Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Pariah in Memoirs of the Destruction

A dog begins to follow Dakis in AD 67, described as a “round dog with big shoulders like the Arabs use to guard their flocks.  He was the color of sand but he did not bark at me.”  The narrative indicates that the dog “was no one’s dog and would be no one’s dog,” a pariah.  I always wondered if this dog was meant to be a depiction of a dog at all, or rather some sort of spirit, or a fragment of conscience that took animal form in the wilderness Dakis was crossing at the time of his encounter with the animal.  The dog reappears several times but never follows Dakis into a city. 

Les bergers, conduits par l'etoile, se rendent a Bethleem
I had always assumed that Jacob described this dog from a visit he took to Palestine before the war, in 1936.  It is known from his correspondence that he accompanied a caravan from Palmyra to Damascus, where he may have seen such dogs.  This, I think, is the most likely explanation but there are also artistic depictions of similar dogs that may have been an influence.  One is a painting that I recently saw in the Musée d’Orsay by Octave Penguilly-L’Haridon entitled “Shepherds, Guided by a Star, Go to Bethlehem,” the left side of which is shown here. The dog at the extreme left would appear to fit the description, perhaps a pariah with Molossian traits.  Whether Jacob knew anything about the history of dogs in the region, or was merely projecting backwards from what he saw in person or in paintings, is not something about which I am qualified to speculate.  – JE

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