a spell of difficult fortune and became deaf. She seemed to be recovering and adjusting to this new challenge though, and surprised me by warming quickly and easily to life as a European dog. The intelligence and adaptability of dogs is really incredible; just by watching our neighbor dogs out the window and in the park, Marcie quickly deduced that she no longer needed or was required by society to wear a leash, and without even one trial run about how to do so, figured out how to walk with me on the pedestrian part of the sidewalk and even to pause patiently outside the pretzel store while waiting for her own treat.

    As ever she communicated by tapping me with her paw when she wanted something. In her last moments I held her tiny paw while cradling her in my arms and felt her last breath and heartbeat. For such a quiet dog she filled the home with her gentle personality and my heart with love. I know my girls are all together now and wait now myself to be with them again.

    There are many other photos and stories about Marcie, Queequeg, and Astra contained in this Website. Marcie was the last connection to the family of dogs I have been in for more than 20 years.

    Here is a video of Marcie persistently admiring a cat,

     

     

    MVV / MVG Hunde von München 6

    Black WhippetIt’s been a little while and in fact there is a backlog of photos in waiting. This amazing creature cannot wait though, so here he is. Black whippets are rare, and a self-colored black whippet rarer still. I know there are more self-colored sighthounds in the EU than the US, but I haven’t seen any, probably because it is too cold for them to come out. This dark-haired hound was almost glowing in the rare patch of sunlight…I was already on the tram and the dog was waiting for the tram on the other side of the street, and when I got off at the next stop and walked back was already gone. I hope I see him again!

    12:28 23 May 2013, Hohenzollernplatz, Trams 12 & 27, Metrobus 53.

    Black Whippet 2

    Crop Circles of Fur

    Marcie Carey has chosen “the quiet mind.” I loved from first sight and have come to greatly respect the steadfast “resistance to extroversion” of this retiring Italian Greyhound who mostly devotes herself to patient admiration of her cat and kitten friends. Marcie’s indulgences are that she enjoys eating all kinds of unusual foods, unusual for a dog, I mean, like cranberry relish, and to being stroked and snuggled by people she has known for more than six years, which at present includes only myself.

    Marcie (who arrived with this normal non-avant garde non-literary name, the one word she knew, and thus kept) has always been a very beautiful little dog, tiny even by Italian Greyhound standards with expressive black shoe-button eyes and her white scarf, feet, and tail-tip. Since Marcie has gotten older her blaze and mask has extended up her nose and face and now covers her eyes. Her fur is also salted and peppered with many different flecks shading from white to black and all the saturations of grey in between; you can see some of these variations, even in the whiskers, in the high resolution photo above. Marcie has several whorls of fur, called when they occur in horses wheat ears or corn ears, on her chest and neck. These are oval, almost heart-shaped patches or hair that grow in opposite or circular directions as compared to the rest of the fur – crop circles of hair. I tried to get some photos of her (below) where you can see these patterns, but Marcie was skeptical about being photo documented.

    I was thinking today about how talkative MC, as most people call her, has become over the years. When she first came to live with Queequeg, Astra, and me in Miami she hid for most of the first days. The person from Italian Greyhound Rescue who placed Marcie with us did so, actually, knowing that we would not try to make any extraordinary socializing efforts with this very timid dog who was seized from a puppy mill and very nearly feral. Quee and Astra were so gregarious. They were very loving with the new little sister at once and showed by example that there was only sharing of attention, sleeping surfaces, and food. Sometime I will tell more about Marcie’s first months, but they were spent in silence. I tried not to think about what had happened at the puppy mill but I began to worry that something had happened to MC’s larynx or throat and that she was unable to bark.

    Gradually, though, Marcie did begin to express herself, through more frequent instances of allowing to be touched, stroked, and finally, held, and through some adorable “breath sounds,” small chuffing and sighing noises she still to this day makes. One day I was making some food she was particularly interested in – some kind of noodle soup I think because I remember the hot cauldron – and suddenly Marcie emitted a little “woof!”. MC was surprised and I was surprised. I tried not to react one way or the other so she wouldn’t attach any traumatic significance to using her voice, but I was very thrilled. After that, Marcie began vocalizing more and more and today she has the same screeching trill as many other IGs. Italian Greyhounds are close to Basenjis, the “yodeling” dogs, and like their cousins they are capable of quite a large range of sounds, almost like mynas. While she is far less interested in conveying communication to humans via sound (or understanding human speech) than her sisters were, Marcie has a fairly large repertoire of noises.

     

    Never Be the Same

     

    Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc, Briefwechsel : mit Briefen von und an Gabriele Münter und Maria Marc

    …After several years of seeking this book and not being able to find it, or finding it and having it be a million Euros or something, I was surprised to locate it in a German used bookstore’s inventory and not too crazily dear. It came in a package from Frankfurt am Main with probably the most Luftpost and other sticker adornments ever in the history of mail. I liked the wrapping so much that I just left the book in it for like a month and kept admiring it. Finally I actually needed to look something up and I had this week to open it. I was beyond thrilled to see that it had a dust jacket with fantastic 1980s typography and an X-acto bladed cutout of the “Show Him the Picture!” photo. The pages aren’t highlighted or written in, but they are pretty beat up and smell like bourbon and tobacco; I am always happy to find someone has really been reading a book hard.

    I have been reading, listening to Bayern 2, and conversing with my two patient friends auf Deutsch a bit more diligently and was very pleased to be able to just sit down and read the book without too much difficulty, a far different experience from when first I met it. There are a lot more references to August Macke than I remember, and to AM’s influence…FM was always agitating on AM’s behalf.

    I see from looking in Worldcat that this is something of a rare book (rarer now that the Little Mermaid dragged the USF copy to the bottom of the ocean or something – way to stay classy). I wonder why Piper never issued another edition, because in addition to the text of the letters there are extensive notations about the context of the references in the letters, and, very helpfully, descriptions of what was on the obverses of the postcards FM sent that he didn’t make himself. Between the paint, the content, and the terrible writing and incomplete addresses, FM was a real terror to the kingdom’s postal service – they regularly sent his stuff back or just handed it back and refused to deal with it – and they must have been relieved to see just normal “art” postcards such as people send today.

     

    The other text I came across when I was organizing some shelves of books was this: The Decipherment of Linear B. I have always been very fascinated with cuneiform and with the work of Michael Ventris. The author, John Chadwick, was a friend and colleague of Ventris and though this is a very staid account of the process of identification and transcription of the cuneiform characters as both compared with Phoenician and Egyptian and deductively derived, Chadwick mentions Ventris’ untimely death in the introduction. I snatched this book from the trash and am very glad to have it now.

    Air Signs Represent

    Fabeltier, Franz Marc, 1912

    This is a really big week for birthdays: Bob Marley on 6 February (1945) [“it takes a revolution to make a solution”] and Saint Thomas More on 7 February (1478). More and more scholars agree ...the New Isle Called Utopia is a true socialist manifesto and I  concur!

    Most importantly though, 8 February  (1880) is the birthday of painter, writer, animal sanctuarist, soldier, and millinery fashion icon Franz Marc.

    Fabeltier (1912) is a plate from Der Blaue Reiter. Is the image a tiny (Italian Greyhound-looking) fanciful creature by a regular-size strawberry, or a giant strawberry with a little dog, or something else? I don’t know; it’s just fun and mysterious. Marc made a few illustrations like this called various iterations of Fabeltier but like gargoyles the animals resemble dogs, horses, lions…I especially like this one but they are all fantastic.