Last modified on 3 October 2011, at 13:13

Pastore Maremmano-Abruzzese

The Cane da Pastore Maremmano-Abruzzese, otherwise known as Maremmano or "Maremma sheepdog" is a breed of sheep defence dog from central Italy, and from the Abruzzo and Maremma areas in particular. This page presents texts relating to the history of the breed.

"There is left," said Atticus, "of the discussion of quadrupeds only the topic of dogs; but it is of great interest to those of us who keep fleece-bearing flocks, the dog being the guardian of the flock, which needs such a champion to defend it. Under this head come especially sheep but also goats, as these are the common prey of the wolf, and we use dogs to protect them. In a herd of swine, however, there are some members which can defend themselves, namely, boars, barrows, and sows; for they are very much like wild boars, which have often killed dogs in the forest with their tusks. And why speak about the larger animals? For I know that while a herd of mules was feeding and a wolf came upon them, the animals actually whirled about and kicked him to death; that bulls often stand facing different ways, with their hind-quarters touching, and easily drive off wolves with their horns. As there are, then, two sorts of dogs — the hunting-dog suited to chase the beasts of the forest, and the other which is procured as a watch-dog and is of importance to the shepherd — I shall speak of the latter under nine divisions, according to the scientific division which has been set forth.

"In the first place, they should be procured of the proper age, as puppies and dogs over age are of no value for guarding either themselves or sheep, and sometimes fall a prey to wild beasts. They should be comely of face, of good size, with eyes either darkish or yellowish, symmetrical nostrils, lips blackish or reddish, the upper lip neither raised too high nor drooping low, stubby jaw with two fangs projecting somewhat from it on the right and left, the upper straight rather than curved, their sharp teeth covered by the lip, large head, large and drooping ears, thick shoulders and neck, the thighs and shanks long, legs straight and rather bowed in than out, large, wide paws which spread as he walks, the toes separated, the claws hard and curving, the sole of the foot not horny or too hard, but rather spongy, as it were, and soft; with the body tapering at the top of the thigh, the backbone neither projecting nor swayed, tail thick; with a deep bark, wide gape, preferably white in colour, so that they may the more readily be distinguished in the dark; and of a leonine appearance. Bitches, in addition, should have well formed dugs with teats of equal size. Care should also be taken that they be of good breed; accordingly they receive their names from the districts from which they come: Spartans, Epirotes, Sallentines. You should be careful not to buy dogs from huntsmen or butchers — in the latter case because they are too sluggish to follow the flock, and in the other because if they see a hare or a stag they will follow it rather than the sheep. It is better, therefore, to buy from a shepherd a bitch which has been trained to follow sheep, or one that has had no training at all; for a dog forms a habit for anything very easily, and the attachment he forms for shepherds is more lasting than that he forms for sheep. Publius Aufidius Pontianus, of Amiternum, had bought some herds of sheep in furthest Umbria, the purchase including the dogs but not the shepherds, but providing that the shepherds should take them to the pastures of Metapontum and to market at Heraclea. When the men who had taken them there had returned home, the dogs, without direction and simply from their longing for their masters, returned to the shepherds in Umbria a few days later, though it was a journey of many days, having lived off the country. And yet not one of those shepherds had done what Saserna, in his book on agriculture, directed: that a man who wanted a dog to follow him should throw him a boiled frog! It is very important that the dogs be all of the same family, as those which are related are the greatest protection to one another. The fourth point is that of purchase: possession passes when the dog is delivered by the former owner to the next. With regard to health and liability to damage, the same precautions are taken as in the case of sheep, except that it is advisable to make the following stipulation: some people fix the price of dogs per head, others stipulate that pups go with their mother, others that two pups count as one dog just as usually two lambs count as one sheep, and many that dogs be included which have become accustomed to being together.

