faithful, baby-saving dog Saint Guinefort was male

Throughout the written record of Eurasia, one of the most pervasive stories is that of a faithful animal who saves a baby, yet is unjustly punished for that action. The earliest evidence of this story comes from about two millennia ago in a Sanskrit fable collection known as the Panchatantra or from Pausanias’s Description of Greece. This story exists in an ancient Chinese redaction of the Buddhist scripture Vinaya Pitaka and in both the eastern and western branches of the medieval Sindibad / Seven Sages corpus.[1] In the medieval European tradition, the faithful, baby-saving animal is a dog. One such dog became venerated as Saint Guinefort. Most scholars have ignored that in Virgil’s Aeneid, Juno used female dogs to incite horrific violence between Italian and Trojan men. Most scholars have similarly ignored that the faithful, baby-saving dog honored as Saint Guinefort is male. The dog Saint Guinefort aptly figures men’s vitally important, socially devalued love for their children.

The original Saint Guinefort unquestionably was male. Two medieval manuscripts testify to “The Passion of Saint Guinefort {Passio Sancti Guiniforti}” and “The Miracles of Saint Guinefort {“Miracula Sancti Guniforti}.” They describe a man named Guinefort. He courageously preached Christianity about the year 300 near Pavia in Italy. The Roman Emperors Diocletian and Maximian martyred Guinefort. He then became venerated as a saint. By the twelfth century, Saint Guinefort was being honored at the Cluny Abbey in east-central France.[2]

A greyhound became honored as Saint Guinefort in thirteenth-century southern France. About 1261, the Dominican cleric Stephen of Bourbon {Stephanus de Borbone / Étienne de Bourbon} recorded:

Recently in the diocese of Lyons where I preached against the reading of oracles, an offensive superstition was made apparent. When I was hearing confessions, numerous women confessed that they had taken their children to Saint Guinefort. Since I thought that this was some holy person, I continued inquiring. I finally learned that this Guinefort was actually a dog, a greyhound. The dog had been killed in the way described below.

In the diocese of Lyons, near the enclosed nuns’ village called Neuville, on the estate of the Lord of Villars, was a castle. The lord of that castle and his wife had a baby boy. One day, when the lord and lady had gone out of the house and the nurse had done likewise, the baby was alone in a cradle. A huge serpent entered the house and approached the baby’s cradle. Seeing this, the greyhound, which had remained behind, chased the serpent. Attacking it beneath the cradle, it upset the cradle and bit the serpent all over. The serpent defended itself, biting the dog equally severely. Finally, the dog killed the serpent and threw it far from the cradle.

The cradle, the floor, and the dog’s mouth and head were all drenched in the serpent’s blood. Although the serpent had badly hurt it, the dog remained on guard beside the cradle. When the nurse came back and saw all this blood, she thought that the dog had devoured the child. She let out a scream of misery. Hearing it, the child’s mother also ran up, looked, thought the same thing, and screamed too. The knight, when he arrived, thought likewise. He drew his sword and killed the dog. Then, when they went closer to the baby, they found it safe and sound, sleeping peacefully. Casting around for some explanation, they discovered the serpent, torn to pieces by the dog’s bites, and now dead. …

By divine will, the castle was destroyed. The land, reduced to a desert, was abandoned by its inhabitants. But the peasants heard of the dog’s conduct. They heard how it had been killed, although innocent, for a praiseworthy deed. They visited the place, honored the dog as a martyr, and prayed to it when they were sick or in need of something.

{ Sic faciebant nuper in diocesi Lugdunensi, ubi, cum ego predicarem contra sortilegia et confessiones audirem, multe mulieres confitebantur portasse se pueros suos apud sanctum Guinefortem. Et cum crederem esse sanctum aliquem, inquisivi, et audivi ad ultimum quod esset canis quidam leporarius, occisus per huc modum.

In diocesi Lugdunensi, prope villam monialium qui dicitur Noville, in terra domini de Vilario, fuit quoddam castrum cujus dominus puerum parvulum habebat de uxore sua. Cum autem exivissent dominus et domina a domo et nutrix similiter, dimisso puero solo in cunabulis, serpens maximus intravit domum, tendens ad cunabula pueri; quod videns leporarius, qui ibi remanserat, eum velociter insequens et persequens sub cunabulo, evertit cunabula, morsibus serpentem invadens, defendentem se et canem similiter mordentem; quem ad ultimum canis occidit et a cunabulis pueri longe projecit,

reliquens cunabula dicta cruentata, et terram et os suum et caput, serpentis sanguine, stans prope cunabula, male a serpente tractatus. Cum autem intrasset nutrix et hec videret, puerum credens occisum et devoratum a cane, clamavit cum maximo ejulatu; quod audiens, mater pueri similiter accurrit, idem vidit et credidit, et clamavit similiter. Similiter et miles, adveniens ibi, idem credidit, et, extrahens spatam, canem occidit. Tunc, accedentes ad puerum, invenerunt eum illesum, suaviter dormientem; inquirentes, inveniunt serpentem canis morsibus laceratum et occisum .…

