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Dog + Man: From The Odyssey to Beginners

Posted May 23, 2011 to photo album "Dog + Man: From The Odyssey to Beginners"

In Beginners, the dog Arthur and the human Oliver create an emotional bond that echoes back all the way to Homer.

Arthur + Oliver
Argos + Odysseus
Peritas + Alexander the Great
Gelert + Llywelyn
Guinefort + his Knight
Donnchadh + Robert the Bruce
Urian + Cardinal Wolsey
Pompey + William the Silent
Luath + Robert Burns
Boatswain + Lord Byron
Fortune + Josephine
Lauro + Napoleon
Seaman + Meriwether Lewis
Flush + Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Greyfriars Bobby + John Gray
Balto + Gunnar Kaasen
Hachiko + Hidesaburo Ueno
Luath + Robert Burns

Luath + Robert Burns

Robert Burns and Luath statue in Boston’s Winthrop Square; Wood Engravings by Joan Hassall of the “Twa Dogs”

The Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759-1796) had a border collie named Luath, who made history as one of the first talking dogs. (The name comes from the dog belonging to the giant Cuchullin in “Fingal,” the epic poem supposedly written by ancient Gaelic author Ossian, but most likely created out of myths and ballads by the 18th century Scottish poet James Macpherson.) In 1785, when he was 26, Burns wrote a now famous poem about two dogs, “The Twa Dogs,” in which two friends Caesar, a Newfoundland belonging to a rich man, and Luath, a border collie belonging to a poor man, discuses the depravities of the rich and the virtues of the poor. The bard’s brother Gilbert, wrote this about the poem: “Robert had a dog, which he called Luath, that was a great favorite. The dog had been killed by the wanton cruelty of some person, the night before my father’s death. Robert said to me that he should like to confer such immortality as he could bestow on his old friend Luath, and that he had a great mind to introduce something into the book under the title of ‘Stanzas to the Memory of a Quadruped Friend,’ but this plan was given up for the poem as it now stands. Caesar was merely the creature of the poet’s imagination, created for the purpose of holding chat with his favorite Luath.”