Sunday 28 August 2016


Detail of Sculpture, Sofia National Archaeological Museum
A Bulgarian field trip for a book on theatre around the ancient Black Sea revealed the delightful Dogheads of Sofia (then Serdica). A relief sculpture illustrates the 4th-century-AD entertainments in the amphitheatre, including a show about Dogheaded Men (Cynocephali) performed by actors cavorting on a stage wearing dog masks. At first I thought they were ape-heads (Pithecocephali) until colleagues in Facebook group Classics International put me right and I magnified the picture to be certain.

The ancient Greeks and Romans believed that real Dogheads lived in the Russian steppes, Libya, Ethiopia and India. Dogheads are said by ancient authors to be the most righteous of all hominids since they neither engage in commerce nor hurt anyone. They understand human languages and communicate back by barking. They live off hunting. They are amazingly swift of foot in the chase. They shred and roast the animals they catch not over a fire but in the sun (which may explain what happened to the hapless boar in the amphitheatre entertainment).
Righteous Renaissance Doghead

I was amazed to discover devout Dogheads playing star roles in Christianity, especially in connection with Africa and with pondering the definition of homo sapiens. St Augustine of Hippo in Algeria wondered whether Dogheads were admissible to his City of God (16.8), and decided that they were, being rational, mortal and Descended From Adam. Please correct me if I am wrong, but surely this must mean that Augustine imagined that at some point a Descendant of Adam had mated with a dog and produced the hybrid species?
Christ with Doghead Soldiers

Saints Stephen & Christopher
Some Eastern Orthodox icons show St Christopher as a dogheaded Christian convert, originally captured in Libya during Diocletian’s reign. (Such icons were banned in Russia in the 18th century as too disturbing). Dogheads are sometimes encountered by the apostles and converted, or serve in the armies of warrior saints: the famous medieval Psalter of Kiev portrays Jesus in the company of several Dogheads.

St.Christopher Cynocephalus
You can still spot some today if you live in Scotland, since an Old Welsh poem reports the battle of the Dogheads (Cynvyn) with Arthurian warriors at Edinburgh. Alternatively, move to Wexford County, Michigan, where a seven-foot Dogman with blue eyes was first recorded in 1794 by a French fur trader and reappears every ten years. Michigan Dogman regularly makes lists of the Top Ten Mysterious Creatures in the USA.

But you may want to be careful about getting too close too soon: Ctesias says that amongst the Indian ones, ‘while the women have a bath once a month, the men do not have a bath at all.’ It may be more pleasant to move in with one of the squeaky clean competitors who like living as dogs in the Mr Puppy Europe society, which, as the Father of My Children and his dog point out to me, convenes in Antwerp every year.

Head of our dog, Finlay Poynder

1 comment:

  1. have you heard the theory that the sphinx had been carved a canine before the elements and ages wore it down and the changes in society around it chose to carve its remains into the human headed lion we see today?