Castro autem divina voluntate destructo, et terra in desertum redacta est, ab habitatore relicta. Homines autem rusticani audientes nobile factum canis, et quomodo innocenter mortuus est pro eo de quo debuit reportare bonum, locum visitaverunt, et canem tanquam martyrem honoraverunt et pro suis infirmitatibus et neccessitatibus rogaverunt }[3]

Peasants of thirteenth-century France better appreciated men’s love for children than do most persons today. These thirteenth-century French peasants honored this male dog as a saint and a martyr. In our more ignorant and bigoted age, men are simply expected to be the last off sinking ships. Woe to men today if they show righteous regard for their own lives and gender equality!

faithful, baby-saving male dog Saint Guinefort

The male dog Saint Guinefort fought courageously to save a baby from a vicious serpent. He suffered serious wounds from his heroic deed. Saint Guinefort is like divorced fathers who fight valiantly to remain in their children’s lives as fathers, not just as wallets. Like men victims of domestic violence, Saint Guinefort’s wounds were horrifically misunderstood. Like an eighteen-year-old man who merely had consensual hetero-sex and then suffered repeated jailing for being unable to pay state-mandated “child-support” for unplanned parenthood, Saint Guinefort endured terrible injustice. Modern scholars haven’t forthrightly recognized the gender of the dog Saint Guinefort.[4] With the benefit of meninist literary criticism, you now know more of the truth: the faithful, baby-saving dog Saint Guinefort was male.

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Notes:

[1] The faithful-dog tale (Aarne-Thompson-Uther folktale type 178A) has long been traced back to the Panchatantra. In the Panchatantra, the story is known as “The Brahmin and the Mongoose.” Redondo (2011) and Redondo (2013) root at least the version in Syntipas to Pausanias, Description of Greece 10.33. On the diffusion of the faithful-dog tale, Blackburn (1996) p. 495, Rist (2019) pp. 8-10. The faithful-dog tale is usually included in the Gesta Romanorum. See, e.g. story 32 (“Dog and Serpent”) in Bright (2019) pp. 196-7. On an instance reported in south Indian in 1937, Emeneau (1940). Here are English translations of a range of instances. The weeping-dog tale is another example of a story included in the Panchatantra and widely diffused throughout medieval Europe.

In the Sindibad / Seven Sages corpus (which includes Syntipas and the Hebrew Sendebar) the faithful-dog tale is known as Canis. For some instances, Redondo (2013) pp. 56-7. In the The Book of the Wiles and Fabrications of Women {El Libro de los Engaños e los Asayamientos de las Mugeres}, the king’s fifth counselor tells the story. See, e.g. Keller (1956) p. 33. Another story included in both the eastern and western branches of the Sindibad / Seven Sages corpus is Tentamina.

In its medieval literary contexts, the faithful-dog tale is typically associated with warning against making hasty judgments. In some instances, it portrays a woman as acting less than wonderfully: “misogyny can be described as a secondary element in the tale of the faithful dog.” Redondo (2013) p. 65. Under dominant academic gynocentrism, all literature from all places and all times must exclusively present women’s all-encompassing virtue, in contrast to men’s “toxic masculinity.” Any text that violates this moral commandment must be labeled as misogyny.

[2] Rist (2019) p. 10. On the manuscripts, Dubois (1980) pp. 145-6.

[3] Stephen of Bourbon, A Treatise on Various Preachable Matters {Tractatus de diversis materiis predicabilibus}, also known as On the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit {De septem donis Spiritus Sancti}, gift “fortitude {fortitudo},” “About superstition {De Supersticione}” 370, Latin text from Lecoy de la Marche (1877) pp. 325-6, English translation (with my modifications) from Schmitt (1983) pp. 4-5 (alternate English translation). Stephen of Bourbon died about 1262, shortly after recording this story.

The honoring of Saint Guinefort unfortunately developed into a cult that threatened the lives of infants. Rist observed:

What is also very clear is that the cult described is a peculiarly female rite where the mother has the final say as to whether or not to accept the child as hers. This reflects the fact that in the medieval period, as in many historical eras, the paternity of a child could not always easily be proved, but the identity of the mother could be established with certainty.

