Cicero Is Wrong About Puppies

My sister-in-law got a puppy this weekend. Of course, this means I went home and started looking at what Greeks and Romans say about puppies. (I have done this before, but, wait, there’s more!) Let me tell you, it starts objectionable and gets gruesome.

Cicero, De natura deorum, 2.13

“Therefore, it is that same Chrysippos, who, by furnishing images, teaches that everything is better in its perfect and mature form, that a horse is better than a foal, a dog better than a puppy, a man better than a boy, etc. He also shows that what is best in the whole world ought to be found in that same perfect and complete creature and that there is, moreover, nothing more perfect in the whole world, nothing better than virtue. Because of this, virtue is a fundamental element of the world. Now, the nature of a human being is not perfect, but virtue may still emerge in a person.”

Bene igitur idem Chrysippus, qui similitudines adiungens omnia in perfectis et maturis docet esse meliora, ut in equo quam in eculeo, in cane quam in catulo, in viro quam in puero; item quod in omni mundo optimum sit id in perfecto aliquo atque absoluto esse debere; est autem nihil mundo perfectius, nihil virtute melius; igitur mundi est propria virtus. Nec vero hominis natura perfecta est, et efficitur tamen in homine virtus

But, perhaps we should be forgiving of dear Tully’s inability to recognize the perfection of nature in a puppy’s cuteness. Roman approaches to dogs present some interesting challenges to modern readers:

Pliny, Natural History 29.14

“I have mentioned the glory earned by geese when the incursion of the Gauls onto the Capitoline hill was uncovered. For the very same reason, dogs hang in an annual punishment between the temple of Juventas and that of Summanus, crucified while still alive on a cross of elder wood.

The traditions of our ancestors demand that many things be said about this animal. They used to believe that puppies who were still nursing were such pure food for appeasing the gods that they even used to offer them in place of sacrificial victims. The divine rite of Genita Mana is performed with a puppy and at dinners for the gods even today puppy-meat is set out on the table.

The plays of Plautus provide a good indication that puppy meat was a proper dish in special banquets. It was also believed that nothing was a better remedy for poisonous arrows than puppy’s blood and this creature also seems to have shown human beings the use of emetics…”

XIV. De anserum honore quem meruere Gallorum in Capitolium ascensu deprehenso diximus. eadem de causa supplicia annua canes pendunt inter aedem Iuventatis et Summani vivi in furca sabucea armo fixi. sed plura de hoc animali dici cogunt priscorum mores. catulos lactentes adeo puros existimabant ad cibum ut etiam placandis numinibus hostiarum vice uterentur iis. Genitae Manae catulo res divina fit et in cenis deum etiamnunc ponitur catulina. aditialibus quidem epulis celebrem fuisse Plauti fabulae indicio sunt. sanguine canino contra toxica nihil praestantius putatur, vomitiones quoque hoc animal monstrasse homini videtur, et alios usus ex eo mire laudatos referemus suis locis. nunc ad statutum ordinem pergemus.

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