How can one be associated with demons while also being used as a guardian against them? The complexity of the dog’s supernatural symbolism in ancient Mesopotamia

Andréa Vilela – Université Lumière, Lyon 2

How can one be associated with demons while also being used as a guardian against them? The complexity of the dog’s supernatural symbolism in Ancient Mesopotamia

The dog has an ambivalent image in cuneiform sources. While being useful as a guardian and a helper, it was also a potential threat. One must indeed not forget that packs of stray dogs roamed the streets, being often agressive. Adding to this matter the risk of diseases such as rabies, we can easily understand why this animal was seen with mistrust. Unsurprisingly, the complexity of the relationship with the dog can also be seen in symbolic thought. Given their dangerosity, dogs and especially rabid dogs could be associated with evil forces. But their role as guardians remained present and they were also used as a protection against the very demons they were associated with, such as the fearsome Lamaštu. With this paper we will present the complexity of the dog’s symbolical relationship with supernatural beings, offeringsome elements of explanation for such an ambivalous representation of this animal.