Greyhounds through History

Greyhounds have a noble history; they have been depicted in art, idolised and loved for thousands of years. Here, we have compiled some interesting images and stories from historical texts, to show the fascination people have had with Greyhounds and how they have been depicted.


Boy With A Greyhound, but Paolo Veronese

Few breeds can boast the longevity of fame enjoyed by the Greyhound. Although a lot of the information is theoretical, there are some accepted ideas about where the breed came from.
The first question I’m often asked is ‘Why are they called a Greyhound? They’re not all grey!?’
Well, the accepted explanation is only half clear. The name began as Grighund; ‘hund’ being the Old English antecedent to ‘hound’ - but the ‘grig’ is a mystery. It certainly bears no relation to the colour grey; only that it was a word related somehow to dogs in Old Norse. According to linguist Julius Pokorny – who was obviously a greyhound fan – the name means ‘fair dog’, based on several derivations of ‘grig’ from languages as far removed as Old Irish, German, Icelandic and Slavonic.

We do know that the greyhound is the first dog mentioned in literature; and the only dog mentioned in the bible.

The first mention of any canine breed in literature takes us back to the late 8th century BCE, in Homer’s ‘The Odyssey’, which told the story of Odysseus returning home from the fall of Troy to find the first to recognise him was his Greyhound “Argus”, who was only a puppy when he left home.

The Odyssey


As they were speaking, a dog that had been lying asleep raised his head and pricked up his ears. This was Argos, whom Odysseus had bred before setting out for Troy, but he had never had any enjoyment from him. In the old days he used to be taken out by the young men when they went hunting wild goats, or deer, or hares, but now that his master was gone he was lying neglected on the heaps of mule and cow dung that lay in front of the stable doors till the men should come and draw it away to manure the great close; and he was full of fleas. As soon as he saw Odysseus standing there, he dropped his ears and wagged his tail, but he could not get close up to his master. When Odysseus saw the dog on the other side of the yard, dashed a tear from his eyes without Eumaeus seeing it, and said:
'Eumaeus, what a noble hound that is over yonder on the manure heap: his build is splendid; is he as fine a fellow as he looks, or is he only one of those dogs that come begging about a table, and are kept merely for show?'
'This dog,' answered Eumaeus, 'belonged to him who has died in a far country. If he were what he was when Odysseus left for Troy, he would soon show you what he could do. There was not a wild beast in the forest that could get away from him when he was once on its tracks. But now he has fallen on evil times, for his master is dead and gone, and the women take no care of him. Servants never do their work when their master's hand is no longer over them, for Zeus takes half the goodness out of a man when he makes a slave of him.'
So saying he entered the well-built mansion, and made straight for the riotous pretenders in the hall. But Argos passed into the darkness of death, now that he had fulfilled his destiny of faith and seen his master once more after twenty years.
—Homer, Odyssey, Book 17, lines 290-32

Our dog is also – famously - the only breed of dog mentioned in the bible (King James version, Proverbs 30:29-31)
There be three things which do well, yea,
Which are comely in going;
A lion, which is strongest among beasts and
Turneth not away from any;
A greyhound;
And a he goat also; and a king, against whom there is no rising up



In Egypt, the greyhound was used as an emblem, often in tombs, at the feet of the effigies of gentlemen, symbolising the knightly virtues (faith), occupations (hunting) and generally the aristocratic way of life. Where tombs are concerned, the greyhound always was associated with knighthood (along with the lion, symbolising strength) and never with ladies, who generally were associated with the little lap-dog (symbol of marital faithfulness and domestic virtue).

It is believed the dogs were introduced to England in the 5th or 6th century as sighthounds. With their excellent eyesight, they were highly valued for hunting.



Geoffrey Chaucer also mentioned the greyhound in ‘Canterbury Tales’ (1389?), where the Monk reportedly spent great sums on his greyhounds:

'...Greyhounds he hadde as swifte as fowel in flight;

Of prikyng and of huntyng for the hare

Was al his lust, for no cost wolde he spare...'



Greyhounds nearly became extinct during times of famine in the Middle Ages but were protected and bred, predominantly by members of the clergy, for the nobility. Hence, they became ‘The Noble Breed’, considered the dogs of the aristocracy.


