As an author, I am the resultant force of the books I read, of the places I visit. As a woman, I am the resultant force of the women who influenced my life – my mother, my grandmothers, my daughter, my girl friends, my female role models. As a human being, I am one of the forces shaping my children’s future; albeit a tiny one, I can point forward and upwards. Scientia potetia est.
It was an honor to have my article on Why We Need Contemporary War Fiction Written by Women published on Books By Women:
At some stage during my adult life, and this will astound my history teacher if she’d discover, I found myself fascinated by the thought of writing fiction inspired by contemporary events.
A thread that brought me here might have been reading Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone with the Wind” in my teens; another one, witnessing the terrorist attack on World Trade Center on Live TV while pregnant with my daughter. A definite thread, silky and alluring, came from enjoying historical fiction by Philippa Gregory and Diana Gabaldon. While the most recent one, still carding itself, draws from my son’s keen interest in war computer games and my own, in military working dogs.
Contemporary war fiction penned by
women pales in comparison to the amount of books written by men. Be it
in poetry or prose, throughout the centuries an author, not an
authoress, depicted more often the combat male protagonist. As Homer put
it in his Iliad, “war will be men’s business”.
Why so, since countless notable women
were not afraid of fighting battles? The Greek goddess Athena is shown
as a warrior, the patron of justice, strategic warfare, mathematics, and
arts. The Celtic goddess Brigid is the patron of poetry and smithcraft.
Scathach is an Irish Goddess who taught the martial arts. The Amazons
were fierce warrior women and there were even gladiator women,
gladiatrices, although Juvenal, the Roman poet of those times, depicted
them as a mere novelty. History is splattered with the blood of
innumerable women warriors: Hatshepsut, Queen Boudicca, Queen Samsi of
Arabia, the Trung Sisters from Vietnam, Empress Theodora of Byzantium,
Olga of Russia, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Mary I and Elizabeth I of
History also showed us that women who
took to war were willingly followed by an army of men and women and
that they won their battles much to their opponent’s dismay. Is it the
fact that women can stand up for themselves in times of political
upheaval what worries men or the fact that women could, eventually,
With such role models, although nowadays women have changed spear for pen, where has history brought us?
It was 1895 when Lt Col Edwin Hautenville Richardson, a Scot military man, noticed a German man buying a sheepdog from a shepherd.On engaging the two, Richardson learns that the German army was buying British collies to train and use in their own military service.
On engaging the two, Richardson learns that the German army was buying British collies to train and use in their own military service.
In the eve of WW1 Richardson and his wife
Blanche Bannon, both dog lovers, were already training dogs. Soon the military
asked them to begin a British War Dogs training school in Shoeburyness, Essex.
The Richardsons trained hundreds of hounds for military service during both
Richardson particularly liked the Airedale
“They’re very determined. They’re very single-minded and there’s no stopping them.”
While in Europe Airedale Terriers were even taught to use gas masks as part of their military service.
The dogs were
also trained to carry first aid and supplies for soldiers at the front.
“The dead and badly wounded are easily found; they lay where they fought; but the lightly wounded, those that had still strength to crawl and hunt shelter or water to quell their thirst, are the ones that te hospital corps is apt to miss. Speaking from the viewpoint of military efficiency these slightly wounded are the very soldiers that should be specially cared for, for on their speedy recovery they may prove in a long-drawn-out war the deciding factor that will end it, when they have again returned to the fighting line. Good Red Cross Dogs will quickly clear a battle-ground of all wounded soldiers.”
(Scout, Red Cross Army Dogs)
Richardson even paid unemployed locals to pretend
being injured or dead people, lying around the dunes, and helping the dogs to
“We also served” is the special bandana of The Airedale Terrier Club of Scotland today.
Richardson’s contribution to the development of the military and Red Cross dog units was in-commensurable through his assiduous research, work and dedication towards canines. The first Army Dog School in England, at the start of The Great War, would not have been possible without his work.
Before his aid was required at the beginning of the Great War, the fame of Richardson’s highly trained dogs had reached far away, as proved by his services being required by Sultan Abdul Hamid, Empress Eugenie, of Bulgaria, the Abor expedition in India, the Gordon Highlanders, the Norfolk Regiment, and the King’s Durham Light Infantry, and Queen Mary on the eve of WW1.
Why were dogs so indispensable during warfare?
There is nothing like a dog’s loyalty and determination. Once a dog is taught a s skill, he will be happy to apply it to please his human master and friend.
