Peritas - Alexander the Great’s dog
Most people have heard of Alexander the Great or his teacher Aristotle. Many have heard of Alexander’s warhorse Bucephalus, a horse so beloved that Alexander named a city, Bucephala, after him. How many people can tell the tale of Alexander’s dog? Who can name that Good Boy?
Little is known about Alexander’s dog ownership. He may well have had more than one dog but the canine companion who is most frequently mentioned in the myths and legends that surround his master is Peritas.
If Plutarch is to be believed, Alexander reared Peritas from a puppy and the bond between the two was so strong that when Peritas died he was honoured in the same way as Bucephalus. Alexander named a city after him. (Plutarch, Lives, 61.1).
We don’t know what breed of dog Peritas was, we don’t know what Peritas’ coat looked like, we don’t know if he enjoyed a game of Fetch. All we know about that dog’s appearance comes from Pliny who recorded that Alexander was gifted a dog which was unusually large (Pliny, Natural Histories, 8.149).
A dog, a lion and an elephant walk into an arena… This may sound like a riddle or the beginning of a Christmas cracker joke but it’s actually one of the best known stories about Peritas. Or the dog often believed to be Peritas.
According to Pliny (Pliny, NH, 8.149), Alexander was gifted his dog by the King of Albania. Alexander was told by the King to test the ability of this dog by sending the dog into a battle with a lion or an elephant. Alexander did just that. The dog immediately killed the lion and then defeated the elephant by biting it in strategic places and causing the elephant to spin around and around until it was too dizzy to stand.
Alexander watching a battle between a dog, a lion and an elephant, C.107.k.7.
Aelian tells a slightly different version of the tale. He tells of a ‘hound which can boast a tiger for a father’ that would not fight a deer, nor a boar; it only leapt into action when it saw a lion. Aelian records that Alexander was so amazed by that dog that he was gifted dogs of this breed by the people of India (Aelian, On the Nature of Animals, 8.1).
Alexander receiving the gift of a dog; a dog battle against a lion and an elephant, Royal MS 20 B XX, f.41v
Do we know for certain that the dogs in these stories were Peritas? No, but perhaps they were. Perhaps Peritas really was a dog so incredible he deserved to have a city named for him. Or perhaps Peritas is merely one of the many myths that has grown up around Alexander the Great in the 2,300 years of storytelling that surrounds the historical man. To discover more of the myths and legends surrounding Alexander the Great, visit our exhibition Alexander the Great: The Making of a Myth, closing on 19 February 2023. Alternatively, explore our website.
Digital Content Exhibition Curator
Affective Relations and Personal Bonds in Hellenistic Antiquity. United Kingdom, Oxbow Books, 2020.