Image from The Book of the Hunt by Gaston Phoebus c1500


In the tenth century, King Howel of Wales made killing a greyhound punishable by death. King Canute of England established the Forest Laws in 1014, reserving large areas of the country for hunting by the nobility; the only people who could own greyhounds. Any ‘meane person’ (commoner) caught owning a greyhound would be severely punished and the dog's toes ‘lawed’ (mutilated) to prevent it from hunting.


The value of a Greyhound exceeded that of a serf, and the punishment for causing death of a Greyhound was equivalent to the punishment for murder.

Edmund de Langley's Mayster of Game, AD 1370, described the ideal greyhound (in Middle English!)

'...The Greihound should have a long hede and somedele grete, ymaked in the manner of a luce; a good large mouth and good sessours, the one again the other, so that the nether jaws passe not them above, ne that thei above passe not him neither.
The neck should be grete and long, and bowed as a swanne's neck.
Her shuldres as a roebuck; the for leggs streght and gret ynow, and nought to hind legges; the feet straught and round as a catte, and great cleas; the boones and the joynetes of the cheyne grete and hard as the chyne of an hert; the thighs great and squarred as an hare; the houghs steight, and not crompyng as of an oxe.
A catte's tayle, making a ring at eend, but not to hie.
Of all manere of Greihondes there byn both good and evel; Natheless the best hewe is rede falow, with a black moselle...'

Historical Collars


Langley presented this book to the future King Henry V of England. Henry reportedly was a big fan of greyhounds; perhaps William Shakespeare knew this when, two centuries later, in his play Henry V, he had the king comparing people to coursing greyhounds in his speech to his troops just before the Battle of Harfleur:


I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start.
The game's afoot.

Henry VII, the first Tudor monarch (1485-1509), made unauthorised hunting in private forests a felony punishable by death if the offense was committed at night, so commoners who hunted with greyhounds in defiance of these laws favoured dogs whose colouring made them harder to spot: black, red, fawn, and brindle. Nobles by contrast favoured white and spotted dogs who could be spotted and recovered more easily if lost in the forest.
It became common among the English aristocracy to say, "You could tell a gentleman by his horses and his greyhounds".

For Henry VIII, hunting provided a chance to escape from the cares of politics with a few friends:

Pastime with good company
I love and shall until I die
Grudge to lust, but none deny
So God be pleased, thus live will I
For my pastance,
Hunt, sing and dance,
My heart is set,
All goodly sport
For my comfort:
Who shall me let?


Henry VIII

The pursuit of animals on horseback or on foot, more than other types of hunting, was important because it provided good exercise, or 'valiaunt motion of the spirites' by which 'all thinges superfluous be expelled, and the conduits of the body clensed'. Riding at speed gave the hunter such exercise, while he was necessarily out in fresh air, which, according to the early Tudor physician Andrew Boorde was an essential element in healthy living. Not all hunting was deemed useful for the gentleman in this respect, however. English scholar Sir Thomas Elyot (1490-1546) wrote, rather contemptuously, that
'Hunting of the hare with greyhounds is a right good solace for men that be studious ... and also for gentlewomen, who fear neither sun nor wind for impairing their beauties.'

Coursing - hunting by sight instead of scent - became popular during the sixteenth century, but has roots in ancient Greece. It’s a sport valued for the contest more than the catching of the prey. The Greek historian Arrian of Nicomedia, as early as 100CE, wrote in his work Cynegeticus: "For coursers, such at least as are true sportsmen, do not take their dogs out for the sake of catching a hare, but for the contest and sport of coursing, and are glad if the hare meets with an escape".

Queen Elizabeth had Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, draw up rules judging competitive coursing. These rules established such things as the hare's head start and the ways in which the two hounds' speed, agility and concentration would be judged against one another. Winning was not necessarily dependent on catching the hare; often the hare escaped. Wagers were commonly placed on the racing dogs. These rules were still in effect when the first official coursing club was founded in 1776 at Swaffham, Norfolk, England.

