Dog-Headed Men

From Jacob Meydenbach’s Tractatus de animalibus vitam in teris ducentium (Mainz, 1491), the first encyclopedia of natural history. Unlike the other Meydenbach woodcuts I’ve posted, this one is so odd that it cannot be left to speak for itself. One might first recall the jackal-headed god Anubis in the Egyptian pantheon, whose job it was to weigh the souls of the dead. Here he is in The Egyptian Book of the Dead, weighing the soul of the scribe Ani.

The Greek writer Claudius Aelianus, writing in the 2nd century AD, reports the existence of real “Dog-Heads”, in India: “In the same part of India as the [crimson-dye] beetles, are born the Kynokephaloi (Cynocephali) (Dog-Heads), as they are called–a name which they owe to their physical appearance and nature. For the rest they are of human shape and go about clothed in the skins of beasts; they are upright and injure no man, and though they have no speech they howl; yet they understand the Indian language.”

A Dog-Head from the Nuremberg Chronicle, 1493.

An interesting curiosity in Christian hagiography is the dog-headed image of St. Christopher, a readily accessible example of transformational iconography where the saint’s dog-headedness represents his sinful life before renunciation and prayer gave him human form. 

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