It is our responsibility to be mindful of what we teach our dogs for they will do anything we ask them in order to make us happy.
Once a dog knows his destination he will get there at all costs. Pigeons cannot be sent in a fog or in the dark. Dogs will go in all weathers and at all times. During heavy bombardment by the enemy the casualties among the runners (soldiers sent to deliver messages) are heavy, especially when they have to cross n pen field where they are exposed to snipers, machine gun fire, or a heavy barrage. A runner would take two or three hours to do a journey from the trenches, while a dog only half an hour or less.
Richardson on training the his war dogs:
“The drill yesterday began with an obstacle race by a squad well advanced in training. Across the road were placed a barbed wire fence and a few yards further on a hurdle, and beyond that a barrier made of branches of trees. The dogs were taken about a mile up the road and then released. There was a great race for home. The bigger dogs leapt clear of all the obstructions; the smaller ones wriggled their way through; but two wily sheep dogs, strictly in accordance with the rules of the game preferred to leap a ditch and make a detour, arriving home as quickly as the others.
Novices who go astray in these and other test are never punished. They are caught by the keepers and gently led back for another try.”
Sadly, most of the Dog Messenger Service
heroes are anonymous as officially they were known only by the numbers on the
Dogs, the Silent Heroes of World War One
After some trial and error, medium sized dogs with grey or black fur were preferred, with good eyesight and “character”. Breeds varies, from a cross between a bulldog and a mastiff to German shepherds, retrievers, pointers and large Airedale terriers.
But above all, “character and training” was wanted.
How well dogs helped during the Great War and the Second World War we will see soon, as well as finding amazing stories about dog war mascots and other mongrels.
Do return to find out.
My latest book is‘Silent Heroes’, a highly emotional read, action-packed, a vivid story of enormous sacrifice and bravery that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
It is a book extremely well researched, with authentic details and an epic sense of the place. The war and the military involved, Marines and dogs, are described with reverence, as are the civilians caught in the middle of the fire.
“A man’s dog stands by him in prosperity
and in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground,
where the wintry wind blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he may be near
his master’s side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer, he will
lick the wound and sores that come in encounter with the roughness of the
world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince. When
all other friends deserts he remains. When riches take wings, and reputation
falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey
through the heavens.
“If fortune drives the master forth, an outcast in the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him, to guard him against danger, to fight against his enemies. And when the last scene of all comes, and death takes his master in its embrace and his body is laid away in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by the graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad, but open in alert watchfulness, faithful and true even in death.” (George Graham Vest – c. 1855, “Tribute to the Dog”, George Graham Vest (1830-1904), U.S. Senator of Missouri)
This is one of the best speeches I ever read. In fact, while he was still practicing law, George Graham Vest won a trial with this speech.
Dogs helped Kings in their battles
It is said that four hundred terrier dogs, each “garnished with good yron collers” helped Henry VIII of England and Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain in their battles against the French.
Henry VIII kept quite a few dogs in his chambers. We know this for a fact because Henry’s fool), Will Somers, is said to have curled up among them to sleep.
“Toe Greyhoundes collars of crimsun velvette and cloth of gold … two other collars with the Kinges armes … a collar of white velvette, embrawdered with perles, the swilvels of silver…”
Did you know that among
the thirty breeds currently recognized by the American Kennel Club, only four
have an origin other than the British Isles?
Napoleon Bonaparte also favoured dogs and Frederick the Great of Germany had them employed as watchdogs for his sentries.
“The lonely soldier on guard who, for the first time probably, faces the dark shadows with their lurking dangers in the enemy country, will do his duty better and more fearlessly if a faithful dog is with him to warn him of impending events.”
From “Scout, Red Cross and Army Dogs“
Dogs and the Crimean War
The Crimean War involved a massive use of horses.
Fought for influence in the Middle East, especially control over the religious sites of the Holy Land, the Crimean War opposed an alliance of Britain, France, Turkey and Sardinia against Russia.
Dogs were used as sentries or for sighting. Surely the use of their acute smell was the main reason, although very little was known or understood back then about the dog’s superb olfactory abilities.
Dogs and the American Civil War
The American Civil War another war carried on horseback.
Little Sally was the mascot of the 11th Pennsylvania infantry.
Sally followed the men everywhere, she marched with them, she was the first to get up in the morning and the last to sleep at night.
