The etymology of the English phrase, “To lick one’s wounds” is relatively uncertain, but folklorists have identified fairly early Greek and Roman medical references to licking wounds, as observed by Chowdharay-Best who remarked, “The healing properties of saliva were well known in the ancient world, as was noted by Bishop J.W.C. Wand. Pliny, for example in his Natural History, collected together a number of instances of its use. Its healing properties are also mentioned by Celsus, by Galen, by Paulus Aegineta, and by Oribasius” (Chowdharay, 1975, p195). Licking a wound is of course, not a regimen recommended in most reputable medical schools, which prefer modern conveniences like water, soap, and antibacterial dressings that can be more reasonably billed to your insurance carrier. Many mammals (who don’t have jobs and hence no medical coverage) nonetheless go right on ahead and lick their wounds, and in particular it is thought that a dog licking its wounds might even be beneficial, as dog saliva is bactericidal against Escherichia coli and Streptococcus canis. Excess licking, of course can be a harmful irritant, hence the well known canine “cone-of-shame”, an undeserved shame if we consider the supernatural, ancient Armenian dog called the Arlez (sometimes Aralez, Jaralez, or plural=Arlezk’), credited with the ability to resurrect brave warriors from the dead by licking their wounds. Good doggie. Sit. Reanimate.
Ancient Armenians believed that when a brave man fell in battle or by the hand of a treacherous foe, spirits called “Arlez” descended to restore him to life by licking his wounds. In the Ara myth, these spirits are called the gods of Semiramis; also in a true and realistic story of the fourth century about the murder of Mushegh Mamigonian, the commander of the Armenian king’s forces. “His family could not believe in his death…others expected him to rise; so they sewed the head upon the body and they placed him upon a tower, saying, ‘Because he was a brave man, the Arlez will descend and raise him.'” Presumably their name is Armenian, and means “lappers of brave men,” or ” lappers of Ara,” or even “ever-lappers.” They were invisible spirits, but they were derived from dogs. No one ever saw them. Evidently the dogs from which they were supposed to have descended were ordinary dogs, with blood and flesh, for Eznik wonders how beings of.a higher spiritual order could be related to bodily creatures. The Arlez were imagined to exist in animal form as dogs (Amanikian, 1916).
Faustus of Byzantium was an Armenian historian of the 5th Century A.D., and most of what we know about the early history of Christianity in Armenia is attributed to his six volume Buzandaran Patmutiwn (literally, “Epic Histories”, but referred to as the “History of the Armenians”), of which the first two volumes are lost. The Amanikian description of the Arlez is taken directly from Faustus’ discussion of how the young Armenian king Varazdat listened to bad advice from his nobles and killed his own loyal general Mushegh, and as Mushegh had survived a whole lot of bloody battles without serious injury, his family found it hard to believe he was dead. In this case, the expectation was that the Arlez would come, but sadly they did not, indicated when the body started to rot.
When they had taken the body of sparapet Mushegh to his tun, to his family, his family did not believe his death, despite the fact that they could see his head separated from his body. They said: “He has been in countless battles and never received a wound. No arrow has ever struck him, nor has anyone’s weapon pierced him.” Half of them expected him to resurrect, so they sewed the head back onto the torso and placed it on the roof of a tower, saying: “Because he was a brave man, the arhlezk’ will descend and cause him to arise.” They guarded [Mushegh] expecting his resurrection, until his body putrefied. Then they brought him down from the tower, and wept over and buried him, as was the proper way (Faustus of Byzantium, History of the Armenians, Book 5, Chapter 36).
Eznik of Kolb (born 374 A.D.), was an Armenian Christian theologian and priest, author of a number of significant philosophical treatises on good, evil, free will, and against dualism, including scathing condemnations of Armenian pre-Christian religious paganism and Zoroastrianism specifically, but he actually mentions our helpful divine dogs by name in his “Refutation of Sects” (Ełc ałandoc’), although mostly to disparage the belief in any mythological beasties, except of course for demons and angels. That kind of logic is pretty much text book for delusional disorders of the grandiose subtype for those that are psychiatrically inclined. That is, the delusion that “I’m smarter, handsomer, and gosh darn it, people like me better than you, therefore my delusions are real, but your beliefs are obviously the product of a sick mind”. Okay, I took a few liberties with the definition, but you get the point.
