The dog bite is a now ubiquitous cliche in modern storytelling. Every sitcom worth its salt has a tale of a protagonist suffering the sorry fate of an unlucky bite from a vicious dog, and every action movie has a scene in which some villainous henchman is thwarted by the quick thinking of a heroic hound. In fact, the dog bite as a plot device is not a new phenomenon but has a long pedigree, stretching far back through history and legend. This staying power is a testament to the companionship that humans and their faithful mutts have long enjoyed. It’s also an indication of the hard-to-forget painfulness of a dog bite, as anyone who has been bitten by a dog will surely tell you! Below we explore some famous dog bites of history and legend.
Did you know that a central character of Irish mythology was named after a fight with the dog of a king? Setanta traversed Ireland, roaming from place to place in search of adventure, glory and recognition. Arriving at the encampment of an Ulster king, the young man was set upon by the faithful court hound. A long and arduous fight ensued, with Setanta suffering many bites at the hand of the regal canine. Eventually he succeeded, persevering and winning the battle. The king was so impressed with the courage and doggedness that Setanta showed, that he declared the wanderer would replace his mutt as defender of the kingdom. In doing so he bestowed on Setanta the new name of Cu Chulainn, a name that literally translated meant “Dog of Culain”. Cu Chulainn went many years journeying his way around Ireland, accruing great fame and glory in the process.
The dog bite that created a church?
When Pope Clementine met the emissary of Henry VIII of England in the early 16th Century, he did so with a view to consolidating the position of the Catholic Church and normalising frosty diplomatic relations. For Henry, this was a chance to improve his rapport with the Vatican and open the way to a potential divorce with his then wife Catherine of Aragon. In those days, the divorce of a king was almost unheard of and Henry needed the approval of the head of the Church to carry out his plan. He sent a man called Cardinal Wosley to Rome to try and gain the Pope’s approval. The apocryphal tale goes that as Wosley bent down to kiss the Pope’s hand (as is customary) his dog mistook the situation for an attack and bit the Pope on the leg. The angry religious leader stormed out the meeting, ablaze at the apparent disrespect shown by the heretical hound. According to legend, this breakdown in discussions was an important factor in the Pope’s decision to forbid Henry’s divorce. Ultimately Henry left Cathrine, was excommunicated and founded the Church in England. All, according to the story, because of one overzealous dog protecting its master!
A long story
It’s clear to see that dog bites stories aren’t the sole reserve of modern television and sensationalist magazines. The dog bite has a long history as an important element in popular culture narratives of history and legend. Whether it’s Irish mythology or years gone by in history, our faithful friends are there in the thick of it! It’s a sign of the length of the time that dogs and humans have lived together. We wouldn’t have it any other way!