Anda di halaman 1dari 15

Attitudes towards Animals in Ancient Greece

Author(s): Steven H. Lonsdale


Source: Greece & Rome, Second Series, Vol. 26, No. 2 (Oct., 1979), pp. 146-159
Published by: Cambridge University Press on behalf of The Classical Association
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/642507 .
Accessed: 21/01/2011 08:47
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at .
http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless
you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you
may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use.
Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at .
http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=cup. .
Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed
page of such transmission.
JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of
content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms
of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.
Cambridge University Press and The Classical Association are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve
and extend access to Greece & Rome.
http://www.jstor.org
ATTITUDES TOWARDS ANIMALS
IN ANCIENT
GREECE1
By
STEVEN H. LONSDALE
Among
the
general questions
that arise in
analysing
a culture's out-
look on its fauna are the
following:
Where do animals
belong
in
the world-view of that
culture,
in their
cosmogony
or historical
mythology,
and how do these
aetiological
beliefs reflect
upon
the
economic
position
of animals? What is the
range
of emotional
attitudes towards man's
enigmatic
and
uncanny
half-brothers,
especially
domesticated
species?
Are animals used in entertain-
ment?
Questions
such as these
may
be further refined
by
deter-
mining
which
species
are
domesticated,
which
hunted;
which are
eaten
by
man,
which
taboo;
which animals does man sacrifice or
worship?
Are animals
kept
as
pets,
and if
so,
what kinds of names
does a culture
give
them-human names or abstract names em-
bodying
a
spiritual quality
or force in nature? To what extent
are these non-verbal creatures a substitute for affection or sadistic
punishment,
or a
target
for
aggressive
or hostile
feelings?
In other
words,
what
qualities
does man
project
onto animals? Or
put
slightly differently,
which
powers
does he attribute to the animal?
Is an animal
thought capable
of
curing
illness,
for
example?
And
finally,
what are some of the recurrent
symbols
that
emerge
for a
given
animal in
legend
or
myth?
The fauna of ancient Greece do not
vary appreciably
from those
of
modern-day
Greece,
save for the notable
depletion nowadays
in
numbers of two domesticated
species,
horses and
large
cattle,
owing
to lack of
pasturage through over-grazing.2
Game is com-
mon,
and around the
ubiquitous
Greek coastline fish are
plentiful.
Among
the wild
species
found in Greece are the
'European'
animals,
such as
wildcat, marten,
brown
bear,
roe
deer, wolf,
wild
boar,
and
lynx.
The
jackal,
wild
goat,
and
porcupine
are more
typically
Mediterranean
species.
A few
species
have become rare or
extinct. These include the lion and
agrimi,
a
variety
of wild
goat
known from artistic
representations
and the Minoan Linear B
tablets,
which
tally up
the number of horns used in
manufacturing
the
composite
bow.3
Today
the
agrimi
is a
protected species
con-
fined to the area west of the Roumeli
Gorge
in the White Moun-
tains of Crete. The
lion,
whose
disputed
existence in the Greek
world is
entangled
in a lair of
controversy,
is absent. In historical
times Herodotus
(7.125-7)
reports
lions in northern
Greece,
and
ATTITUDES TOWARDS ANIMALS IN ANCIENT GREECE 147
Aristotle
(H.A. 8.28),
an inhabitant of this
region,
follows suit.
The naturalistic
portrayal
of lions in
Mycenaean
art and the vivid
descriptions
of
marauding
lions in the Homeric similes offer com-
pelling subjective
evidence for their
presence
in the
Aegean,
The Greeks were a mixed
planter
and animal-breeder culture
from the
Early
Bronze
Age. Despite
the
undisputed physical
beauty
of Greece and its occasional fertile
valleys, plains,
and
rivers,
Greece has
always
been a
poor country
with a
parching
climate.
Many regions
are mountainous and
landlocked,
and
virtually everywhere
the soil is
rocky. Vegetation
can be
sparse,
especially
in
the
Peloponnese.
Given such conditions the inhabit-
ants
managed
to
produce grain
at a subsistence
level
and to
breed,
by process
of
selection,
resilient strains of cattle. The
wealthy
landowner could afford to raise horses and horned
cattle,
the
peasant
small cattle
(sheep, goats, pigs) only. Poultry-breeding
was common
throughout
Greece. In Hellenistic times it
proved
profitable,
and sometimes
necessary,
to sow the earth in order to
supplement pasturage. Realistically,
from the
point
of view of the
peasant,
the soil could sustain small cattle more
readily
than
cows.4
This is not to
say
that
large
cattle were absent. The
largest
island off the coast of
Attica, Euboia,
means 'rich in
cattle',
and
the
many
sacrificial cattle in the
great procession
on the Parthenon
frieze indicate that cattle could be
spared
for sacrifice. But it
may
be assumed
that,
since
pasturage
was at a
premium, large
cattle
were scarcer and
commensurately
more valuable than small cattle.
Because of their value oxen were at the basis of
important
econ-
omic and social
practices.
Before the introduction of
coinage
in
the Greek world cattle were a
measuring-stick
of wealth. In the
funeral
games
of
Patrolkdos
in the
Iliad,
the victor of the
wrestling-
match is accorded a
tripod,
we are
told,
worth twelve
oxen,
and
the
runner-up
a female slave worth four oxen