Alfred Dedreux


Unlike Elizabeth, King James I preferred hunting to hard work and was an avid fan of coursing. Having heard about the strength of the local hares, he brought his greyhounds to the village of Fordham, near the border of Suffolk and Cambridge, to a private competition between the King's greyhounds. Races between the horses of his followers became as important as the matches between the King's greyhounds; beginning the tradition of competitive racing in Newmarket.

English physician John Caius' notes to the Swiss naturalist Conrad Gesner, written in 1570, describe the appearance and abilities of the English greyhound:

'...Of the dog, called the greyhound; in Latin, Leporarius [literally, "hare-hunter"]. Here is another kind of dog which, for his incredible swiftness, is call Leporarius, a greyhound; because the principal service of them dependeth and consisteth in starting and hunting the hare: which dogs likewise are embued with no less strength than lightness in maintenance of game, in serving the chase, in taking the buck, the hare, the doe, the fox, and other beasts of semblable kind ordained for the game of hunting. But more or less, each one according to the measure and proportion of their desire; and as might and hability of their bodies will permit and suffer. For it is a spare and bare kind of dog (of flesh, but not of bone); some are of a greater sort and some lesser; some are smooth skinned and some are curled. The bigger therefore are appointed to hunt the bigger beasts, and the smaller serve to hunt the smaller accordingly...'


In the late sixteenth century, poet Gervase Markham wrote that greyhounds
'...are of all dogs whatsoever the most noble and princely, strong, nimble, swift and valiant; and though of slender and very fine proportions, yet so well knit and coupled together, and so seconded with spirit and mettle, that they are master of all other dogs whatsoever....'



Primely Sceptre


Moving forward in time, did you know it was also a greyhound - Primeley Sceptre (right) - who won the first ever 'Best in Show' at Crufts in 1928?




Sources:

National Film and Sound Archives
www.tudorplace.com.ar/Documents/hunting.htm
History of the Greyhound Through the Ages; greyhoundstories.com/greyhound-history/
Williams, James: Hunting, Hawking and the Early Tudor Gentleman History Today, 00182753, Aug 2003, Vol. 53, Issue 8
Ridley, Jasper. The Tudor Age. New York: The Overlook Press, 1988
www.happyhoundstraining.co.uk/retired-racing-greyhounds/





Greyhounds have a noble history; they have been depicted in art, idolised and loved for thousands of years. Here, we have compiled some interesting images and stories from historical texts, to show the fascination people have had with Greyhounds and how they have been depicted.


Boy With A Greyhound, but Paolo Veronese

Few breeds can boast the longevity of fame enjoyed by the Greyhound. Although a lot of the information is theoretical, there are some accepted ideas about where the breed came from.
The first question I’m often asked is ‘Why are they called a Greyhound? They’re not all grey!?’
Well, the accepted explanation is only half clear. The name began as Grighund; ‘hund’ being the Old English antecedent to ‘hound’ - but the ‘grig’ is a mystery. It certainly bears no relation to the colour grey; only that it was a word related somehow to dogs in Old Norse. According to linguist Julius Pokorny – who was obviously a greyhound fan – the name means ‘fair dog’, based on several derivations of ‘grig’ from languages as far removed as Old Irish, German, Icelandic and Slavonic.

We do know that the greyhound is the first dog mentioned in literature; and the only dog mentioned in the bible.

The first mention of any canine breed in literature takes us back to the late 8th century BCE, in Homer’s ‘The Odyssey’, which told the story of Odysseus returning home from the fall of Troy to find the first to recognise him was his Greyhound “Argus”, who was only a puppy when he left home.

