Gone to the dogs in ancient India

by Stephanie W. Jamison
Gone to the dogs in ancient India
Stephanie W. Jamison
Journal of the American Oriental Society
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Reviewed work(s): Gone to the Dogs in Ancient India by Willem BollĂ©e

Gone to the Dogs in Ancient India. By WILLEM BOLLEE. Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Philosophich-historische Klasse, Sitzungsberichte, 2006, no. 2. Munich: VERLAG DER BAYDERISCHEN AKADEMIE DER WISSENSCHAFTEN, 2006. Pp. 135.
This delectable grab-bag of all things canine ranges even further than its title suggests--across millennia (from the Indus Valley civilization to modern ethnographic data), languages (as might be expected from the author, it is especially strong in Middle Indo-Aryan in addition to Sanskrit, but the Classical and modern languages of Europe are also represented), texts, and continents. Over many years of broad reading, the author has "collected accidentally" (p. 6) references to dogs in all manner of literature, which he has organized under various loose
headings, e.g., types and designations for dogs, body parts and their functions, nature and behavior, human-canine relationships, dogs in literature, dogs in art, etc. But the organization is scarcely the point: this is a work to dip into at random, and some of the pleasure comes from the unpredictable juxtaposition of the tidbits. A single brief paragraph, this one concerning the dog in similes (pp. 79-80), offers up citations from several Prakrit texts, a Sanskrit maxim compared to a modern English proverb, a snippet from the Mahabharata and one from the Atharva Veda, a quotation from Bilhana, another from a Pali text, another from Hala, the ancient Indian dicing match, the northern European Totentier, and one of Carl Jung's dreams! (And I have left out a few.)
Though it is always good simply to be reminded just how much fun our field is, this little book teaches, not so much explicitly as by example, a more serious lesson: that, though most Indologists probably think of the dog in ancient and medieval Indian culture simply as unclean and ill-omened, there was a much larger variety of responses to the animal, and it bore many different kinds of cultural freight. And the many types of contexts in which the dog appears also testify to how easy it was to project cultural meanings onto the dog, as onto animals in general in ancient India (as was demonstrated also by the varied contributions to the 2002 Paris conference "Penser, dire et representer I' animal dans le monde indien," whose proceedings unfortunately remain unpublished).
Since this little work has a broader appeal than most contributions to German learned societies, it is a pity that there was no attempt to make it easy of access to the casual, non-professional reader. There is no key to the abbreviations of the manifold texts cited, and I confess that a number of them defeated me. Most text citations are untranslated, whatever their language, and there is no passage index or bibliography of text editions or translations. (To be fair, any of these readers' aids would have added considerable bulk to the volume.) There is a subject index, and simply browsing that (from "abortionist should carry fur of dog on his head" through "Zara[theta]ustra") is a romp.
The author's love of dogs and love of Indology come through in equal measure, and he seems to have enjoyed compiling this little work as much as I enjoyed reading it.
COPYRIGHT 2007 American Oriental Society

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