For the man of the Graeco-Roman world the dog was essentially a chthonic beast

29 Dec

For the man of the Graeco-Roman world the dog was essentially a chthonic beast, he was, one might say, the earthly embodiment of the demonic. Hecate was ruler of dogs and demons and appeared in canine form

The verses of Theocritus II 10ff, in which the sorceress whispers in the lonely moonlit night are well known:

Up then, Selene and give me good light, thou silent goddess.
To thee now I sing, and to thee also, Hecate thou dost live
below ground
Thou dost frighten away whimpering dogs when thou dost walk
Over the graves of the dead and over the dark blood-stream
Hail to thee, Hecate goddess of horror.

Hecate is surrounded by the barking dogs of the nether world and often appears herself in the form of a dog-spectre, trembling warlocks address her as “black dog” and indeed it behooves, those who invoke her, first to make sure of her name, for only if she is named correctly are men safe against her malice.

Here is a prose translation of some verses of Synesius which shows us very vividly how people in the Graeco-Roman times, even when they had become Christians felt that this dark submerged part of the soul was threatened by the hounds of Hecate and saw in this a symbol of the devil:

“Let the sinuous trend of serpents sink beneath the earth, and that winged serpent also, the demon of matter, he who clouds the soul, rejoicing in images and urging on his brood of whelps against my supplication. Do thou, O Father, O Blessed One, keep away from my soul these soul-devouring hounds, from my prayer, from my life from my works.”

Hugo Rahner, S.J. Greek Myths and Christian Mystery (Harper & Row, Publishers, New York and Evanston English Translation (c) Burns & Oats Ltd 1963

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