At the Battle of Gettysburg they thought she was lost. They found her three days later, guarding the bodies of some of the men in the 11th Pennsylvania infantry that had been killed. Sadly, in February 1865, during a fight in the south of Petersburg, Virginia, Sally was killed. Despite the battle going on, the soldiers dropped their muskets and buried Sally in the field.
In 1890 the 11th Pennsylvania raised a monument at Gettysburg. With a soldier on top and a statue of Sally at the bottom, still guarding her soldiers of the 11th Pennsylvania.
And you can see a doggy biscuit or two. (From Untold Stories of the Civil War)
A special dog during the Second Boer War
Since I live in South Africa I feel that I need to mention the sturdy, brave dog Bob who helped many British soldiers, by the look of this propaganda postcard.
Although the British would have fought against the Boers, which were the South African farmers of Dutch, German, or Huguenot descent settled in the Transvaal (now Mpumalanga Province) and the Orange Free State (now Free State Province), Bob proved extremely brave and he did saved human lives after all.
It was a very hot summer and water supplies were limited. The soldiers would strap bottles to Bob’s body and the brave dog would go to a nearby stream, dodging bullets on his way there and back, lie down in the cool water until the bottles were full and bring them back to the troops.
Dogs and the Russo-Japanese War
In 1904, Imperial Russia used ambulance dogs during the Russo-Japanese War as well as to guard railways. But these dogs were trained by a British dog enthusiast who later trained hundreds of dogs for the Allies during both World Wars.
The Russian Embassy in London asked Edwin Hautenville Richardson to supply ambulance dogs for the Russian troops. He sent Airedales that performed so well, the Dowager Empress Marie thanked him with gifts.
Major General Tucker, commanding the forces in Scotland, concluded at the War Office:
“Forwarded and strongly recommended. Seeing that every foreign government has already recognized the use of dogs, either for ambulance purposes or sentry work, or both, I am of opinion that advantage should be taken without delay of Major E. H. Richardson’s knowledge and experience in the matter of breeding and training them, and some military training centre selected for the purpose. it seems likely that Salisbury Plain might offer greater facilities in this respect than Aldershot; but on this point, as on other matters of details, I would suggest that Major Richardson be consulted.”
This is only a drop of information about the amazing roles dogs played in so many battles.
We saw here how the old claim that a dog is one’s best friend is validated through historical records, be it art, folklore or books.
Next time we will look at why were dogs indispensable during the two world wars, at the dog’s role during the Great War, during the Second World War, at dog mascots and true war stories about dogs as well as many more amazing tales about dogs in the war, throughout the decades.
I hope you will join me again!
My latest book, Silent Heroes, is a work of fiction about the Military Working Dogs and the amazing Marines and local people caught in the War in Afghanistan.
Women writing war fiction is a controversial topic and one close to my heart. The question I was asked most often after publishing “Silent Heroes” was: why I wrote a book about war?
To me, “Silent Heroes” is a book that asked to be written. The idea behind it began to germinate in my mind long ago. It took over two years of research and assiduous work for this book to see the printing press.
Having lived through a Revolution and the fall of the Eastern Bloc, I can see that the power of historical knowledge and historical locations is often overlooked. From my point of view, the situation in Afghanistan is of global interest. There are many similar historical hot spots throughout the world. My interest in the War in Afghanistan was stirred on understanding what a major influence the use of military dogs has on the lives of civilians. Most books written on this subject are from a military or political perspective. A retelling of true facts. I wanted to create a work of fiction that will appeal as well as stir emotions, something plausible, yet appealing to a wider category of readers.
We tend to read a book from the perspective of our own experiences. Some books, after reading them, manage to change the way we see our own life – and this is what I tried to achieve with “Silent Heroes”. Find out more about the symbolism behind its pages here.
I would rather have you ask me “why I wrote ‘Silent Heroes’, rather than “why I wrote a book on war”.
Women writers wrote about war many times over. But how many are known?
War is a part of life. As in life, there is fear in war, but there is also resilience and a raw lucidity in it.
War draws in all kinds of people, men and women, children and elderly, rich and poor. War stamps its tattoo on their lives, no questions asked, by killing their loved ones, by forcing them to relocate, to give up the mere life necessities in order to survive. To give up life, as they knew it, in order to stay alive.
Most war literature I came across during my lifetime and while researching for “Silent Heroes” and for “Joyful Trouble” before it was written by men. True accounts of battle and hardship. “War and Peace” by Russian author Leo Tolstoy must be the best known war novel. I have enjoyed Ernest Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and loved, for its epic descriptions and sensitivity in portraying human beings and raw emotions, Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone With the Wind” in which an entire generation was wiped out by the Civil War.