"The food of dogs is more like that of man than that of sheep: they eat scraps of meat and bones, not grass and leaves. Great care must be taken for their supply of food; for hunger will drive them to hunt for food, if it is not provided, and take them away from the flock — even if they do not, as some think, come to the point of disproving the ancient proverb, or even go so far as to enact the story of Actaeon, and sink their teeth in their master. You should also feed them barley bread, but not without soaking it in milk; for when they have become accustomed to eating that kind of food they will not soon stray from the flock. They are not allowed to feed on the flesh of a dead sheep, for fear that the taste will make them less inclined to spare the flock. They are also fed on bone soup and even broken bones as well; for these make their teeth stronger and their mouths of wider stretch, because their jaws are spread with greater force, and the savour of the marrow makes them more keen. Their habit is to eat during the day when they are out with the flocks, and at evening when these are folded. The beginning of breeding is fixed at the opening of spring, for at that time they are said to be 'in heat', that is, to show their desire for mating. Those that conceive at that time have a litter about the time of the summer solstice, for they usually carry their young for three months. During the period of gestation they should be fed barley bread rather than wheat bread, for they are better nourished on the former and yield a larger supply of milk. In the matter of rearing after birth, if the litter is large you should at once pick those that you wish to keep and dispose of the others. The fewer you leave the better they will grow, because of the abundance of milk. Chaff and other like stuff is spread under them, because they are more easily reared on a soft bedding. The pups open their eyes within twenty days; for the first two months after birth they are not taken from the mother, but are weaned by degrees. Several of them are driven into one place and teased to make them fight, so as to make them more keen; but they are not allowed to tire themselves out, as this makes them sluggish. They are also accustomed to being tied, at first with slight leashes; and if they try to gnaw these they are whipped to keep them from forming the habit of doing this. On rainy days the kennels should be bedded with leaves or fodder, and this for two purposes: to keep them from being muddied, and to keep them from getting chilled. Some people castrate them, because they think that by this means they are less likely to leave the flock; others do not, because they think this makes them less keen. Some people crush filberts in water and rub the mixture over their ears and between their toes, as the flies and worms and fleas make ulcers there if you do not use this ointment. To protect them from being wounded by wild beasts, collars are placed on them — the so‑called melium, that is, a belt around the neck made of stout leather with nails having heads; under the nail heads there is sewed a piece of soft leather, to prevent the hard iron from injuring the neck. The reason for this is that if a wolf or other beast has been wounded by these nails, this makes the other dogs also, which do not have the collar, safe. The number of dogs is usually determined by the size of the flock; it is thought to be about right for one dog to follow each shepherd. But the number varies with the circumstances; thus in countries where wild beasts are plentiful there should be more, as is usually the case with those who escort the flocks to summer and winter pastures through distant woodland trails. On the other hand, for a flock feeding near the steading two dogs to the farm are sufficient. These should be a male and a female, for in this case they are more watchful, as one makes the other more keen, and if one of the two is sick that the flock may not be without a dog."
Now, as I promised in the earlier part of my treatise, I will speak of the dumb guardians of the flocks, though it is wrong to speak of the dog as a dumb guardian; for what human being more clearly or so vociferously gives warning of the presence of a wild beast or of a thief as does the dog by its barking? What servant is more attached to his master than is a dog? What companion more faithful? What guardian more incorruptible? What more wakeful night-watchman can be found? Lastly, what more steadfast avenger or defender? To buy and keep a dog ought, therefore, to be among the first things which a farmer does, because it is the guardian of the farm, its produce, the household and the cattle. There are three different reasons for procuring and keeping a dog. One type of dog is chosen to oppose the plots of human beings and watches over the farm and all its appurtenances; a second kind for repelling the attacks of men and wild beasts and keeping an eye at home on the stables and abroad on the flocks as they feed; the third kind is acquired for the purposes of the chase, and not only does not help the farmer but actually lures him away from his work and makes him lazy about it. We must, therefore, speak of the farm-yard dog and the sheep-dog; for the sporting hound has nothing to do with the art which we profess.