Rist (2019). That fundamental gender inequality has enormous significance. Legal paternity establishment procedures explicitly embrace fiction in law and legal rulings. Given the precarious social position of fathers and a long history of disparaging men as dogs, depicting the male dog Guinefort saving a children becomes particularly important.

[4] See, e.g. Schmitt (1979 / 1983), Blackburn (1996), Dickey (2013), Rist (2019). That the faithful, baby-saving dog was male has been implicitly recognized:

in many Tamil texts, in fact, the parents believe that the birth of their human son is a reward for their love of their animal son.

Blackburn (1996) p. 499, which is discussed in Dickey (2013) (‘In most versions of the story, the animal is the “first-born son.”’).

A late-eighteenth Welsh businessman apparently recognized the important of the faithful, baby-saving dog being male. David Pritchard in 1793 became the landlord of the Royal Goat Inn in Beddgelert, Wales. To encourage visits to his inn, he invented such a story. This new, Welsh story featured Prince Llywelyn the Great, an alleged thirteenth-century royal who allegedly had a palace at Beddgelert (meaning “the death of Gelert”). The savior of Prince Llywelyn the Great’s son was his favorite dog Gelert. That name apparently came from the late-seventh-century Saint Gelert. He was a hermit-man who lived near Llandysul in the county of Ceredigion, Wales. Pritchard created a megalith (“a slab lying on its side, and two upright stones”) to mark Gelert’s grave. For the quote, Borrow (1862). The faithful, baby-saving dog Saint Gelert was thus also male.

[image] Woodblock print for Canis, the story of the faithful, baby-saving dog, in a 1489 printing of John of Capua {Johannes de Capua}, The Guide of Human Life, or Proverbs of the Ancient Sages {Directorium humanae vitae, alias parabolae antiquorum sapientium}. John of Capua wrote Directorium humanae vitae by translating Rabbi Joel’s Hebrew version of Kalilah wa-Dimnah into Latin between 1263 and 1278. The image is from Blackburn (1996) p. 499, which sourced it from a book held in the British Library. Here’s another image of the Canis woodcut in its page context.

Here’s a lovely modern prayer card for the dog Saint Guinefort. This modern prayer card regrettably obscures Saint Guinefort’s masculinity. Perhaps that’s an effect of modern selective prudishness. Medieval paintings made clear that Jesus was a fully masculine man.

References:

Blackburn, Stuart. 1996. “The Brahmin and the Mongoose: The Narrative Context of a Well-Travelled Tale.” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. 59 (3): 494-507.

Borrow, George. 1862. Wild Wales: its people, language, and scenery. 3 vols. London: John Murray.

Bright, Philippa, ed. and trans. 2019. The Anglo-Latin Gesta Romanorum: from Oxford, Bodleian Library, Douce MS 310. Oxford Medieval Texts. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Dickey, Colin. 2013. “A Faithful Hound: How a dog came to be recognized as a saint.” Lapham’s Quarterly. Posted online June 18, 2013.

Dubois, Jacques. 1980. “Saint Guinefort vénéré en Dombes: comment un martyr inconnu fut substitué à un chien-martyr.” Journal Des Savants. 141-155.

Emeneau, M. B. 1940. “A Classical Indian Folk-Tale as a Reported Modern Event: The Brahman and the Mongoose.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society. 83 (3): 503-513.

Keller, John Esten, trans. 1956. The Book of the Wiles of Women. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Lecoy de la Marche, Albert, ed. 1877. Stephen of Bourbon. Anecdotes historiques, légendes et apologues tirés du recueil inédit d’Etienne de Bourbon, Dominicain du XIIIe siècle. Paris: Renouard.

Redondo, Jordi. 2011. “Is really Syntipas a translation? The case of The faithful dog.” Graeco-Latina Brunensia. 16: 49-59.

Redondo, Jordi. 2013. “The Faithful Dog: The Place of the Book of Syntipas in its Transmission.” Revue Des Etudes Byzantines. 71: 39-65.

Rist, Rebecca. 2019. “The papacy, Inquisition and Saint Guinefort the Holy Greyhound.” Reinardus. 30 (1): 190-211. Cited by pages in online verse. Here’s a streamlined version)

Schmitt, Jean-Claude. 1979. Le Saint Lévrier: Guinefort, guérisseur d’enfants depuis le XIIIe siècle. Paris: Flammarion.

Schmitt, Jean-Claude, trans. into English by Martin Thom. 1983. The Holy Greyhound: Guinefort, healer of children since the thirteenth century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. The original is Schmitt (1979).

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