MOUNTAINMUSINGS THE LONG & WINDING HISTORY OF SCENTHOUNDS
BY SANDRA MURRAY Sandra Murray was a longtime contributor to Showsight Magazine who passed away in January of 2017. Her article titled Ancient & Not So Ancient Sight- hounds was reprinted in the June 2021 edition without acknowledgment of her passing. We sincerely regret the omission, though we are grateful to be able to share two of her scholarly articles about Hounds for the benefit of new and longtime readers.
T he wide variety of scenthounds probably has a history just as ancient as the sighthounds. However, the progenitors of the scenthound breeds spread rapidly across the known European world, beginning with the early Greeks, by eagerly interbreeding with local dogs. As a result, no geographic or cultural isolation protected those early scenthounds’ genomes from mixing over and over again, as each region created its own version of a scenthound that was ideal for their area. What we do know from studies of the genomes of scenthounds is that they all share a more recent common ancestor that is distinct from the other groups of dogs that are organized by their genetic similarities. ANCIENT GREECE AS CRADLE OF SCENTHOUNDS Perhaps, the most ancient of scenthound breeds arose in Greece. In the southern- most region of Greece, Laconia, a black and tan or tri-color hound hunted hare by tracking the hares’ scent. The Pelaponessus, that southernmost section of Greece, con- sists of rocky, rugged terrain that can support only rough scrub bushes, and those grasses and plants that can withstand such a dry, hot climate. Sometime in the late fourth and early third centuries B.C., the ancient Greek writer, Xenophon, wrote a treatise on hunting and hunting dogs. At that time, scenthounds were the only hunting dogs known to the Greeks. Xenophon described the ideal hound, and his description matches perfectly with a breed you may never have heard of—the Hellenikos Ichnilatis. Through Greek conquest and trade, this black and tan hound with a good nose for rabbits found his way to all parts of the ancient world. Descendents of the Hel- lenikos Ichnilatis thrived and became the root breeding stock for many other varieties of hunting hounds across Europe. Because of Laconia’s mountains, which were nearly inaccessible until recent times, the Hellenikos Ichnilatis remains, to this day, relatively unchanged in both his black and tan as well as tri-color forms. As the Hellenic hound spread throughout Europe, he had to have been crossed with the large and fierce Molloser dogs that accompanied the Romans, assisting them in their conquests. It is quite probable that the legendary St. Hubert Hound emerged as a result of these matings.
In what was Sparta in ancient Greece, one of the first true scenthound breeds originated—the Hellenikos Ichnilatis. (Wikimedia)
Greek champion, Max Trikalwn, matches Xenophon’s description of the ideal hunting hound in ancient Greece. (Maria Windsor-Ginala; dogbreedinginfo.com)
ST. HUBERT HOUNDS & THEIR LEGACY
Hubert (656–727 A.D.) was born in what is now Belgium. The son of a duke, he loved hunting with his dogs. After a dramatic spiri- tual encounter while hunting, Hubert devoted his life to the Church and established a mon- astery in the Ardennes, a heavily forested area that encompasses what is now parts of Bel- gium, France, Luxemburg, and into Germany. Hubert retained his love of hunting and began carefully breeding a new type of scenthound now known as the St. Hubert Hound. He brought hounds from the Rhone district of western France, selectively breeding them to his own pack of scenthounds. The resulting hounds were mild and obedient. They were black and tan with a heavy, noble head, long
250 | SHOWSIGHT MAGAZINE, JULY 2021
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