Our Best Friend, Their Best Problem: Descriptions of Dog Behaviour in Mesopotamian Omens and Proverbs

Andréa Vilela, University of Lyon

Dogs are most certainly among the animals with which we interact the most. In our Western point of view, they have a very special status: they are our loyal best friends. Such a perception, however, is only ours and is not always shared by other civilizations. We just have to take a look at cuneiform sources to see that the populations from Ancient Mesopotamia had a very different opinion on this matter. In those texts, dogs often appear either as dangerous animals that should not be trusted, or, best case scenario, as annoying and troublesome beings. Such point of view can easily be seen in omens and proverbs. Both have the specificity of showing several daily life occurrences in which the many problems caused by dogs are mentioned. However, despite all the trouble they cause, dogs are also useful and this cannot be denied. Their utility, but also some of their qualities, appear in those texts, even if we often have the impression that the scribes only reluctantly had to concede it. Our goal with this presentation is to show, by the study of this specific corpus, how complex the descriptions of dog behavior can be, enlightening us about the status of this animal in Ancient Mesopotamia.