The question that inevitably rose was:
What is the major difference between a war story written by a woman and one written by a man?
And I don’t mean linguistic differences.
When reading a book written by a woman, I tend to feel closer to the author than when to a male author. I find their writing style more interactive. This aspect does not involve characters, but the overall feeling I get when reading -reading for pleasure.
Male authors tend to focus on conveying information, on the courage of the soldiers, on their super-human acts and vigor and less on the emotions that trigger or haunt them. On the intensity of their pain, the taste of their passion, the gut feeling.
From a sociology-cultural point of view we are a product of our upbringing and of the society we live in. Considering ideological factors and forces, we are a product of our interactions with and of our reactions to society. It is only normal that this will reflect in a writer’s work.
What about the communications style?
Will the fact that men and women have a different communication style reflect in their writing? Much like a piece of art or a music sheet reflect the author’s core structure.
On the other hand, writing is very much a products of our biographical reading. Which brings us back to our upbringing, influencing us in everything we do.
But since we only speak of the war theme here, I think that this difference shows in the type of relationships the characters tend to built with one another.
If you look at a novel as it would be a river, I tend to see a woman’s writing running smoothly, in a fluid movement, while a man’s is almost bubbling in it’s banks. But this is only my own imaginary.
War stories are a two way narrative.
War involves those who actively take part in it and those who are sucked in it, no choice given. Soldiers and civilians. And civilians, too, deserve to be heard. Their emotions should be given a voice, too.
But what if we don’t know if a book was written by a man or a woman? Would we still be able to spot the difference? And how will that knowledge influence our perception of the book?
Again, we only look at war books here.
We are past the women’s rise to prominence during the mid-nineteenth century and past the women’s rights movements.
Do women still need to prove themselves by writing about war?
War is a topic monopolized by men authors throughout the centuries.
Four years ago The Guardian published an interesting article, “Male writers continue to dominate literary criticism, Vida study finds“, VIDA being a group of volunteers interested in drawing attention to gender inequality in the field of book reviewing. The results of the study shows that men appeared 66 percent more often in The New York Times Book Review; three times more often in the London Review of Books; The Times Literary Supplement and others had worse numbers.
If reputable publications involved in book reviewing choose less books by women, will this influence the reader’s / buyer’s choice and view of books written by women?
My view on this subject may be biased as I am both a woman and a woman writer penning stories about war. Yet I feel that little is known about war stories written by women.
Amazing fiction books on war written by women
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (for the vivid image of how much the American Civil War changed people’s lives and characters)
Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain (an entire generation changed by WW1)
The Story of a Brief Marriage by Anuk Arudpragasam (for its hypnotic details of the Sri Lankan Civil War)
The Gold Lieutenant by Whitney Terrell (for depicting so truthfully the surviving nature of women during the Iraq War)
Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky (filled with the human sensitivity that often escapes WW2 written by an author who, sadly, died in the concentration camp at Auschwitz)
Nella Last’s war by Nella Last, an inside view of WW2 from a civilian’s point of view.
The People of Forever are Not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu (a touching tale of teenagers’ experiences in the Israeli Defense Forces)
The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli (an amazing novel about the Vietnam War).
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (although an autobiography, is a must-read portrayal of the Holocaust)
Transcription by Kate Atkinson (a great spy novel of WW2)
The Night Watch by Sarah Waters (a great historical fiction set during WW2 London)
Goodnight Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian (an amazing WW2 read for children over the age of 10, especially boys)
A Boy in Winter by Rachel Seiffert (set during the WW2 occupation of Ukraine and Longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2018)
Good Evening, Mrs Craven: Wartime Stories by Mollie Panter-Donnes (short stories written during WW2)
The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obrecht (set during in an unnamed Balkan country experiencing a rebirth after the collapse of communism).
Can you Hear the Nightbird Call? by Anita Rau Badami how three women survive the rise of the Sikh separatists in India).
Sparta by Roxana Robinson (about a war veteran’s battle with PTSD after the Iraq War).
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (for the humanity shared by different cultures when held hostage by terrorists)
Silent Heroesby Patricia Furstenberg (on the strong connections between US Marines and the Afghan civilians during the Afghanistan War).
