On Hunting, by Xenophon


There are two breeds of sporting dogs: the Castorian and the fox-like.1 The former get their name from Castor, in memory of the delight he took in the business of the chase, for which he kept this breed by preference.2 The other breed is literally foxy, being the progeny originally of the dog and the fox, whose natures have in the course of ages become blent.3

Both species present a large proportion of defective animals4 which fall short of the type, as being under-sized, or crook-nosed,5 or gray-eyed,6 or near-sighted, or ungainly, or stiff-jointed, or deficient in strength, thin-haired, lanky, disproportioned, devoid of pluck or of nose, or unsound of foot. To particularise: an under-sized dog will, ten to one, break off from the chase7 faint and flagging in the performance of his duty owing to mere diminutiveness. An aquiline nose means no mouth, and consequently an inability to hold the hare fast.8 A blinking bluish eye implies defect of vision;9 just as want of shape means ugliness.10 The stiff-limbed dog will come home limping from the hunting-field;11 just as want of strength and thinness of coat go hand in hand with incapacity for toil.12 The lanky-legged, unsymmetrical dog, with his shambling gait and ill-compacted frame, ranges heavily; while the spiritless animal will leave his work to skulk off out of the sun into shade and lie down. Want of nose means scenting the hare with difficulty, or only once in a way; and however courageous he may be, a hound with unsound feet cannot stand the work, but through foot-soreness will eventually give in.13

Similarly many different modes of hunting a line of scent are to be seen in the same species of hound.14 One dog as soon as he has found the trail will go along without sign or symptom to show that he is on the scent; another will vibrate his ears only and keep his tail15 perfectly still; while a third has just the opposite propensity: he will keep his ears still and wag with the tip of his tail. Others draw their ears together, and assuming a solemn air,16 drop their tails, tuck them between their legs, and scour along the line. Many do nothing of the sort.17 They tear madly about, babbling round the line when they light upon it, and senselessly trampling out the scent. Others again will make wide circuits and excursions; either forecasting the line,18 they overshoot it and leave the hare itself behind, or every time they run against the line they fall to conjecture, and when they catch sight of the quarry are all in a tremor,19 and will not advance a step till they see the creature begin to stir.

A particular sort may be described as hounds which, when hunting or pursuing, run forward with a frequent eye to the discoveries of the rest of the pack, because they have no confidence in themselves. Another sort is over-confident — not letting the cleverer members of the pack go on ahead, but keeping them back with nonsensical clamour. Others will wilfully hug every false scent,20 and with a tremendous display of eagerness, whatever they chance upon, will take the lead, conscious all the while they are playing false;21 whilst another sort again will behave in a precisely similar style out of sheer ignorance.22 It is a poor sort of hound which will not leave a stale line23 for want of recognising the true trail. So, too, a hound that cannot distinguish the trail leading to a hare’s form, and scampers over that of a running hare, hot haste, is no thoroughbred.24

When it comes to the actual chase, some hounds will show great ardour at first starting, but presently give up from weakness of spirit. Others will run in too hastily25 and then balk; and go hopelessly astray, as if they had lost the sense of hearing altogether.

Many a hound will give up the chase and return from mere distaste for hunting,26 and not a few from pure affection for mankind. Others with their clamorous yelping on the line do their best to deceive, as if true and false were all one to them.27 There are others that will not do that, but which in the middle of their running,28 should they catch the echo of a sound from some other quarter, will leave their own business and incontinently tear off towards it.29 The fact is,30 they run on without clear motive, some of them; others taking too much for granted; and a third set to suit their whims and fancies. Others simply play at hunting; or from pure jealousy, keep questing about beside the line, continually rushing along and tumbling over one another.31

The majority of these defects are due to natural disposition, though some must be assigned no doubt to want of scientific training. In either case such hounds are useless, and may well deter the keenest sportsman from the hunting field.32

The characters, bodily and other, exhibited by the finer specimens of the same breed,33 I will now set forth.