As guardian of the farm a dog should be chosen which is of ample bulk with a loud and sonorous bark in order that it may terrify the malefactor, first because he hears it and then because he sees it; indeed, sometimes without being even seen it puts to flight the crafty plotter merely by the terror which its growling inspires. It should be the same colour all over, white being the colour which should rather be chosen for a sheep-dog and black for a farm-yard dog; for a dog of varied colouring is not to be recommended for either purpose. The shepherd prefers a white dog because it is unlike a wild beast, and sometimes a plain means of distinction is required in the dogs when one is driving off wolves in the obscurity of early morning or even at dusk, lest one strike a dog instead of a wild beast. The farmyard dog, which is pitted against the wicked wiles of men, if the thief approaches in the clear light of day, has a more alarming appearance if it is black, whereas at night it is not even seen because it resembles the shadow and so, under the cover of darkness, the dog can approach the crafty thief in greater security. A squarely built dog is preferred to one which is long or short, and it should have a head so large as to appear to form the largest part of it; it should have ears which droop and hang down, eyes black or grey, sparkling with rays of bright light, a broad and shaggy chest, wide shoulders, thick, rough legs and a short tail; the joints of its feet and its claws, which the Greeks call drakes, should be very large. Such are the points which will meet with most approval in all farm-yard dogs. In character they should neither be very mild nor, on the other hand, savage and cruel; if they are mild, they fawn on everyone, including the thief; if they are fierce they attack even the people of the house. It is enough that they should be stern but not fawning, so that they sometimes look even upon their companions in servitude with a somewhat wrathful eye, while they always blaze with anger against strangers. Above all they should be seen to be vigilant in their watch and not given to wandering, but diligent and cautious rather than rash; for the cautious do not give the alarm unless they have discovered something for certain, whereas the rash are aroused by any vain noise and groundless suspicion. I have thought it necessary to mention these points, because it is not nature alone but education as well which forms character, so that, when there is an opportunity of buying a dog, we may choose one with these qualities and that when we are going to train dogs which have been born at home, we may bring them up on such principles as these. It does not matter much if farm-yard dogs are heavily built and lack speed, since they have to function rather at close quarters and where they are posted than at a distance and over a wide area; for they should always remain round the enclosures and within the buildings, indeed they ought never go out farther from home and can perfectly well carry out their duties by cleverly scenting out anyone who approaches and frightening him by barking and not allowing him to come any nearer, or, if he insists on approaching, they violently attack him. Their first duty is not to allow themselves to be attacked, their second duty to defend themselves with courage and pertinacity if they are provoked. So much for the dogs which guard the house; our next subject is sheep-dogs.

A dog which is to guard cattle ought not to be as lean and swift of foot as one which pursues deer and stags and the swiftest animals, nor so fat and heavily built as the dog which guards the farm and granary, but he must, nevertheless, be strong and to a certain extent prompt to act and vigorous, since the purpose for which he is acquired is to pick quarrels and to fight and also to move quickly, since he has to repel the stealthy lurking of the wolf and to follow the wild beast as he escapes with his prey and make him drop it and to bring it back again. Therefore a dog of a rather long, slim build is better able to deal with these emergencies than one which is short or even squarely built, since, as I have said, sometimes the necessity of pursuing a wild beast with speed demands this. The other joints in sheep-dogs if they resemble the limbs of farm-yard dogs meet with equal approval.

Practically the same food should be given to both types of dog. If the farm is extensive enough to support herds of cattle, barley-flour with whey is a suitable food for all dogs without distinction; but if the land is closely planted with young shoots and affords no pasture, they must be given their fill of bread made from emmer or wheaten flour, mixed, however, with the liquid of boiled beans, which must be lukewarm, for, if it is boiling, it causes madness.