Published less than a month ago, “Silent Heroes, When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for” already receives praise from its readers: ” I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel”, ” extremely well written and well researched”, “It was also very interesting to read about the important role Military Working Dogs played in the US Marines’ war against the Taliban insurgents, “I highly recommend this book”, “a very exciting, moving and well written book “, “I especially appreciated the amount of research that went into making the story as true to life as possible. Would highly recommend this excellent book”, “a great read”, The research into the Afghan culture, as well as the American war dogs, is like none other. The historical aspect was brilliantly done.”
“Silent Heroes, When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for” is still a #1 New Release on Amazon US.
5 Stars Amazon UK Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars I highly recommend this book and give it a full five stars! 26 July 2019 Format: Kindle Edition Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for
“I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel from Patricia Furstenberg. The book is extremely well written and well researched. Not only does she depict the harsh realities of war, but the emotional turmoil and pain of the soldiers and the Afghan population innocently caught in the war. It was also very interesting to read about the important role Military Working Dogs played in the US Marines’ war against the Taliban insurgents. I highly recommend this book and give it a full five stars!”
5 Stars Amazon Australia Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended 31 July 2019 Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
“This is a very exciting, moving and well written book about war in Afghanistan. Although I didn’t serve there, as an ex Airborne Engineer and veteran of many IED search teams, I especially appreciated the amount of research that went into making the story as true to life as possible. Would highly recommend this excellent book. ”
If you're looking for a page-turning read look no further than Silent Heroes by @PatFurstenberg It brings us to a land where girls and women are punished for reading books. One girl in particular must fight for survival after her mother is murdered by the Taliban.#IndieBooksPromo
If you're looking for a page-turning read look no further than Silent Heroes by @PatFurstenberg It brings us to a land where girls and women are punished for reading books. One girl in particular must fight for survival after her mother is murdered by the Taliban.#IndieBooksPromo
“The premise of this story is fantastic! I went through a whole variety of emotions. The research into the Afghan culture, as well as the American war dogs, is like none other. The historical aspect was brilliantly done. I loved the characters. They all had special stories within the story as a whole. The setting made me feel as though I were there. Absolutely delightful telling.” (Amazon Kindle Unlimited Reader)
Have you read “Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for” yet? I would love to hear your thoughts.
I still remember attending my first lecture on symbolism . My own studies were as far from literature and art as the moon is from the man who occupies it.
I was studying medical dentistry when a friend and I went to the University of History and Art to attend a lecture on symbolism in art. It was late one evening when we opened the massive door leading to a cosmic-size amphitheater packed with excited faces.
Used to look at dead bodies laying on an autopsy table, to squint inside them while trying to discern the shriveled femoral nerve from the already gray artery, I was struck by the excitement short-circuiting everyone attending the lecture and the amount of information hidden in plain view, underneath layers of colorful paint.
I was hooked and, although I may not have earned a degree in art, the keen interest in symbolism has sipped into my pores for good.
Was symbolism introduced in “Silent Heroes” intentionally?
On writing “Silent Heroes” I did not plan to include symbolism. It wasn’t a voluntary act, like research had been, or plotting the outline of the story, building my characters. Including symbolical elements was a work of my sly subconscious mind. It’s been the work of my cerebellum, you can say. Anatomy having its own play over art.
I do not expect readers to pick up on the symbolism used or to interpret it in the same way. I think this is very much connected to how our minds are wired. Some of us see things that others don’t, because they are not important to them. I does not mean that the first group hallucinates, or that the second group is inattentive.
Has symbolism in “Silent Heroes” been consciously manipulated at any stage during the writing process?
Now, this would imply that, at some stage during the writing of “Silent Heroes“, I picked up on some symbols introduced in the story-line. Which I did. Once I became conscious of the implications these symbolism will have on the narrative, I kept developing that thread. I did not removed it, since it was introduced organically and not voluntarily.
I felt that if I will remove the symbols, the story will be less rich, the characters, at least some of them, will lose their credibility. And myself, as a writer, will lose the passion for the telling of the story of these “Silent Heroes“, passion that had fueled me for over two years.
Can other symbols be discovered in “Silent Heroes”?
Other symbols, besides the ones my subconscious mind placed and my conscious mind picked up? I believe so, as I trust the reader’s creative minds as well as the connection I hope they will establish this book.
Is symbolism for real?
Is air real? Is the language we speak real? Is the sky blue? Humans have a innate ability and desire for creating things out of nothing. Buildings out of dust, worlds out of words, art out of dreams.
