On Hunting, by Xenophon


The equipment of the dogs consists of collar straps, leashes, and surcingles,1 and the collar should be broad and soft so as not to rub the dog’s coat; the leash should have a noose for the hand,2 and nothing else. The plan of making collar and leash all in one is a clumsy contrivance for keeping a hound in check.3 The surcingle should be broad in the thongs so as not to gall the hound’s flanks, and with spurs stitched on to the leather, to preserve the purity of the breed.4

As to taking the hounds out to hunt, no hound ought to be taken out which refuses its food, a conclusive proof that the animal is ailing. Nor again, when a violent wind is blowing, for three good reasons: the scent will not lie, the hounds cannot smell,5 neither the nets nor hayes will stand. In the absence, however, of any of these hindrances, take them out every other day.6 Do not let your hounds get into the habit of hunting foxes. Nothing is so ruinous; and just at the moment when you want them, they will not be forthcoming. On the other hand, vary the hunting-ground in taking them out; which will give the pack a wider experience in hunting and their master a better knowledge of the country. The start should be early in the morning, unless the scent is to fail the hounds entirely.7 The dilatory sportsman robs the pack of finding and himself of profit.8 Subtle and delicate by nature, scent will not last all day.

The net-keeper should wear a light costume. His business is to fix the nets about the runs,9 paths, bends, and hollows, and darksome spots, brooks, dry torrents, or perennial mountain streams. These are the places to which the hare chiefly betakes itself for refuge; though there are of course endless others. These, and the side passages into, and exits from them, whether well marked or ill defined, are to be stopped just as day breaks; not too early, so that, in case the line of nets be in the neighbourhood of covert to be searched for game,10 the animal may not be scared at hearing the thud close by.11 If, on the contrary, there should be a wide gap between the two points, there is less to hinder making the net lines clear and clean quite early, so that nothing may cling to them. The keeper must fix the forked props slantwise, so as to stand the strain when subjected to tension. He must attach the nooses equally on the points; and see that the props are regularly fixed, raising the pouch towards the middle;12 and into the slip-rope he must insert a large, long stone, to prevent the net from stretching in the opposite direction, when it has got the hare inside. He will fix the rows of poles with stretches of net sufficiently high to prevent the creature leaping over.13 In hunting, “no procrastination” should be the motto, since it is sportsmanlike at once and a proof of energy by all means to effect a capture quickly. He will stretch the larger (haye) nets upon level spaces; and proceed to plant the road nets upon roads and at converging points of tracks and footpaths;14 he must attach the border-ropes to the ground, draw together the elbows or side ends of the nets, fix the forked props between the upper meshes,15 adjust the skirting ropes upon the tops, and close up gaps.

Then he will play sentinel and go his rounds; if a prop or funnel wants supporting, he will set it up; and when the hare comes with the hounds behind her he will urge her forwards to the toils, with shout and halloa thundering at her heels. When she is fairly entangled, he is to calm the fury of the hounds, without touching them, by soothing, encouraging tones. He is also to signal to the huntsman with a shout, that the quarry is taken, or has escaped this side or that, or that he has not seen it, or where he last caught sight of it.16

The sportsman himself should sally forth in a loose, light hunting dress,17 and footgear18 to match; he should carry a stout stick in his hand, the net-keeper following. They should proceed to the hunting-field in silence, to prevent the hare, if by chance there should be one close by, from making off at the sound of voices. When they have reached the covert, he will tie the hounds to trees, each separately, so that they can be easily slipped from the leash, and proceed to fix the nets, funnel and hayes, as above described. When that is done, and while the net-keeper mounts guard, the master himself will take the hounds and sally forth to rouse the game.19 Then with prayer and promise to Apollo and to Artemis, our Lady of the Chase,20 to share with them the produce of spoil, he lets slip a single hound, the cunningest at scenting of the pack. [If it be winter, the hour will be sunrise, or if summer, before day-dawn, and in the other seasons at some hour midway.] As soon as the hound has unravelled the true line21 he will let slip another; and then, if these carry on the line, at rapid intervals he will slip the others one by one; and himself follow, without too great hurry,22 addressing each of the dogs by name every now and then, but not too frequently, for fear of over-exciting them before the proper moment.

Meanwhile the hounds are busily at work; onwards they press with eager spirit, disentangling the line, double or treble, as the case may be.23 To and fro they weave a curious web,24 now across, now parallel with the line,25 whose threads are interlaced, here overlapped, and here revolving in a circle; now straight, now crooked; here close, there rare; at one time clear enough, at another dimly owned. Past one another the hounds jostle — tails waving fast, ears dropt, and eyes flashing.