Neither dogs nor bitches must be allowed to have sexual intercourse until they are a year old; for if they are allowed to do so when they are quite young, it enfeebles their bodies and their strength, and causes them to degenerate mentally. The first puppies which a bitch produces must be taken from her, because at the first attempt she does not nourish them properly and the rearing of them hinders her general bodily growth. Dogs procreate vigorously up to ten years of age, but beyond that they do not seem suitable for covering bitches, for the offspring of an elderly dog turns out to be slow and lazy. Bitches conceive up to nine years of age, but are not serviceable after the tenth year. Puppies should not be allowed to run loose during the first six months, until they are grown strong, except to join their mother in sport and play; later they should be kept on the chain during the day and let loose at night. We should never allow those whose noble qualities we wish to preserve, to be brought up at the dugs of any strange bitch, since its mother's milk and spirit always does much more to foster the growth of their minds and bodies. But if a bitch which has a litter is deficient in milk, it will be best to provide goats' milk for the puppies until they are four months old.

Dogs should be called by names which are not very long, so that each may obey more quickly when he is called, but they should not have shorter names than those which are pronounced in two syllables," such as the Greek Σκύλαξ (puppy) and the Latin Ferox (savage), the Greek Λάκων (Spartan) and the Latin Celer (speedy) or, for a bitch, the Greek Σπουδή (zeal), Άλκή (Valour), ‘Ρωμή (strength) or the Latin Lupa (she-wolf), Cerva (hind) and Tigris (tigress). It will be found best to cut the tails of puppies forty days after birth in the following manner: there is a nerve, which passes along through the joints of the spine down to the extremity of the tail; this is taken between the teeth and drawn out a little way and then broken. As a result, the tail never grows to an ugly length and (so many shepherds declare) rabies, a disease which is fatal to this animal, is prevented.

It commonly happens that in the summer the ears of dogs are so full of sores caused by flies, that they often lose their ears altogether. To prevent this, the ears should be rubbed with crushed bitter almonds. If, however, the ears are already covered with sores, it will be found a good plan to drip boiled liquid pitch mixed with lard on the wounds. Ticks also fall off if they are touched with this same preparation; for they ought not to be plucked off by hand, lest, as we have remarked also before, they cause sores. A dog which is infested with fleas should be treated either with crushed cumin mixed in water with the same quantity of hellebore and smeared on, or else with the juice of the snake-like cucumber, or if these are unobtainable, with stale oil-lees poured over the whole body. If a dog is attacked by the scab, gypsum and sesame should be ground together in equal quantities and mixed with liquid pitch and smeared on the part affected; this remedy is reported to be suitable also for human beings. If this plague has become rather violent, it is got rid of by the juice of the cedar-tree. The other diseases of dogs will have to be treated according to the instructions which we have given for the other animals.

