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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
Urian + Cardinal Wolsey

Urian + Cardinal Wolsey

Cardinal Wolsey from Christ Church Picture Gallery; Greyhound detail from Renaissance painting.

More than 200 years later, Cardinal Wolsey accompanied by his greyhound Urian, petitioned Pope Clement VII to annul the marriage between Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. At the time greyhounds were among the most aristocratic hounds, cited in Shakespeare’s Henry V (“I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips, Straining upon the start. The game's afoot.”) But when Pope Clement extended his toe to be kissed by Wolsey, the dog’s good breeding went out the door. Legend has it that Urian reached bit the papal toe, ending in effect any further discussions about the marriage annulment. In The Pawprints of History: Dogs and the Course of Human Events, authors Stanley Coren and Andy Bartlett write, “A historian using counter-factual reasoning could quite legitimately raise the question as to whether the rise of Protestantism and its heated conflict with the Catholic Church might have been avoided, or at least delayed, if a dog named Urian had not chosen to sink his teeth into the Pope’s toe.” Although there is little to prove this anecdote true, it remains hotly contested, and not just by those who doubt its veracity. The anti-papist John Foxe floated a similar –– probably equally fictional–– story, likely also made up, in his “Book of Martyrs” that Anne Boleyn’s father’s spaniel bit the pope’s toe as well.