The Odyssey


As they were speaking, a dog that had been lying asleep raised his head and pricked up his ears. This was Argos, whom Odysseus had bred before setting out for Troy, but he had never had any enjoyment from him. In the old days he used to be taken out by the young men when they went hunting wild goats, or deer, or hares, but now that his master was gone he was lying neglected on the heaps of mule and cow dung that lay in front of the stable doors till the men should come and draw it away to manure the great close; and he was full of fleas. As soon as he saw Odysseus standing there, he dropped his ears and wagged his tail, but he could not get close up to his master. When Odysseus saw the dog on the other side of the yard, dashed a tear from his eyes without Eumaeus seeing it, and said:
'Eumaeus, what a noble hound that is over yonder on the manure heap: his build is splendid; is he as fine a fellow as he looks, or is he only one of those dogs that come begging about a table, and are kept merely for show?'
'This dog,' answered Eumaeus, 'belonged to him who has died in a far country. If he were what he was when Odysseus left for Troy, he would soon show you what he could do. There was not a wild beast in the forest that could get away from him when he was once on its tracks. But now he has fallen on evil times, for his master is dead and gone, and the women take no care of him. Servants never do their work when their master's hand is no longer over them, for Zeus takes half the goodness out of a man when he makes a slave of him.'
So saying he entered the well-built mansion, and made straight for the riotous pretenders in the hall. But Argos passed into the darkness of death, now that he had fulfilled his destiny of faith and seen his master once more after twenty years.
—Homer, Odyssey, Book 17, lines 290-32

Our dog is also – famously - the only breed of dog mentioned in the bible (King James version, Proverbs 30:29-31)
There be three things which do well, yea,
Which are comely in going;
A lion, which is strongest among beasts and
Turneth not away from any;
A greyhound;
And a he goat also; and a king, against whom there is no rising up



In Egypt, the greyhound was used as an emblem, often in tombs, at the feet of the effigies of gentlemen, symbolising the knightly virtues (faith), occupations (hunting) and generally the aristocratic way of life. Where tombs are concerned, the greyhound always was associated with knighthood (along with the lion, symbolising strength) and never with ladies, who generally were associated with the little lap-dog (symbol of marital faithfulness and domestic virtue).

It is believed the dogs were introduced to England in the 5th or 6th century as sighthounds. With their excellent eyesight, they were highly valued for hunting.



Geoffrey Chaucer also mentioned the greyhound in ‘Canterbury Tales’ (1389?), where the Monk reportedly spent great sums on his greyhounds:

'...Greyhounds he hadde as swifte as fowel in flight;

Of prikyng and of huntyng for the hare

Was al his lust, for no cost wolde he spare...'



Greyhounds nearly became extinct during times of famine in the Middle Ages but were protected and bred, predominantly by members of the clergy, for the nobility. Hence, they became ‘The Noble Breed’, considered the dogs of the aristocracy.


Image from The Book of the Hunt by Gaston Phoebus c1500


In the tenth century, King Howel of Wales made killing a greyhound punishable by death. King Canute of England established the Forest Laws in 1014, reserving large areas of the country for hunting by the nobility; the only people who could own greyhounds. Any ‘meane person’ (commoner) caught owning a greyhound would be severely punished and the dog's toes ‘lawed’ (mutilated) to prevent it from hunting.


The value of a Greyhound exceeded that of a serf, and the punishment for causing death of a Greyhound was equivalent to the punishment for murder.

Edmund de Langley's Mayster of Game, AD 1370, described the ideal greyhound (in Middle English!)

'...The Greihound should have a long hede and somedele grete, ymaked in the manner of a luce; a good large mouth and good sessours, the one again the other, so that the nether jaws passe not them above, ne that thei above passe not him neither.
The neck should be grete and long, and bowed as a swanne's neck.
Her shuldres as a roebuck; the for leggs streght and gret ynow, and nought to hind legges; the feet straught and round as a catte, and great cleas; the boones and the joynetes of the cheyne grete and hard as the chyne of an hert; the thighs great and squarred as an hare; the houghs steight, and not crompyng as of an oxe.
A catte's tayle, making a ring at eend, but not to hie.
Of all manere of Greihondes there byn both good and evel; Natheless the best hewe is rede falow, with a black moselle...'

Historical Collars


Langley presented this book to the future King Henry V of England. Henry reportedly was a big fan of greyhounds; perhaps William Shakespeare knew this when, two centuries later, in his play Henry V, he had the king comparing people to coursing greyhounds in his speech to his troops just before the Battle of Harfleur:


I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start.
The game's afoot.

Henry VII, the first Tudor monarch (1485-1509), made unauthorised hunting in private forests a felony punishable by death if the offense was committed at night, so commoners who hunted with greyhounds in defiance of these laws favoured dogs whose colouring made them harder to spot: black, red, fawn, and brindle. Nobles by contrast favoured white and spotted dogs who could be spotted and recovered more easily if lost in the forest.
It became common among the English aristocracy to say, "You could tell a gentleman by his horses and his greyhounds".