  • [s.n.], (1833) 'The Shepherds of the Abruzzi', in The Penny Magazine
We lately gave an account of the wandering Italians who are so frequently found in our streets; and we now propose to attempt a short description of a pastoral people in the South of Italy, who, though they do not quit their own country, make annual migrations with their flocks on an extensive scale and to considerable distances.
These are the Abruzzesi, or peasants of the Abruzzi, two mountainous provinces in the kingdom of Naples, which, comparing things with our own, may be called the Highlands of that country. The plains about Sulmona and Chieti, two of the most important cities in these parts, indeed the whole of the valley of the Pescara; the flats and the declivities of the hills that surround the beautiful lake of Celano; some strips of land along the coast of the Adriatic, and a few other places, are susceptible of profitable cultivation, and are well cultivated; but, generally speaking, the country is mountainous and rugged in the extreme, offering little to rural economy, save almost boundless sheep-walks and browsing grounds for goats. Nature has therefore made the inhabitants of this country a pastoral people, and they are so to a degree which can hardly be imagined but by those who have visited these much neglected but interesting provinces. Entering fairly into the Abruzzi, above the romantic town of Castel di Sangro (as you do, coming from Naples), the traveller finds himself in a new world, the simple. primitive manners of which are most striking. He no longer sees the vines hung in festoons from the elm-trees. nor the broad-bladed vividly green Indian corn, nor the exuberant soil bearing two crops, nor the flowering orchards and shady Italian pines, nor the thronging, noisy population he has left behind him in the agricultural and most fertile province of the Terra di Lavoro or Campagna Felice, but he sees immense flocks of sheep spread over the mountain pastures, he hears the continual tinkling of goat-bells from the mountain summits, he observes that the cottages and hamlets, instead of being surrounded by gardens and cultivated fields, are flanked and backed by sheep-cotes and stables; and that almost the only quality of person he meets on his way is a shepherd clad in his sheep-skin jacket, with sheep-skin buskins to his legs, and followed by his white, long-haired sheep-dog. Instead of the water being carried along in stone or brick aqueducts for the purposes of agriculture and horticulture, as in the lowlands, he sees it, here and there, caught and conducted in hollowed trees, cut from the mountain's sides, which are fashioned not like our pipes but like open troughs, so that the flocks may drink out of them at any part of their course. Besides these simple ducts, he occasionally passes little stone fountains equally rustic in their structure, before which are placed a number of hollowed trees for the convenience of the sheep. In short, the aspect of the country is essentially pastoral.
Manufacturing and (though in a much less degree) even agricultural populations are found gradually to adapt themselves to the changes which are introduced into society and manners, and to keep somewhat near to the march of the age in which they live; but it is far different with a pastoral race inhabiting a wild and secluded country, and passing the greater part of their time in almost absolute solitude on the mountain's side: consequently the primitiveness of manners which we have mentioned as existing here is indeed most striking, and carries back the imagination to the early ages of the world. The Abruzzesi peasantry have the same taste for romantic traditions that distinguishes our highlanders and the inhabitants of mountainous countries generally; they are as superstitious – they have the same love of music, and their instrument is the some as that of our northern brethren, for their zampogna scarcely differs in any thing from the highland bag-pipe, which instrument. be it said, is also found in nearly all the mountainous countries of the world. Some of their superstitions are evident remnants of classical paganism; others are a compound of monkish legends and paganism, and the mass is, of course, what has arisen from the Romish church. They have a traditionary reverence for the name of their countrymen Ovid, but, like the poor Neapolitans who believe that Virgil was a great magician, they make their poet's fame depend upon his having been a mighty adept in necromancy. In the town of Sulmona, the place of the poet's birth, they keep a rude stone statue which people have chosen to call Ovidio Nasone, though it is more probably the effigy of some portly abbot of the fourteenth century. As the writer of this article was standing before it one day, at shepherd boy, who was returning from the market in the town, took off his hat to it, as though it had been the image of a saint. The traveller did not then know Ovid's fame as a magician, and was much delighted at what he thought a mark of popular reverence to genius, and asked himself the question whether on English peasant would doff his cap to the statue of Shakspeare or of Milton.
