See more of the story

The first famous dog of history was Peritas, the pet of Alexander the Great. He was perhaps the luckiest dog of all time, as well. All dogs like a good walk in the country, and Peritas’ master conquered the world. That’s a lot of territory to mark.

As you might expect, the dog’s exploits may have been slightly exaggerated. Just as a ruler might want it to be known that he slew an ox with a fork, Peritas was reputed to have killed a lion and an elephant. According to legend, neither beast was the instigator; Peritas just attacked them, perhaps because he thought they were eyeing his chew toy.

No one seems to know what breed Peritas was. Some stories say he was a Molosser, a stout, strong dog common to Epirus, an area in the northwest of ancient Greece. If we believe the old stories, we know how he died.

When Alexander was fighting the Malli in Punjab, his bodyguard Leonnatus heard a dog howling. Peritas to the rescue! He ran to defend his master, but was too late. The Malli had just shot Alexander with an arrow (or a javelin, depending on the source). In either case, ouch.

Peritas leaped at the Malli and began gnawing and snapping at the enemy, giving the soldiers time to evacuate Alexander from the scene. A Malli hit Peritas with a javelin. A soldier found him after the skirmish, and brought him to the tent where the wounded Alexander lay. Peritas died in his beloved master’s lap.

Maybe that happened.

It’s hard to tell the tale without embellishing it a little. But it’s hardly out of character for a dog, and it really doesn’t matter if Peritas took on 10 soldiers or bit the ankle of one. What counts is what rings true: He fought alongside Alexander, selflessly, paid for it with his life, and his acceptance of his fate was a lesson and inspiration.

Alexander would not forget. Just as he named a city for his horse, he named a city for Peritas. We don’t know where it was, exactly. Time has buried it like a bone in a big backyard.

The town supposedly had a monument to the great dog in its central square. It was lost long ago, of course, but how? Conquered, sacked, razed. Perhaps the stone image of the dog was carted away as a prize of war, and spent centuries in a palace until wars took it away or reduced it to shards.

You’d like to think it survives somewhere. But it’s the legend, not the monument, that matters more.

The modern man is resigned to the fact that he won’t conquer the world by the time he’s 30. The modern dog, no matter how serene and secure his life, believes there’s a little Peritas in his bones. And he’s right.

James Lileks • 612-673-7858