Although Greco-Roman literature contains discussions of virtually every conceivable human-animal interaction, descriptions of deliberate and wanton cruelty toward domesticated animals, be they companion animals or farm animals, are almost unexampled, and, as the excerpts below suggest, expressions of disapproval of such treatment did not inevitably arise from sympathy for the sufferings of the mistreated creatures
Homer’s descriptions of animals occur most frequently in the context of sometimes extended similes (see p. 40), but his famous account of the neglect and mistreatment of Odysseus’ faithful dog Argus during his master’s absence at Troy (Iliad XVII. 290-323) transcends the stereotypic language and ideas of similes and constitutes the sole example of intentional cruelty to animals in Homer’s epics. While it would be dangerous to overinterpret the significance of this passage in the history of classical speculation on interspecies relations, the degree of sympathy between the abused animal that recognizes its master’s voice after twenty years’ separation and the master who turns away in tears at the sight of his dog, is noteworthy, and the pathos of the scene is intensified when Argus dies shortly after, having seen his beloved master once more (XVII. 326-327).