The Abruzzesi shepherds are a fine race of men, and make excellent soldiers, particularly cavalry; though they are naturally averse to the military service. The best disciplined and steadiest troops in Murat's army were raised in this part of his kingdom. In former times the country was much infested by banditti, and one of the most famous robber chiefs mentioned in modern history – Marco Sciarra – was an Abruzzese. Except in times of execrable misgovernment, as under some of the Spanish viceroys, these depredations were almost confined to the frontiers and to the mountain passes that lead into the Roman states, and the troops of brigands were rather composed of Roman and Neapolitan outlaws, invited there by the facilities for plundering, and the security offered in those mountainous wilds, than of the native peasantry. Of late years scarcely an instance of brigandage has been heard of – except in the case of a band that come from a different part of the kingdom, and was soon suppressed, mainly by the peasants themselves. In 1823 the writer of this short account travelled through the greater part of the country – in the wildest places alone on horseback, or only with such a guide as he could pick up among the peasantry, and instead of robbers and cut-throats he found every where honest people, who were civil, and even hospitable.
Winter is felt in these mountains in great, and in some places in its utmost rigour. The lofty summits of the Gran Sasso d'ltalia (the Great Rock of Italy, the highest peak in the Peninsula) are nearly always covered with deep snow – so are the mountains above Aquila, the capital of the provinces, and many others of the ridges; while the crevasses (rifts) in the superior parts of Monte Majello that towers above Sulmona offer enduring and increasing fields of ice and glaciers that may astonish even the traveller who has seen those of the Alps. Among the wild beasts the bear and the wolf are still found in considerable numbers. The "Piano di cinque miglie", or the Plain of five miles, which is a narrow flat valley almost at the top of the Apennines, but flanked by the summits of these mountains, and which is the principal communication with Naples, is subject to drifts, and those hurricanes called tourmens. Accumulations of snow frequently render the road impassable, and sometimes endanger and destroy life. The winds that blow from these mountains even so early as the end of summer, are often bleak and piercing. The numerous flocks that feed on, and beautify their pastures in summer, would droop and perish if exposed there in the winter. Consequently, at the approach of that season, the Abruzzesi peasants emigrate with them into the lowlands of Puglia.
The plain of Puglia is an immense amphitheatre, whose front is open to the Adriatic Sea, and the rest of it enclosed by Mount Garganus and a semicircular sweep of the Apennines, prominent among which is the lofty cone of Mount Vultur (an extinct volcano, the craters of which are now romantic lakes). The mountains, however, generally defend the plain from the worst winds of winter, and the climate is as mild and genial throughout the year as might be expected from the favourable latitude of the place, and its trifling elevation above the sea. The want of water, and the entire absence of trees which would attract humidity to the thirsty soil, have been reasons why this immense flat has been left almost untouched by the plough or spade. The great expanse presents the appearance of an eastern desert, over which, when not sparingly enlivened by the presence of the Abruzzesi and their flocks, you may travel in all directions for miles and miles without meeting a human being, or any signs of human industry — without seeing a tree or a bush, or any elevation in the dead flat, to mask the view of the Adriatic and the surrounding mountains.