And humans also need to communicate. Writers communicate through their books. Language itself is a symbolic form of communication. Symbols used by artists, and therefore by writers, are placed – subconsciously or not – to help channel the results of their work. The end product. Much like a painter creating a portrait, an architect, a building that lasts, writers stir their stories using symbols, where appropriate.
The journey a writer takes when creating a book is anchored in his dreams and imagination, but it is stirred by the hidden symbolism which is also a product of his own mind.
Images of symbolism in “Silent Heroes” *****SPOILER ALERT*****
You could skip the very short, last paragraph, and return to it after reading “Silent Heroes”.
Some of the symbols found in “Silent Heroes” are:
The blue bird.
The book in the dust.
The Afghan garden.
What do they symbolize?
I suggest you don’t go past this point if you haven’t read“Silent Heroes” yet. First read the book, then return and see if your thoughts and mine converge.
To me, the blue bird symbolizes the spirit of Emma’s mother, as well as hope in another chance for happiness. A reminder that hope exists, no matter what situation we find ourselves in.
The book in the dust symbolizes the disrespect for human life and human wrights. Books are a well of wisdom and the product of hard, assiduous work. They don’t belong in the dirt, just like human life does not.
Qala-e-Bost Fortress symbolizes the upright spirit of the Afghan people, still standing after centuries of wars and oppression. And just like the people of Afghanistan, through its architecture, it is deeply rooted in its land, drawing strength from it.
Poppy flowers are both a symbol of the blood spilled in Afghanistan and of the never-ending struggle for survival of the Afghan people. Poppies are extremely resilient, they can grow under harsh weather conditions, although they look so fragile. But poppies are also deadly plants in the sense that farming them caught so many innocent souls in the loop of poverty and addiction.
The Afghan Garden symbolizes Heaven and hope in a land devastated by wars. Just as Heaven transcends all spirits and gods, being present in all religions, all people, no matter of their religion, sex or skin color, are equal in the eyes of God.
Have you discovered other symbols after reading “Silent Heroes“? Tell me about them, I’d love to hear from you.
The old claim that a dog and a man are the best of friend is validated by numerous records, be it art, history, folklore or books. Yet it requires no proof to anyone lucky enough to enjoy the company of a dog in modern day’s society. The stories and the inspiration behind art such as this is what fuels my writing.
I invite you to travel with me through a fast-paced, awe-inspiring journey from the past’s “once upon a time” to the 20th century illustrating the human-dog bond.
More to come in the following weeks on the astounding role dogs, these silent heroes, played during the Great War, World War II, the Vietnam Wat, and the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as what it takes to become a Military Working Dog.
How dogs helped the human brain to evolve
There isn’t a shadow of a doubt that, at some stage during their passing on this planet, humans decided to domesticate wolves (the grey wolf). Why they did it, choosing a breed they will have to compete against for food, is mysterious enough to feed the imagination of many writers.
Perhaps domesticating the cunning foxes failed or it was the super-olfactory ability of dogs that triggered the human determination. Or was it all a coincidence? Theories speak of more than one time when human attempted to domesticate dogs, starting as far as 20 000 – 32 000 years ago. What is certain is that the canines evolutionary journey from wolves to dogs happened simultaneously with the human’s development of speech (about 150 000 years ago). The time when our ancestors’ acute olfactory capabilities began to diminish, their brain accommodating the extra neural synapses and cortex area dedicated to verbal communication.No wonder that dogs , with their super-olfactory ability, looked, all of a sudden, so much more appealing to have as companions. Not mentioning the cuteness of their puppies.
Dog and man in Ancient World’s art and history
Footprints in the Chauvet Cave: a child and his dog
Chauvet Cave located in the southern France is renowned as the site of some of the world’s oldest mural paintings, and not only. At the back of the cave the soil and rock have preserved the footprints of a small child (estimated at about 1,4 m height and 8-10 years old) walking beside a dog. The trace is 45 meters long, enough for scientists to analyze and conclude that the child was walking and not running. What is amazing is that the prints he left show that at some stage the child slipped in the soft clay and that at some stage he stopped to clean his torch (proven by the stain of charcoal left behind). Alongside the child’s footprints are those of a large dog or a wolf friend.
Dogs in Mesopotamia
The Epic of Gilgamesh
I still remember learning n school about oldest piece of epic world
literature, written c. 2150 – 1400 BCE – that is 1500 years before Homer even
put pen on paper.
It explores a theme as old as humankind, he quest for the meaning of life.
