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Stories from Pliny, edited by Andrew Lang


Now there was living at Rome, under the Emperors Vespasian and Titus (A.D. 69-81) a man called Pliny, who gave up his life to the study of animals and plants. He not only watched their habits for himself, but he listened eagerly to all that travellers would tell him, and sometimes happened to believe too much, and wrote in his book things that were not true. Still there were a great many facts which he had found out for himself, and the stories he tells about animals are of interest to every one, partly because it seems strange to think that dogs and horses and other creatures were just the same then as they are now.

The dogs that Pliny writes about lived in all parts of the Roman Empire, and were as faithful and devoted to their masters as our dogs are to us. One dog called Hyrcanus, belonging to King Lysimachus, one of the successors of Alexander the Great, jumped on to the funeral pyre on which lay burning the dead body of his master. And so did another dog at the burial of Hiero of Syracuse. But during the lifetime of Pliny himself, a dog’s devotion in the heart of Rome had touched even the Roman citizens, ashamed though they generally were of showing their feelings. It had happened that a plot against the life of Nero had been discovered, and the chief conspirator, Titus Sabinus by name, was put to death, together with some of his servants. One of these men had a dog of which he was very fond, and from the  moment the man was thrown into prison, the dog could not be persuaded to move away from the door. At last there came a day when the man suffered the cruel death common in Rome for such offences, and was thrown down a steep flight of stairs, where he broke his neck. A crowd of Romans had gathered round the place of execution, in order to see the sight, and in the midst of them all the dog managed to reach his master’s side, and lay there, howling piteously. Then one of the crowd, moved with pity, threw the dog a piece of meat, but he only took it, and laid it across his master’s mouth. By-and-bye, the men came for the body in order to throw it into the river Tiber, and even then the dog followed and swam after it, and held it up and tried to bring it to land, till the people came out in multitudes from the houses round about, to see what it was to be faithful unto death—and beyond it.