It is said by the Neapolitan historians, that their king, Alfonso of Aragon, seeing this immense plain destitute of men, determined to people it with beasts; but it is probable, from the advantages it offers, and the difficulties of their own mountain climate, that the shepherds of the Abruui have in all ages resorted to it in winter as they now do, and that Alfonso merely regulated some laws and duties, whose principal tendency was to enrich the exchequer of the state by deriving some revenue from waste lands. In modem times a department of government has been appointed exclusively to the charge of the “Tavogliere di Puglia", as it is called in Neapolitan statistics; and the head of this department, who was generally at person of rank, was obliged to reside occasionally at Foggia. Of late years some changes have been introduced in this branch of the administration.
Every flock of sheep as it arrives is counted, and has to pay a certain sum, proportionate to its number, for the right of pasture; and small as are these rates, from the immense droves that come, they form an aggregate which, after the expenses of collecting, &c. are paid, annually gives to the Neapolitan government many thousand ducats. Large sheds, and low houses built of mud and stone, that look like stabling, exist here and there on the plain, and have either been erected by the great sheep proprietors, or are let out to them at an easy rent by the factors of the tavogliere. Other temporary homesteads are constructed by the shepherds themselves as they arrive; and a few pass the winter in tents covered with very thick and coarse dark cloth, woven with wool and hair. The permanent houses are generally large enough to accommodate a whole society of shepherds; the temporary huts and tents are always erected in groups, that the shepherds of the same flocks may be near to each other. The sheep-folds are in the rear of the large houses, but generally placed in the midst of the huts and tents. On account of the wolves, that frequently descend from the mountains and commit severe ravages, they are obliged to keep a great number of dogs, which are of a remarkably fine breed, being rather larger than our Newfoundland dog, very strongly made, snowy white in colour, and bold and faithful. You cannot approach these pastoral hamlets, either by night or day, without being beset by these vigilant guardians, that look sufficiently formidable when they charge the intruder (as often happens) in troops of a dozen or fifteen. They have frequent encounters with the wolves, evident signs of which some of the old campaigners show in their persons, being now and then found sadly tom and maimed. The shepherds say that two of them, "of the right sort” are a match for an ordinary wolf.
The writer of this notice has several times seen a good deal of these Abruzzesi shepherds in their winter establishments. The first time he came in contact with them was in the month of February, 1817, in the course of a journey through the southern provinces of the kingdom of Naples. He had no companion except the Calabrian pony that carried him, and a rough-haired Scotch terrier (a creature of a very different disposition), when he arrived at the almost undistinguishable site of the town of Cannae, near which the fatal battle was fought, which is in the midst of the wild plain, about six miles from the town of Canosa (anciently Canusium), and not quite so far from the shores of the Adriatic. The most perfect solitude and stillness reigned there; but when he ascended the slightly elevated mound in which Cannae had stood, he saw in at little hollow at a short distance a very long, low tenement, at the door of which were some men with sheep-dogs, and he perceived large flocks of white sheep nibbling the short grass on all the little hillocks around him, and over the plain on both sides [of] the river Ofanto, on the identical field of the Roman and Carthaginian conflict, to a great distance. The only objects that remained on the site of Cannae were some traces of walls that once girded the mound; on the summit of the mound some excavations, or subterranean chambers, with well or cistern-like mouths, which were open; and at a little distance two large slabs of stone, placed on end in the ground, and leaning against each other, — a simple monument, by which the peasantry of the country point out the held of Cannae, or, as they call it, "the field of blood". Attracted by his appearance, for the sight of a stranger is a rarity, two of the men came up from the house to the traveller while he was measuring and examining the ground. Though uncouth in their appearance they were very courteous and not only gave him several little pieces of local information, which showed that popular tradition had faithfully preserved the memory of the great events that once occurred in that solitude, but they assisted him to descend into one of the subterranean chambers, which they called (as the chambers in all probability had been) "granaries", or "corn magazines".[1]