Dogs are mentioned and shown their importance in everyday life: they are the
companions of one of the most popular goddesses of the region, the goddess
Innana (Ishtar). She travels with seven prized hunting dogs in collar and
The Nimrud dog amulets
So many cultures still rely on amulets today, and thus was the role of the Nimrud dog artifacts. These are canine clay figurines discovered in Nimrud (modern-day northern Iraq) that were once buried under the main doorstep of homes for their protective power (it was believed they carried the dog’s protective power).
Dogs in Ancient Persia
Ancient Persians, too, associated dogs with divinity as a dog’s soul was thought to be constituted of one-third human, one-third wild beast, and one-third divine. But Persians also kept dogs for companionship, protection or herding. In the Persian faith of Zoroastrianism, it was believed that the way one treated dogs during one’s lifetime will have an influence on his / hers journey through the afterword.
Dog and man in the art and history of Ancient Egypt
4 000 years ago lived Abuwtiyuw, the first ever documented dog whose name is known. His tomb is near the Great Pyramid of Giza & a wooden statue of Anubis, the jackal-headed deity, was found next to his mummified body. He was a sighthound, like today’s greyhound.
Anubis is perhaps the dog most associated with pharaohs and Ancient Egypt, represented as a lying jackal or a jackal-headed man. Some new research done on the DNA of the contemporary Egyptian jackal showed that it belongs to the wolf family. Imagine that!
Dog and man through the art and history on Ancient India
Dogs in Mahabharata, the longest epic poem ever written
Also from school (who would have thought?) I remember the Mahabharata as
being one of the most important texts of ancient Indian and world literature.
Written 400 BCE the Mahabharata features a dog that might have been an Indian Pariah Dog.
“The dog must come with me,” said Yudhisthira “That is not possible,” said Indra. “All cannot attain heaven. The dog is old and thin and has no value.” “In that case, I do not seek heaven, “replied Yudhisthira. “The dog was my faithful companion and I cannot abandon it. It sought my help and gave me unconditional love. The pleasures of heaven will mean nothing to me in comparison to its grief. It has done nothing to deserve abandonment and had none of the weaknesses of my wife and brothers. If it does not deserve to go to heaven, then neither do I.”
Further evidence that dog and man have been the best of friends is depicted by the art and history of ancient India, China, Greece, Rome and Mesopotamia. Plenty of canines decorations are found in temples and mosaics from all over the world.
Dogs in antiquity: China
I feel I should mention dogs in ancient China because modern dog’s DNA analysis shows that all present dog breeds stem from the grey wolf in China that was tamed around 16 000 years ago. At the same time wild rice was used extensively, agriculture developed and first villages appeared. Furthermore, the Chinese honored the dogs for thousands of years. Remember that Dog is one of 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac. People born under this sign are said to be loyal, trustworthy, and kind, qualities often associated with the dog. There is a lovely Chinese saying translating in:
‘a dog would not mind if its master is poor, a son would not mind if his mother is ugly.’
An Ancient Roman dog footprint, a Greek pot and a dog cameo
Dogs in the art of Ancient Rome
I particularly love this dog footprint on a Roman terracotta, next to a statuette of a dog displayed in Vidy Roman Museum, Lausanne, Switzerland. I think it depicts the human’s affection and longing towards his departed dog.
In the Georgian National Museum there is this Roman cameo of a dog. It looks like it is carved in stone with an oval frame hand made out of ceramic and, perhaps, sealed with gold. I love the dog’s playful pose. It tells of his comfortable life. Romans appreciated the dogs for their fidelity. I wonder if the woman wearing this cameo led a happy life.
The Dog from Pompeii
Pompeii was an ancient Roman city near modern-day Naples, in Campania, Southern Italy. It became renowned after Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD 79, burying the city and its inhabitants in 4 to 6m of ash and pumice. Today Pompeii is a precious, well-preserved archeological site and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A dog mosaic was found in “The House of the Tragic Poet” – proof of the Pompeian love and appreciation for canines.
“CAVE CANEM” = BEWARE OF THE DOG
Dogs in the art of Ancient Greece
Protector, hunter and companion to the ancient Greeks who also invented the spiked collar to protect their beloved doggo from wolves, the dog enters Greek literature as the three-headed Cerberus guarding the entrances to Hades (the final destination for the souls of the dead). Greeks, too, called their god of the underworld Hades.
