01 March 2016

Sam and Argos

I was crossing Connecticut Avenue this afternoon behind a fluffy white table-dog, the kind a daughter of mine would call a “kick-me dog,” and I thought I should check to see if Homer had actually said "table-dog".  The charming Maltese whelp was a table dog.  Was I only remembering a translation?

You will recall that when Odysseus first returns to his house, the first living creature to greet him is his old dog Argos. Odysseus tears up, and says that clearly used to be a fine dog, not like those “table dogs”. Homer does say that: τραπεζῇες κΰνες. 

When my husband and I honeymooned in Paris in 1988, we took a barge trip from the north of the city down to the Seine. There was a table on the barge, surrounded by all the characters from Renoir's Boating Party (which lives two blocks from me), especially the young woman ignoring her date and talking baby-talk to her dog. I was enchanted with the living painting, as I had been enchanted the previous afternoon on the train through fields of living Monet's.

The first time I visited Ireland, in the mid-90s, I was taken to the farm of my daughter's in-laws. The first thing I really noticed as we drove up the hill to the house was a large pile of cattle manure with an old dog lying on top – it was an icy day. We parked beside the manure. I got out of the car, and the old dog staggered towards me. “Argos!” I gasped, burst into tears, and put my arms around him.

Inside the house was a table dog, a fluffy King Charles spaniel, Sam, who won prizes in dog shows. And this is where the story turns somewhat tragic.  A couple of years later, my son-in-law, Sean, was working on the farm with a tractor.  Sam ran under the tractor. Sean had to take his mother the news and the remains of Sam. 

The next weekend there was a family wedding. When my daughter and Sean arrived, the various children ran up crying out, "Sean, you killed Sam!"  Of course, he felt wretched. When they had lost interest and gone off, a ten-year old sidled up, not quite looking at Sean. "Sean, Sean! " he hissed.  "How flat was Sam?"


  1. What a delighful post. My sister's first and last dogs were both named Argos. I am charmed by the youngster who wanted to know the dog's flatness: that child will be a naturalist! Love your blogs.

  2. lol, a very "surprised by time" painting for sure, an intensification of real life ! :o)

    highly modified too according to some recent research i read, lots of paintings over !

  3. Hello,
    We miss your wonderful posts. Hope all is well.

    Happy Thanksgiving,

    Bob and Sue


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