Ancient Epitaph to a Dog

atkins-bookshelf-quotationsMytilene is an ancient city in Greece founded in 1054 BC (according to Homer), that is the capital of the island of Lesbo.  The city’s two famous citizens were the poets Alcaeus and Sappho. Sappho (630-570 BC) was regarded as one of the greatest lyric poets. Her poetry focuses on love (especially unrequited love) and epics (retellings of Homer’s epics). Two other notable people from history visited briefly: Aristotle, who tutored Alexander the Great, lived there from 337 to 335 BC; and Paul the Apostle visited during a missionary trip in 56 AD. For those of you smirking when you read Lesbo, yes — a resident from Lesbo is referred to as a Lesbian, from the Greek lesbios meaning “of Lesbos.” And no — women from Lesbo were not homosexuals (although as in any population, they were represented by some percentage). The modern use of the term (female homosexuality) was first recorded in a medical dictionary in 1890. But we digress.

In the fall of 1880 a group of workers was digging in the cellar of a mill located in the ancient city and discovered a beautiful stone tombstone. After the dirt was removed, they recognized the figure of a dog in bas-relief above a neatly engraved inscription. A few months later, a group of archaeologists who were exploring nearby monuments were able to translate the inscription. The touching epitaph was written by a young man from Lesbos, Anaxeos, dedicated to the memory of his beloved dog, Parthenope.

Parthenope his dog, with whom in life
It was his wont to play, Anaxeos here
Hath buried; for the pleasure that she gave
Bestowing this return. Affection, then,
Even in a dog, possesseth its reward,
Such as she hath who, ever in her life
Kind to her master, now receives this tomb.
See, then, thou make some friend, who in thy life
Will love thee well, and care for thee when dead.

Read related posts: Lord Byron’s Epitaph to a Dog
The Best Dog Novels
Best Movies for Dog Lovers

For further reading: The Classical Compendium by Philip Matyszak (2009); Sappho


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