Dogs also feature in Plato’s Republic writings. His contemporary Socrates even considered the dog a true philosopher as a dog could distinguish between friend or foe just by looking at the human face.
Maybe you remember the story of Argos, the dog from Homer’s Odyssey, the only one to recognize his master who returned home after a twenty years of absence. Sadly, Odysseus was undercover and can’t acknowledge his dog’s welcome. So the old dog lays back on his spot and gives his last breath.
This typical Leagros Group artwork of the 6th century Greek art is striking. And it depicts the close relationship between men, dogs and horses. So much is said with the use of only a few colors.
Did you know that the Greeks were the first to carve stone in relief, in fifth century B.C., the antecedents of cameos? The carving principles they implemented are still in use today.
The Dogs in the art of Mesoamerica
The Mayan (today SE Mexico) believed that dogs guide the souls of the dead across the watery border and into the afterlife, Xibalba or place of fear, since hounds were such good swimmers. But the dog did not leave. Dogs always look after us, don’t they? The dog would stay to help the man, or woman, go through all the challenges that separated him from paradise.To prove this love humans hand for dogs, the remains of dogs have been discovered buried near human remains.
The Colima Dog
One of the first tangible proofs of human-dog interaction is the Colima Dog, West Mexico, dating to the Late Formative Period (300 BC-300 AD). Art often represented themes important to the culture: weddings, children’s births, and royal feasts. Made of terracotta (earth) clay burned in an oven, the Colima Dog shows a hairless dogs symbolizing both life and death themes, through its association with the places where he was found, near food (grains) remains and graves.
Dogs in Celtic and Norse ancient art
Nehalennia, the Celtic goddess of trading, shipping, horticulture and fertility. She is often depicted with a benign-looking dog at her feet. As with other cultures, the dog was associated with guiding and protection after death.
More proof that dog and man have been the best of friends is shown through the art and history of medieval and modern times. Plenty of canines decorations are found in temples, mosaics, artifacts, or paintings from all over the world. Read on.
From protector, hunters and companions during ancient times, Medieval dogs were considered part of the family and even learned to perform tricks. But they also joined kings in battles. But dogs were also used to hunt wolfs extensively, who became extinct in the most of western Europe and especially England by the end of Medieval period. The deep connection that dog and man shared during the Middle Ages is depicted in various art objects (paintings, tapestries, objects of decor, coat of arms) and entered even the pages of history. See below, among others, the little dog in Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait, the dogs in the Coat of Arms of Henry VII.
Don’t be out off by its size (70 m², taking Veronese 15 months to paint it – and not alone). It tells a beautiful biblical story of the Marriage at Cana, at which Jesus converts water to wine. Plus there are dogs painted right in the center (it is said the painter himself is the one in white, holding the viola)
and one other dog is in the left.
Notice how Jesus is placed in the center of the wedding feast? The bride and groom are at the left end of the table. Jesus performed his first miracle at Cana, turning water into wine.
Finally, a 16th century book on dogs!
“Lawes of the Forrest” by John Manwood is a book with a full 141 words title. The book was first published for private circulation in 1592. The 1598 edition is the oldest book in the library of London’s Kennel Club—the “biggest library of books about dogs” in Europe.
Apparently during the 16th century was easier to keep “little dogs”. For greyhounds or mastiffs one needed special hunting license issued by the king! Talk about bureaucracy.
Modern times are abundant with images of dog and man depicted as friends in art as well as entering history.
Gaugan’s puppies and Dogs Playing Poker
We’ll sail past the 19th century “Life with Three Puppies” by Paul Gauguin, inspired by Japanese prints and children’s book illustrations. Just look at those tails!
I hope you will have a good laugh at this American artwork that came shortly after Gaugain’s: “Dogs Playing Poker” by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge, 19th to 20th century. Dogs do observe human faces and often copy us – any dog lover knows.
While other pets and animals have undergone substantial changes in the way they are perceived throughout history dogs have endured the marks of wars and joys alongside humans, as constant companions, protectors and, of course, friends, as we have seen portrayed by the art of various cultures around the world.
I hope you will return to find out more about the way dogs and humans have faced together the many wars of the 20th and the 21st century.
My latest book is‘Silent Heroes’, a highly emotional read, action-packed, a vivid story of enormous sacrifice and bravery that will keep you on the edge of your seat. It is a book extremely well researched, with authentic details and an epic sense of the place. The war and the military involved, Marines and dogs, are described with reverence, as are the civilians caught in the middle of the fire.