November 23, 2011


Dwarves and dogs in ancient Egypt

When it came to religion in ancient Egypt, it reigned cats and one dog — the canine Anubis.

"They do have cat goddesses," said art history graduate student Andrea Shanley at a Nov. 15 talk at the Michael C. Carlos Museum. "They don't have a dog god. Dogs don't seem to be thought of as sacred as cats were."

Shanley's talk was part of the Carlos' AntiquiTEA series, where tea and scones are served along with a presentation.

Despite their lack of deity, "dogs were popular pets and the object of genuine affection by kings, elite and laborers," she said.

Shanley's illustrated presentation started with a picture of an Old Kingdom relief from a private tomb featuring an image of the family pet, a dog, tended by a dwarf.

The tomb's hieroglyph inscriptions show, she said, the dog's "name would be something like Brownie or Blackie."

"One of the most common question asked about dogs in ancient Egyptian art is what kind of dog are we seeing?"

She said most speculation centers around these types: The Cape hunting dog; hunting hounds, which are the most commonly portrayed type of dogs in ancient Egypt, and include the Pharaoh hound; Ibizan hound; and the basenji; and greyhounds, salukis and the whippet; and later on, a dachshund-corgie type of dog.

Dogs figure prominently in the lives of kings and "can also be found among objects of daily life," such as toys and game pieces.

Burials of dogs in ancient Egypt were not uncommon.

Shanley said, "Not only were dogs loved and cared for in this life, but by including them in funerary arts and [by] giving them their own grave goods, owners hoped that their pets could accompany them and share in the afterlife."

Apart from their depiction on funeral reliefs, dogs were shown hunting in the desert with their owners, helping herders in the field, guarding their owners and providing companionship.

Like dogs, dwarves had a special place in Egyptian society. Shanley said, "It's interesting to keep in mind that the burials of dogs and dwarves were treated similarly in [Egypt's] First Dynasty, both in terms of their locations near the burials of kings and the quality of their grave goods."

Dwarves in the Old Kingdom were commonly employed to make jewelry, act as personal attendants and to tend household pets. Their depiction was fairly realistic, she said. "They may be shown with bowed legs, short limbs, a thick torso and large head."

Being a dwarf did not disqualify one from holding important offices. And Shanley noted, quoting an ancient Egyptian, "Although dwarves were singled out in art, they were not to be an object of ridicule. ‘Laugh not at a blind man nor tease a dwarf'."

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