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.


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.


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,



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.


Toothless in Tampa

Marcie’s Teeth

Marcie recuperating

So for the sake of completeness, here is a story about Marcie Carey and her dental adventures, which actually compare okay to those of her sisters.

Marcie had kind of unfortunate childhood and young adulthood in a puppy mill. Most of the dogs who were recovered with her — 11 of the 16 — died shortly after they were seized by animal services in Georgia. I can only imagine that her taciturn nature is both a result of the horrible experiences she had (three litters of puppies before she was 18 months old among other things) and part of her survival strategy. Marcie is very reserved and quiet — she had lived with me for three years before I ever heard her make a sound — and very loving with cats and people she knows well; I wonder sometimes if she is completely cheerful but she seems content most of the time.

Anyway, like a lot of puppy mill dogs, Marcie has always had terrible teeth. They’ve been extracted one by one over the years, but today, recognizing that all of her canine teeth were practically parrallel to the jawbone and that none of the molars met, the very nice dog dentist Dr. Michael Peak recommended that it was time for total toothlessness. (Also, the spaces around the teeth accumulate bacteria which affect dogs’ health in other ways.)

This is a challenging procedure not just because of the tiny bones of Italian Greyhounds but because their low body fat makes anesthesia tricky. Dr. Peak used only light sedation (isoflurane) with Marcie and some nerve blocking shots around the gumline. And of course Marcie had plenty of dog tranquilizers and painkillers plus subcutaneous and IV fluids.

Also, Marcie is simply much younger — Astra was 16 years old when she had her major extraction and bone graft! — than her sister was undergoing the same procedure.

Naturally I asked to keep the teeth, which you see here, and to have lots of photos.

However I do not think either Marcie nor myself was prepared for embarking on the new adventure of canine cuisine we are now faced with addressing. Marcie already was used to a lot of food — soup, stew, oatmeal, various kinds of cooked vegetables — she just sort of slurped up (not to mention the diet staples of ice cream and yogurt — what can I say?) but if people have ideas about what else a tooth-free IG might subsist on, that would be great.

The excision of Marcie’s tusks are certainly a loss to the world of Italian Greyhound glamour but I think you can see she is going to quickly make a good showing of the “tongue as accessory” thing.

Video Kingpins of Hades Or, No Mercy For Nonsense

Chapter 2

Something very evil had clutched the residence at 704 Howser Street. Something that hung over the little home like a black widow’s veil. Indeed, something hideous. Sure, it had happened before, but not in Astoria. This was spooky.

Inside the home, she could feel the presence of the evil force as it hovered over her. She could feel it. None of the appliances were working properly, the children had taken up the practice of walking through solid walls while chanting “Go Wisconsin!”, and sirens were piercing the air, their source unknown. This was most definitely frightening.

Actually, this evening was not unlike the previous few.

The original texts and drawings from 1987.

The original texts and drawings from 1987.

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Only too clearly came the images of the hamsters in the bathroom, and the sailors in the atticway. She also knew the house still reeked of cheap beer and nachos. The smell was overbearing.

Her mind reeled back a few days as she tried to recall the event that might have triggered all of this, but all she could remember was the fight she had with her husband after he replaced their conventional front door with a paper barrier.

As she thought of the incident, her husband, coincidentally, came crashing through the barrier. The tearing of the paper was loud enough that it could have been a truck driving through the door.

Next came THAT voice.

“Hey! I caught that ball!” He exclaimed.

Immediately she knew that Frostie’s Angels had lost the big ball game. Her husband kept babbling about the outcome of the final play, but when he settled down, he asked her where his supper was. She pointed to the recession of the ceiling/wall above the refrigerator. There he saw a drooping wad of spaghetti, clinging for its survival.

“What’d ya do dat fer?” He asked, pointing his finger at her. There was a brief pause.

“I think we got ghosts.” She said, erupting into tears.

“What have you been smokin’?” he retorted.

With those words, the kitchen floor began crackling and crumbling beneath him. Through the crevice that developed, a little green man burst onto the scene. Was this an alien visitor?

No. It was Gumby.

To be continued…

4 Tesems (bas) et 3 hyènes (haut), origine: tombeau de Ptah Hotep à Saqqara.