But when they are really close to the hare they will make the matter plain to the huntsman by various signs — the quivering of their bodies backwards and forwards, sterns and all; the ardour meaning business; the rush and emulaton; the hurry-scurry to be first; the patient following-up of the whole pack; at one moment massed together, and at another separated; and once again the steady onward rush. At last they have reached the hare’s form, and are in the act to spring upon her. But she on a sudden will start up and bring about her ears the barking clamour of the whole pack as she makes off full speed. Then as the chase grows hot, the view halloo! of the huntsman may be heard: “So ho, good hounds! that’s she! cleverly now, good hounds! so ho, good hounds!”26 And so, wrapping his cloak27 about his left arm, and snatching up his club, he joins the hounds in the race after the hare, taking care not to get in their way,28 which would stop proceedings.29 The hare, once off, is quickly out of sight of her pursuers; but, as a rule, will make a circuit back to the place where she was found.30

He must shout then to the keeper, “Mark her, boy, mark her! hey, lad! hey, lad!” and the latter will make known whether the hare is caught or not. Supposing the hare to be caught in her first ring, the huntsman has only to call in the hounds and beat up another. If not, his business is to follow up the pack full speed, and not give in, but on through thick and through thin, for toil is sweet. And if again they chance upon her in the chevy,31 his cheery shout will be heard once more, “Right so! right so, hounds! forward on, good hounds!”

But if the pack have got too long a start of him, and he cannot overtake them, however eagerly he follows up the hunt — perhaps he has altogether missed the chase, or even if they are ranging close and giving tongue and sticking to the scent, he cannot see them — still as he tears along he can interrogate the passer-by: “Hilloa there, have you seen my hounds?” he shouts, and having at length ascertained their whereabouts, if they are on the line, he will post himself close by, and cheer them on, repeating turn and turn about the name of every hound, and pitching the tone of his voice sharp or deep, soft or loud; and besides all other familiar calls, if the chase be on a hillside,32 he can keep up their spirits with a constant “Well done, good hounds! well done, good hounds! good hounds!” Or if any are at fault, having overshot the line, he will call to them, “Back, hounds! back, will you! try back!”

As soon as the hounds have got back to (where they missed) the line,33 he must cast them round, making many a circle to and fro; and where the line fails, he should plant a stake34 as a sign-post to guide the eye, and so cast round the dogs from that point,35 till they have found the right scent, with coaxing and encouragement. As soon as the line of scent is clear,36 off go the dogs, throwing themselves on to it, springing from side to side, swarming together, conjecturing, and giving signs to one another, and taking bearings37 they will not mistake — helter-skelter off they go in pursuit. Once they dart off along the line of scent thus hotly, the huntsman should keep up but without hurrying, or out of zeal they will overshoot the line. As soon as they are once more in close neighbourhood of the hare, and once again have given their master clear indications of the fact, then let him give what heed he can, she does not move off farther in sheer terror of the hounds.

They meanwhile, with sterns wagging, tumbling and leaping over one another’s backs,38 at intervals loudly giving tongue, and lifting up their heads and peering into their master’s face, as much as to say, “There is no mistake about it this time,”39 will presently of themselves start the hare and be after her full cry, with bark and clamour.40 Thereupon, whether the hare falls into the toils of the funnel net or rushes past outside or inside, whatever incident betide, the net-keeper must with a shout proclaim the fact. Should the hare be caught, the huntsman has only to begin looking for another; if not, he must follow up the chase once more with like encouragement.

When at length the hounds show symptoms of fatigue, and it is already late in the day, the time has come for the huntsman to look for his hare that lies dead-beat; nor must he wittingly leave any patch of green or clod of earth untested.41 Backwards and forwards he must try and try again the ground,42 to be sure that nothing has been overlooked. The fact is, the little creature lies in a small compass, and from fatigue and fear will not get up. As he leads the hounds on he will cheer and encourage them, addressing with many a soft term the docile creature, the self-willed, stubborn brute more rarely, and to a moderate extent the hound of average capacity, till he either succeeds in running down or driving into the toils some victim.43 After which he will pick up his nets, both small and large alike, giving every hound a rub down, and return home from the hunting-field, taking care, if it should chance to be a summer’s noon, to halt a bit, so that the feet of his hounds may not be blistered on the road.

And when thou hast on foot the purblind hare, Mark the poor wretch, to overshoot his troubles How he outruns the wind and with what care He cranks and crosses with a thousand doubles: The many musets through the which he goes Are like a labyrinth to amaze his foes.