While we are on the subject of demons, let us pause to consider the relationship among the demons, angels, God, and man. With respect to will, their relationship can be characterized thus: the angels carry out the will of God; the demons have turned away from God; and man is free. As for their composition, souls are not made of known elements. They are purely incorporeal beings which take on shapes in order to be visible to man. They themselves are not physical beings. Only that which affects our senses is physical. Since they are purely spiritual beings, they are not born; they are eternal. The angels, the demons, and human beings are the only rational, thinking creatures. They are the only beings which have souls and which contain the divine spark of intellect. All other fairies and fantastic creatures are figments of man’s imagination. They have yet to be found. The imaginary dog-shaped creatures called haralez, which are supposed to be able to cure wounds by licking them, do not exist either. These are all fairy tales. Some believe that there is a guardian angel for each of us. There are grounds on which this might be believed (Ełc ałandoc’, Book 1, Section 1.26)
Movsēs Xorenac’i’s 5th Century A.D. History of the Armenians, from which the bulk of our knowledge about pre-Christian Armenian mythology derives, covering the mythological origins of Armenia from the Great Flood to the 5th Century A.D., concludes that the miraculous white animal that rescued young Prince Sanatruk from a snowstorm was a dog, and presumably an Arlez. The Arlez (given their name) obviously date back to legendary Armenian hero Ara the Beautiful (who may have been the 9th Century B.C. King Arame of Ararat). Rumor is that Ara was so handsome that Assyrian Queen of Nineveh Semiramis (Armenian = Shamiram) demanded he marry her. He refused, Nineveh and Armenia went to war, and Ara was slain in battle, leaving Semiramis despondent and his Armenian subjects outraged. Luckily, Semiramis was also a powerful sorceress and really wanted to avoid more war with Armenia, so she tried to revive Ara from the dead. No dice. Still a rotting corpse. She dresses up a lover as Ara, and announces that the God’s have seen fit to “lick his wounds”. Basically, a con game straight out of a 1980’s American sit-com. Now it seems a bit odd that an early instance of the mythology involves a ruse suggesting that the Arlez arrived to lick a hero’s wounds when in fact he was still busy pushing up daisies. What’s fascinating about this ancient tale is that it presupposes the common belief in the existence of a divine creature that can lick the wounds of the dead and revive them.
Other scholars have traced the origin of the Arlez to the influence of Assyrian religion, where Marduk, “the resuscitator of the dead”, also goes by the name “Lord of the Dogs”, and through the Zoroastrian association of funeral rites with a spirit-dog. Armenian and Byzantine writers acknowledged the somewhat odd practice of Armenian commemoration of Christian martyrs during the fast of Aṙaǰaworac involving supplications to dog idols. Descriptions of phantom dogs licking wounds and bringing the dead back are not purely Armenian, as there is found among the Abkhaz (an ethnic subgroup in the Northwest Caucus Mountains) that speak of the Alyshk’yntyr, “who are supernatural dogs in the service of the god Ajtyr; one legend says they licked the wounds of a hero for three days and three nights, finally bringing him back to life” (Bonnefoy, 1993, p267). Certainly, despite monotheistic traditions that denigrate the dog, a certain love for the hound, both culturally and mythologically persisted well into the ascendancy of Christianity in Armenia.
The psychopomp role of dogs due to their liminal status has often been noted, that is as creatures that are widely regarded as inhabiting the grey area between man and beast, due to their close and enduring association with humans, dogs make good messengers from the gods. If you can easily train them to fetch the newspaper, odds are somebody with godlike powers won’t need Cesar Milan to teach them how to lick the wounds of dead warriors. As Milan Kundera said, “Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring—it was peace”. Next time your dog is wagging his tail and slobbering all over you, remember that he in the back of his tiny dog brain he is a messenger from the gods and just wants to make sure you live a little longer.
Amanikian, Mardiros H. “Armenian Mythology”. From Gray, Louis H. 1875-1955,
George Foot Moore, and J. A. 1868-1950 MacCulloch. The Mythology of All Races v. 7, Boston: Marshall Jones company, 1916.
Chowdharay-Best, G. “Notes on the Healing Properties of Saliva”. Folklore Vol. 86, No. 3/4, p195-200, 1975.
Koghbatsi, Yeznik (Eznik of Kolb). Ełc ałandoc’ (Also known as, De Deo, Against the Sects, or Refutation of the Sects). 5th Century. English translation by Thomas Samuelian, Diocese of the Armenian Church. St. Vartan Press, 1986.
P’awstos Buzandac’i’s History of the Armenians. 5th Century. English translation by Robert Bedrosian.
Bonnefoy, Yves. American, African, and old European Mythologies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.