As Boston Dynamics’ robot dog named Spot begins to patrol the ruins of Pompeii, we are reminded that there is hardly an inch of ancient history which is not without its snarling companion.
Cerberus may win the Most Famous Canine Unit competition, but he is not the only dog figure to dog the ancient imagination. If Cerberus was the dog of the Underworld, then the two related constellations of Canis Major (Greater Dog) and Canis Minor (the Lesser Dog), essentially Big Dog and Little Puppy, graced the heavens over the ancient Mediterranean.
The Greater Dog was, and still is, unmissable due to Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, which the ancients associated with the eye of the dog. If Cerberus is watching the entrance to Hades, Canis Major, or Laelaps as he was sometimes known to the Greeks, stood guard over sailors’ sense of direction.
Coincidentally, Sirius was represented by the Egyptians with a triangle, which transliterates as Spdt, the ancient iteration of the LiDAR-equipped Spot now checking the weaknesses of ancient ruins.
Beware of the dog, cave canem, reads one of the most famous Latin mosaics in Pompeii. The teeth of the warning may have gone blunt over the centuries in the volcanic ashes, but the dog is still there. And we take heed.