This section is from the book "Toy Dogs And Their Ancestors", by Neville Lytton. Also available from Amazon: Toy Dogs And Their Ancestors: Including The History And Management Of Toy Spaniels, Pekingese, Japanese, And Pomeranians.
Before going further I must here point out a great source of confusion which lies in the fact that there were two Melitas and more than one breed of Melitaeus toy dog. The one imported to England in Dr. Caius's day is described by Fleming, but the original Melitaeus universally kept by the Greeks from 800 B.C. was the now so-called Pomeranian. The Pomeranian was the true Maltese pet dog. In the course of my researches I soon began to suspect this, and I had the good fortune to come upon several proofs of it One of these was a Young Man out walking with his Maltese Dog, Early;th Century b.c.
Reproduced from the Annali dell Inslitulo di Correspondenza Archaeologia picture on a Greek vase, date about 500 b.c, representing a man with a pet dog which is unmistakably a "Pomeranian," and by a fortunate chance he is actually addressing the dog as Melitaie (or Maltese). The word is written in Greek over the dog.1 The many other pictures of the Melitaie and the many references to them in the classics will be found in my chapter on the Pomeranian, and are quite conclusive.
Late 4TH Century b.c. 2S
As to the two Melitas, the one mentioned by Pliny is the modern Meleda or Zapuntello and the one mentioned by Strabo is the modern Malta. Pet dogs were bred in both, and also in Sicily (see Aelian).
We do not come across the Maltese as we now know it till 200 B.C., when it is found represented in Egypt, together with the Melitaeus, though there is no evidence to show whether it originated there or was brought over with the other Melitaeus. The latter supposition, however, seems the most probable, owing to the model being dug up in company with another model of the Pomeranian Melitaeus which we know from Greek vases and literature to have originated in one of the two Melitas.
1 Mr. A. B. Cook, Reader in Classical Archaeology at Cambridge University, has very kindly furnished the following note on this vase:
" The vase was found at Vulci, and formed part of the Basseggio collection. It is an Attic pelike of the red-figured style. The designs on its two sides are, I think, meant to he taken together. On the one hand the young man about town is out for a walk in the most approved style with his Maltese pet dog before him . . . Mereruis certainly means 'O Maltese' (dog). On the other hand we have not a gad-about youth with a dog meant for show, but two hard-working ordinary beings - a worthy citizen and his watch dog keeping guard over the home. . . • The lettering is 1 ♦POPOI, that is, of Opoupol, 'the guardians.9 The first O has been rubbed off the black glaze and the second O stands for ov. This was made out by Paul Kretschmer ... the words ot opoupol Mer ruis,. . . are the first half of a hexameter line. I do not doubt that they are a popular tag spoken by the worthy citizen when he sees the young swell pass down the street We might complete the sense thus: - 'Folk on guard, master Maltese puppy, have something better to do. "
Many centuries later, i.e., by 1755, Malta (the real one) evidently had other breeds besides, as the following translation (?) of Aelian by Jonston will show. A reference to Aelian himself proves that the descriptive part was Jonston's, and this is important, on account of his date being so much later than Aelian.
C. Aelianus J. Jonstoni, 1755, says: "Differences among dogs are great" Here we shall treat in order of the Greyhound, the Maltese dog, the coursing dog, the trailing dog (clever or "sagacious" - possibly "the watch dog"), farm dogs, war-dogs, and the useless dog (or toy or pet). (The latter is classed separately from the Maltese dog proper.)
"Maltese dogs are so-called from the island of Malta, which faces Pachynus, a promontory of Sicily.1 They are either short-haired or long-haired, or maned. Blondus praises those that are black-and-white; to-day the red-and-white varieties are regarded as valuable. In size they resemble the ordinary weasel. That they may become small, and remain so, they are shut up in boxes, and are fed there. They are fed on the choicest foods. If they conceive many at a time, the bitches suddenly die. That they may be born with shaggy coats, their keepers line the places where they lie with sheepskins, that they may always have them before their eyes.
1" Melitenses ab insula Melita, qua Pachyno Siciliae promontorio imminet, nomen habent Sunt vel brevioris vel prolixioris pili et inbati. Blondus partim albos, partim nigros commendat; hodie rufi et candidi in pretio habentur. Magnitudine sunt mustelce silvestris. Ut parvi fiant et maneant, canistris includuntur, ibidemque nutriuntur. Delicatissimis vescuntur cibis. Si plures foetus conctpuint, subito moriuntur. Ut villo-siores maxantur, curatores loca in quibus cubant, velleribus pecudum insternunt, ut ea prae oculis semper habeant Lugduni in Galla singuli decern aureisi voeneunt Bononice quadringentis libris venduntur. Mulieri-bus sunt in deliciis. C.A.J, Jonstoni.
"At Lugdunum (Lyons) in Gaul they are sold for ten gold pieces each. At Bononia (Bologna) the larger sorts are sold for forty pounds. They are great pets with women."
Now I am pretty sure that some of the larger sorts of Melitaen and Sicilian dogs mentioned were the red-and-white and black-and-white Toy Spaniels so popular at the court of Louis XIV.
Gmelin, a German writer, says of this long-haired dog of Bologna that he has small roundish head, short nose (or may mean jaw). Long hair on ears, throat, chest, belly and legs, with a tail also feathered, and is generally of a white colour with black or brown spots on the ears.
The Veronese type of Toy Spaniel probably therefore originated in Italy and the islands round about it, and the following epigram of Martial, written to the famous pet dog belonging to Publius, may have been descriptive of a Toy Spaniel. Issa was an island in the Adriatic after which the dog was evidently named, suggesting that she was bred there.
In Martial, Epigrams:1 "Issa is more frolicsome than Catullus's sparrow, Issa is purer than a dove's kiss, Issa is gentler than a maiden, Issa is more precious than Indian gems, the little dog Issa is the delight of Publius. If she whines you will think she speaks; she . feels joy and sorrow. She lies down and sleeps on his neck so quietly that not a breath does he hear, and though she may be very cramped and uncomfortable, never has she soiled the counterpane with a single stain,
1Book I,No. 109: "To an Artist's Pet Dog." but with a gently beseeching foot she arouses her master, warns him to put her on the ground, and asks to be relieved. Such is the innate modesty of this chaste maiden that she knows naught of Venus; nor do we find a husband worthy of so frail a little feminine creature. Lest the last days that she sees the light should snatch her from him forever, Publius has painted her picture, in which you will see a likeness so true that the portrait is more herself than she is. In short, put Issa and the picture side by side, and you will not know whether both are real or both are painted.",