The Cover Section Editor: M. Therese Southgate, MD, Senior Contributing Editor.
In Western art, dogs generally appear as benign metaphors, standing for, for example, fidelity, friendship, devotion, affection, sometimes even a lover's unspoken intentions. But the dog can also symbolize something less benign. We speak of the “dog days” of summer, that uncomfortably hot, humid period during July and August, so-called because the ancients believed the heat was caused by Sirius, the Dog Star; since during that period it rose and set at the same time as the sun it must somehow add its heat to the sun's heat. On rare occasions, however, the dog can become even a symbol of malignancy such as war or violence. In Julius Caesar, for example, Shakespeare gives Antony the famous “dogs of war” speech. Referring to Caesar's death, Antony says “And Caesar's spirit, ranging for revenge,/With Ate [daughter of Jupiter and goddess of evil] by his side come hot from hell,/Shall in these confines with a monarch's voice/Cry ‘Havoc!’ and let slip the dogs of war” (act 3, scene 1). Here the dog is no longer the faithful, loving pet, but a dog gone mad, a vicious, uncontrollable animal hungry for flesh. Such is Mad Dog (cover) by the 20th-century painter Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991), who, until his death in Mexico City at age 91, was acknowledged as Mexico's greatest living painter.
Southgate MT. Mad Dog. JAMA. 2006;296(5):480. doi:10.1001/jama.296.5.480