Sometimes he runs among a flock of sheep, To make the cunning hounds mistake their smell, And sometimes where earth-delving conies keep, To stop the loud pursuers in their yell, And sometimes sorteth with a herd of deer: Danger deviseth shifts; wit waits on fear:

For there his smell with others being mingled, The hot scent-snuffing hounds are driven to doubt, Ceasing their clamorous cry till they have singled With much ado the cold fault cleanly out: Then do they spend their mouths: Echo replies, As if another chase were in the skies.

By this, poor Wat, far off upon a hill, Stands on his hinder legs with listening ear, To hearken if his foes pursue him still: Anon their loud alarums he doth hear; And now his grief may be compared well To one sore sick that hears the passing-bell.

Then shalt thou see the dew-bedabbled wretch Turn, and return, indenting with the way; Each envious brier his weary legs doth scratch, Each shadow makes him stop, each murmur stay: For misery is trodden on by many, And being low never relieved by any.

1 stelmoniai, al. telamonias, broad belts or girths, corselets. Pollux, v. 55.

2 Pollux, v. 56.

3 Lit. “since those who make the collar out of the leash do not keep hold (al. take care) of their hounds well.”

4 See “A Day with Xenophon’s Harriers,” “Macmillan’s Mag.” Jan. 1895, p. 183.

5 “You cannot trust the hound’s nose.”

6 “Every third day,” dia trites tes emeras.

7 Lit. “in order that they may not be deprived of following up the scent.”

8 Or, “a late start means the hounds will be robbed of a find and the huntsman of his reward.”

9 See Pollux, v. 35.

10 Al. “of the game to be hunted up.”

11 omou, “e propinquo.” Schn. cf. “Cyrop.” III. i. 2; VI. iii. 7.

12 Or, “giving the funnel or belly a lift in the middle.” kekruphalon, Pollux, v. 31.

13 This sentence according to Lenz is out of its place, referring solely to the haye nets; the order of the words should be ta de diktua teineto en apedois stoikhizeto de, k.t.l. If so, transl. “He should stretch the hayes on level ground and fix, etc.; The road nets should be planted . . . etc.”

14 Al. “at convenient points or where paths converge.” See Schneid. s.v. sumpheronta.

15 sardonion, Pollux, v. 31. Al. “fixing the stakes between the edges.”

16 Or, “‘caught,’ ‘escaped,’ (this side or that), ‘not seen,’ ‘marked.’”

17 emelemenen = neglige, plain, unpretentious.

18 Pollux, v. 18.

19 Al. “intent on the working of the pack.”

20 “To thee thy share of this chase, Lord Apollo; and thine to thee, O Huntress Queen!”

21 Or, “carries a line straight away from the many that interlace.”

22 Or, “without forcing the pace.”

23 “Discovering two or three scents, as the case may be”; “unravelling her line, be it single or double.”

24 prophoreisthai = diazesthai, Pollux, vii. 52. Schneid. cf. Aristoph. “Birds,” 4, apoloumeth’ allos ten odon prophoroumeno.

Still up and down, old sinner, must we pace;
’Twill kill us both, this vain, long, wearing race (Kennedy).

25 See Arrian, xx. 2.

26 Reading io kunes, io kunes, sophos ge o kunes, kalos ge o kunes. Al. io kunes, io kakos = “To her, dogs! that won’t do!” “Ho, ho, Hunde! Ho, ho, falsch! Recht so, Hunde! schon so, Hunde!” (Lenz).

27 o ampekhetai, “the shawl or plaid which he carries on his shoulders.” See Pollux, v. 10.

28 “Not to head the chase.” Sir Alex. Grant, “Xen.” p. 167.

29 aporon, “which would be awkward” (see Arrian, xxv. 8).

30 “Where the nets are set,” Sir A. Grant. See his comment, l.c.

31 apantosi diokousai auton, al. “come across the huntsman again.”

32 Or, “if the chase sweeps over a mountain-side.”

33 prosstosi, al. “whenever they check.”

34 Al. (1) “take a stake or one of the poles as a sign-post,” (2) “draw a line on the ground.”

35 suneirein. Zeune cf. “Cyrop.” VII. v. 6, “draw the dogs along by the nets.” Blane.

36 “As the scent grows warmer,” the translator in “Macmillan’s Mag.” above referred to. Aristot. “H. A.” ix. 44. 4.

37 Lit. “fixing landmarks for themselves.”

38 Or, “whisking their tails and frisking wildly, and jostling against one another, and leaping over one another at a great rate.” Al. “over one obstacle, and then another.”

39 Or, “this is the true line at last.”

40 Al. “with a crash of tongues.”

41 Lit. “anything which earth puts forth or bears upon her bosom.”

42 Or, “Many and many a cast back must he make.”

43 The famous stanzas in “Venus and Adonis” may fitly close this chapter.


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:02