By the time the stranger had finished his examination and queries on the spot the sun was setting, and, at the invitation of the shepherds, he went down to the house. As he reached the rude but hospitable door, a tall venerable man with a snow-white sheep-skin pelisse, who had just dismounted from a shaggy little mare came up, and bade him welcome. This was the chief shepherd. He expressed his regret that the tugurio (hut) offered so little that a gentleman could eat, but all that he had the stranger (who was too hungry to be delicate) was welcome to. A youth, the old man's grandson, was immediately set to work to fry an omelette and some lardo or fat bacon. While this was doing, several other shepherds arrived, driving their flocks before them to the spacious cotes in the rear of the house — and later, there came others in a similar way, until all of the company were collected.

Besides his omelette and bacon, the traveller's repast was enriched with some good Indian corn bread, some ricotta, which is a delicious preparation of goat's milk, and some generous wine bought at the neighbouring town of Canosa. The sun meanwhile had set — there is scarcely any twilight in these southern regions, and before his meal was finished it was almost dark night. The kind old man did not like the idea of his travelling at such an hour: he, however, offered him two shepherds as an escort to Canosa if he would go; but if he would stay where he was, and content himself with a shepherd's lodging for the night, he was welcome. The traveller did not hesitate in accepting the invitation, and when his pony was put up in a sort of barn attached to the house, he made himself very comfortable on a low wooden bench which the men covered with sheep-skins for him, near the fire.
When all the pastoral society was assembled, the patriarchal chief shepherd taking the lead, they repeated aloud, and with well modulated responses, the evening prayers, or the Catholic service of "Ave Maria". A boy then lit a massy old brass lamp, that looked as if it had been dug out of Pompeii, and on producing it said "Santa notte a tutta la compagnia" — (a holy night to all the company[2]). The shepherds then took their supper which was very frugal, consisting principally of Indian corn bread and raw onions with a very little wine. Some of them, after their meal, sat round the fire conversing with their visitor and others went to rest.
The whole of the interior of the room was occupied by one long apartment, in the middle of which was the fire-place, unprovided with a chimney, the smoke finding its way through the crannies in the roof and other apertures; on the sides of the apartment were spread the dried broad blades of the Indian com and sheep-skins which formed the shepherds' beds, but there were two or three little constructions (not unlike the berths on board ship) made against the wall, which were warm and comfortable, and occupied by the old man and other privileged members of the society, one of whom kindly vacated his dormitory for the stranger. Besides these rustic beds and the wooden benches, the lamps and some cooking utensils, there was scarcely any other furniture in the room.
The scene that presented itself in that singular interior, as the traveller peeped out of his snug berth, was such as cannot easily be forgotten. The light of the lamp — and, when that was extinguished, the flickering flames of the fire in the centre of the room, disclosed in singular chiaroscuro the figures of the shepherds sleeping in their sheep-skins, along the sides of the room near to the fire; the rugged roof of the apartment, by smoke and time, was an black as jet, and the two extremities of the habitation were lost in gloom. Some old fire-arms hung by the berth of the principal shepherd; the strong knotty sticks and the long crooks of the men were placed against the wall. Several of the huge dogs lay dreaming with their noses to the fire, and round the fire-place still remained the rude wooden benches, on some of which the shepherds had thrown their cloaks and other parts of their attire in most picturesque confusion. Soon, however, the flames died on the hearth, the embers merely smouldered, and all was darkness, but not all silence, for the men snored most sonorously; the wind that swept across the wide, open plain, howled round the house, and occasionally the dogs joined in its chorus. These things, however, did not prevent the traveller from passing a comfortable night, and with a sense of as great security, inasmuch as the poor shepherds were concerned, as he would have enjoyed had he been among friends in England.
The next morning, when he was about to continue his journey to Canosa, he offered money for the accomodations he had received. This the old shepherd refused, and seemed hurt by his pressing it upon him. Nothing then remained but thanks and a kind leave-taking. These shepherds were to remain where they then were until the middle of spring, when they would slowly retrace their steps to the Abruzzi, whence they would again depart for the Pianura di Puglia at the approach of winter.
  1. Corn is still kept in subterranean chambers in the same manner at Canosa, Troja, Lucera, Foggia (a great grain-market), Manfredonia, and all this part of Apulia.
  2. This custom is found to prevail in nearly all the country ships. When the mozzo or cabin-boy lights the lamp he says, "Buona (or Santa) notte al capitano e a tutta la compagnia".
  • MacDonell, Anne, Amy Atkinson (ill.) (1907) In the Abruzzi New York: F.A. Stokes p. 18
The sheep-dogs of the Abruzzi are very formidable – huge, white, shaggy creatures that look as if they had in them equal parts of bear and wolf, unmatched for strength and ferocity too. As they rise slowly on the path, their eyes gleam red, and their ominous growl sends one’s heart into one’s mouth. Lucky if the master be near to call them off, though if they are not on guard they are generally harmless-but never ingratiating. On the road to Pettorano we were suddenly surrounded by six of the great creatures. One or two showed their teeth, and six pairs of red eyes glowed like coals. But slowly the circle they made relaxed, and they went their ways. Their flocks were not by, else perhaps, as suspicious strangers, we should have received closer attentions than a mere warning. They are trained to flerceness from the first, and by cruel methods. Says De Nino: “A lui si tagliano gli orecchi, e dopo che si son bene abbrustolite, si danno per pasto al sanguinante animale, che deve cosi diventare più feroce.”[1]
Life is not to be play to them. Round their necks they wear a wide collar, with sharp spikes as long as your finger. In the winter plains, as in the high pastures of the summer, wolves are the constant enemy. If they can be kept off his throat, the great white beast may be a match for two or three.
  1. "Him, we cut off his ears, and when they are well grilled, we give them as a meal to the bleeding animal, which thus becomes more ferocious."

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