For Henry VIII, hunting provided a chance to escape from the cares of politics with a few friends:

Pastime with good company
I love and shall until I die
Grudge to lust, but none deny
So God be pleased, thus live will I
For my pastance,
Hunt, sing and dance,
My heart is set,
All goodly sport
For my comfort:
Who shall me let?


Henry VIII

The pursuit of animals on horseback or on foot, more than other types of hunting, was important because it provided good exercise, or 'valiaunt motion of the spirites' by which 'all thinges superfluous be expelled, and the conduits of the body clensed'. Riding at speed gave the hunter such exercise, while he was necessarily out in fresh air, which, according to the early Tudor physician Andrew Boorde was an essential element in healthy living. Not all hunting was deemed useful for the gentleman in this respect, however. English scholar Sir Thomas Elyot (1490-1546) wrote, rather contemptuously, that
'Hunting of the hare with greyhounds is a right good solace for men that be studious ... and also for gentlewomen, who fear neither sun nor wind for impairing their beauties.'

Coursing - hunting by sight instead of scent - became popular during the sixteenth century, but has roots in ancient Greece. It’s a sport valued for the contest more than the catching of the prey. The Greek historian Arrian of Nicomedia, as early as 100CE, wrote in his work Cynegeticus: "For coursers, such at least as are true sportsmen, do not take their dogs out for the sake of catching a hare, but for the contest and sport of coursing, and are glad if the hare meets with an escape".

Queen Elizabeth had Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, draw up rules judging competitive coursing. These rules established such things as the hare's head start and the ways in which the two hounds' speed, agility and concentration would be judged against one another. Winning was not necessarily dependent on catching the hare; often the hare escaped. Wagers were commonly placed on the racing dogs. These rules were still in effect when the first official coursing club was founded in 1776 at Swaffham, Norfolk, England.

Alfred Dedreux


Unlike Elizabeth, King James I preferred hunting to hard work and was an avid fan of coursing. Having heard about the strength of the local hares, he brought his greyhounds to the village of Fordham, near the border of Suffolk and Cambridge, to a private competition between the King's greyhounds. Races between the horses of his followers became as important as the matches between the King's greyhounds; beginning the tradition of competitive racing in Newmarket.

English physician John Caius' notes to the Swiss naturalist Conrad Gesner, written in 1570, describe the appearance and abilities of the English greyhound:

'...Of the dog, called the greyhound; in Latin, Leporarius [literally, "hare-hunter"]. Here is another kind of dog which, for his incredible swiftness, is call Leporarius, a greyhound; because the principal service of them dependeth and consisteth in starting and hunting the hare: which dogs likewise are embued with no less strength than lightness in maintenance of game, in serving the chase, in taking the buck, the hare, the doe, the fox, and other beasts of semblable kind ordained for the game of hunting. But more or less, each one according to the measure and proportion of their desire; and as might and hability of their bodies will permit and suffer. For it is a spare and bare kind of dog (of flesh, but not of bone); some are of a greater sort and some lesser; some are smooth skinned and some are curled. The bigger therefore are appointed to hunt the bigger beasts, and the smaller serve to hunt the smaller accordingly...'


In the late sixteenth century, poet Gervase Markham wrote that greyhounds
'...are of all dogs whatsoever the most noble and princely, strong, nimble, swift and valiant; and though of slender and very fine proportions, yet so well knit and coupled together, and so seconded with spirit and mettle, that they are master of all other dogs whatsoever....'



Primely Sceptre


Moving forward in time, did you know it was also a greyhound - Primeley Sceptre (right) - who won the first ever 'Best in Show' at Crufts in 1928?




Sources:

National Film and Sound Archives
www.tudorplace.com.ar/Documents/hunting.htm
History of the Greyhound Through the Ages; greyhoundstories.com/greyhound-history/
Williams, James: Hunting, Hawking and the Early Tudor Gentleman History Today, 00182753, Aug 2003, Vol. 53, Issue 8
Ridley, Jasper. The Tudor Age. New York: The Overlook Press, 1988
www.happyhoundstraining.co.uk/retired-racing-greyhounds/