Thursday, February 21, 2013

Thursday Trivia: Dogs of War

Have you ever heard anyone use the phrase, "the dogs of war"?  It's one of those phrases you're sort of familiar with but can't quite recall where you've heard it before.

Chances are, it was in an English class!

The phrase is actually a truncated version of a famous line from Shaespeare's play Julius Caesar, and the complete line goes like this:

"Cry 'Havoc!' And let slip the dogs of war." (Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 1, Line 273, to be precise)

Public Domain from Wikimedia Commons

But did the idea originate from Shakespeare? And if not, where did he get it from?

According to Shakespearean scholar Jonathan Bate, the Bard used a book written in by a first century historian as his main resource when writing Julius Caesar. A mention of the "war dog," by a Greek historian named Plutarch (ca. 96-98 C.E.) most probably influenced Shakespeare's writing.

As far as the cry, "Havoc!" is concerned? According to the UK's site, that was a signal given by English military to forces in the Middle Ages - to send the troops out to pillage.

The site quotes a text by Thomas De Brotherton, the first Earl of Norfolk (early 1300's) in which he wrote: "...when they be brought into the field and cried havoke, then every man to take his part."

So there you have it.
War dog reference, Plutarch: Life of Aratus, chapter 24. "The Achaeans put a garrison of 400 men in the citadel of Corinth, which was strengthened with 50 dogs, and as many men to keep them."



  1. We do enjoy these posts. Always learn something new about sayings. Have a terrific Thursday.
    Best wishes Molly

  2. Mum says we cause havoc sometimes, but we don't mind as long as we don't see the dogs of war.

  3. And just a little more interest...(we could have such interesting conversations) Medieval and Renaissance lore dogs in general symbolized loyalty, and greyhounds specifically symbolized knighthood and all the virtues thereof; sometimes, by association, intelligent and loyal dogs had this association as well. "Let slip" would be to let go the restraints on all these virtues. Havoc, for sure! (I'm currently re-reading "Ivanhoe"...)

    Hope the snow ends up being pretty and stops there!

  4. Didn't Dylan have a song … oh wait, that was Masters of War.

  5. Now that was really interesting!
    We likes stuff like that!


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