1 Kastoriai, or Laconian, approaching possibly the harrier type; alopekides, i.e. vulpocanine, hybrid between fox and dog.

2 Or, “get their appellation from the fact that Castor took delight in the business of the chase, and kept this breed specially for the purpose.” Al. diephulaxen, “propagated and preserved the breed which we now have.” See Darwin, “Animals and Plants under Domestication,” ii. 202, 209.

3 Or, “and through lapse of time the twofold characteristics of their progenitors have become blent.” See Timoth. Gaz. ap. Schneid. ad loc. for an ancient superstition as to breeds.

4 Or, “defective specimens (that is to say, the majority) are to be noted, as follows.”

5 grupai.

6 kharopoi. Al. Arrian, iv. 4, 5.

7 Or, “will probably retire from the chase and throw up the business through mere diminutiveness.”

8 Or, “a hook-nosed (? pig-jawed, see Stonehenge, “The Dog,” p. 19, 4th ed.) dog has a bad mouth and cannot hold.”

9 Or, “a short-sighted, wall-eyed dog has defective vision.”

10 Or, “they are weedy, ugly brutes as a rule.”

11 Or, “stiffness of limbs means he will come off.” Cf. “Mem.” III. xiii. 6.

12 Lit. “a weak, thinly-haired animal is incapable of severe toil.”

13 Or, “Nor will courage compensate for unsound feet. The toil and moil will be too great to endure, and owing to the pains in his feet he will in the end give in.”

14 Or, “Also the same dogs will exhibit many styles of coursing: one set as soon as they have got the trail pursue it without a sign, so there is no means of finding out that the animal is on the track.”

15 “Stern.”

16 Or “with their noses solemnly fixed on the ground and sterns lowered.”

17 Or, “have quite a different action”; “exhibit quite another manner.”

18 i.e. “they cast forwards to make short cuts,” of skirters too lazy to run the line honestly.

19 Reading tremousi, “fall a-trembling”; al. atremousi, stand stock-still”; i.e. are “dwellers.”

20 Al. “seem to take pleasure in fondling every lie.”

21 Or, “fully aware themselves that the whole thing is a make-believe.”

22 Or, “do exactly the same thing because they do not know any better.”

23 ek ton trimmon. Lit. “keep away from beaten paths,” and commonly of footpaths, but here apparently of the hare’s habitual “run,” not necessarily lately traversed, still less the true line.

24 Lit. “A dog who on the one hand ignores the form track, and on the other tears swiftly over a running track, is not a well-bred dog.” Al. ta eunaia, “traces of the form”; ta dromaia, “tracks of a running hare.” See Sturz. s.v. dromaios.

25 So L. & S., upotheousin = “cut in before” the rest of the pack and over-run the scent. Al. “flash in for a time, and then lose the scent.”

26 Or, misotheron, “out of antipathy to the quarry.” For philanthropon cf. Pollux, ib. 64; Hermog. ap. L. Dind.

27 Or, “unable apparently to distinguish false from true.” See Sturz, s.v. poieisthai. Cf. Plut. “de Exil.” 6. Al. “Gaily substituting false for true.”

28 “In the heat of the chase.”

29 “Rush to attack it.”

30 The fact is, there are as many different modes of following up the chase almost as there are dogs. Some follow up the chase asaphos, indistinctly; some polu upolambanousai, with a good deal of guess-work; others again doxazousai, without conviction, insincerely; others, peplasmenos, out of mere pretence, pure humbug, make-believe, or phthoneros, in a fit of jealousy, ekkunousi, are skirters; al. ekkinousi, Sturz, quit the scent.

31 Al. “unceasingly tearing along, around, and about it.”

32 Or, “Naturally, dogs like these damp the sportsman’s ardour, and indeed are enough to sicken him altogether with the chase.”

33 Or, “The features, points, qualities, whether physical or other, which characterise the better indidivuals.” But what does Xenophon mean by tou autou genous?


Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 14:22