(II. 23.700-5).
This
form of
primitive money
is
paralleled
in
many
cultures.5
Cattle were
exchanged
in the social institution of
dowry.
The
dowry
in ancient Greece
may
not have been a
one-way exchange
but a more or less mutual trade between bride and
groom's
family.6
Like the name for the island of
Euboia,
girls
were
given
cow-names,
so it would
appear,
to
encourage prospective
husbands.
'Euboia' itself is
found,
as well as names like 'Phereboia'
('bringing
in
many
cows'),
'Polyboia' ('worth
much
cattle'),
or
'Stheneboia',
('strong
in
cows').7
There is no indication that cows were used for
dairy-products
in
Greece: the
goatinstead
was
the
milk-supplier. The meat, however,
was eaten. But the
majority
of the
population,
which lived in the
148 ATTITUDES TOWARDS ANIMALS IN ANCIENT GREECE
countryside tilling
the
fields,
existed on a
primarily vegetarian
diet.
They
did not dislike
meat;
it was scarce and
expensive,
served
up
to the landowner or saved for feasts.
Pronounced
meat-eating
habits are associated with
religious
cults. At one extreme
worshippers
in the
Orphic
cults from
archaic times adhered to a strict
vegetarian
diet which
prescribed
keeping
to inanimate food and
abstaining totally
from
things
animate
(P1. Leg.
782
C).
At the
other,
the ritual
eating
of raw ox
flesh,
cpobayla,
was the
culminating
act of the
Dionysiac
winter
dance. There is evidence for the belief that
Dionysos appeared
as
a
bull,
including
a
fragment
of one of the carmina
popularia
from
Elis which invoked the
deity
as a bull
(Poet.
Mel. Graec.
Pop.
871b).
The exhausted female
worshippers subjected
themselves to
a finale which was at once
exalting
and
repulsive: they
tore
apart
a live bull and
ingested
the inward
parts
in order to become one
with the
god.
In the heat of this emotional
conflict,
they
believed
that
they
were
incorporating
the
godhead,
the
logic being,
accord-
ing
to the
principle
of
homeopathic magic,
that if
you
want to
be like the
god you
must eat the
god.8
The scene that Greek literature and
myth
reflect is one of
expansive
and
bustling pastoralism.
The Homeric
poems give
the
impression
that
large quantities
of oxen were
about,
to be
plun-
dered
by
the
enterprising
hero. But within the framework of an
epic poem
this
picture probably
amounts to a
glamorization
of the
actual
circumstances,
just
as the hero is a
magnification
of an
ordinary
mortal.
Hesiod,
composing
across the
Aegean
at a time
roughly contemporary
with
Homer,
perhaps gives
a fairer likeness.
He advises the farmer in the Works and
Days
to establish himself
before winter sets in
saying,
'First of
all,
get
a
house,
and a
woman,
and an ox for the
plough' (Op.
405
f.).
Epithets
for
regions
and
individuals,
such as 'rich in
flocks',
and
the memorable bucolic characters
throughout
Greek
legend
indicate
that the Greeks liked to see one
faqade
of their national
identity
in
terms of animal
husbandry.
In
epic
and
lyric poetry
an
epithet
often accorded to the earth is
simply
'mother of the flocks'. Greek
myths'
and
legends
are so
permeated by pastoralism
as to
convey
the
impression
that
virtually everybody, including gods,
heroes,
thieves,
beggars,
and even monsters
put
in his time as a
shepherd.
The most uncivilized of
monsters,
the
man-eating, one-eyed
Cyclops Polyphemos
is cast in the
Odyssey
as a
shepherd dutifully
herding, counting,
and
milking
his
sheep
and
goats.
The
morning
after
Odysseus
has
got
him drunk and blinded
him,
the monster
stands at the entrance to his cave. He is
suffering
bitter
pain.
In
ATTITUDES TOWARDS ANIMALS IN ANCIENT GREECE 149
plaintive
tones he addresses the lead ram
(under
whose
belly
Odysseus
is
guilefully
concealed)
and looks for a friend in him:
My
dear old
ram, why
are
you
thus
leaving
the cave last of the
sheep? ...
Perhaps you
are
grieving
for
your
master's
eye,
which a bad man with his
wicked
companions put
out,
this
Nobody,
who I think has not
yet got
clear
of destruction. If
only you
could think like us and be
given
a voice
...
(Od. 9.447-57)
This
passage points
to an
important positive aspect
of the man-
animal
relationship: reciprocity.
The
shepherd
and his flock live
in a kind of
symbiotic
state
just beyond
the
fringes
of civilization.
The
shepherd provides protection
for his
flocks,
and
they
in turn
are a source of
comfort,
even
joy,
for the lone herdsman. The
appearance
on all levels of Greek
myth
and literature of the
shepherd
and his flock
suggests
how
deeply ingrained
this mutual
tie had become in the Greek consciousness.
The sense of
reciprocity applies
also to the
dog,
which was never
far removed from the herdsman. The
dog
served as a faithful com-
panion
to ward off the cattle-robbers and
scavengers,
cats and the
wild
dogs,
which
preyed
on a man's
possessions
and
peace
of mind.
A short
digression
on the
dog may
serve to
suggest
the
range
of
associations and attitudes
possible
towards an individual
species.
As
indicated,
dogs
were
helpful
creatures. The mastiff-like
Molossian from
Epirus
served as
sheep-dog,
and certain breeds of
hounds,
notably
the bitches of the Laconian
strain,
were
highly
prized
for their acute
hunting ability.
The
dog's
keen sense of
smell and
hearing
made him invaluable as a
watch-dog.
Hesiod
warns the farmer not to
neglect
the
sharp-toothed
hound: 'Look
after
your sharp-fanged
hound,
and don't
grudge
him his
food,
or
some
day
the
Day-sleeper may
rob
you
of
your belongings' (Op.
604
f.).
Maria
Leach,
author of a
comprehensive
book on the
dog
in
mythology
and
religion,
asserts,
'the
position
of the
dog
can be
ascertained
by
the names bestowed
upon
him.
Dogs
who serve a
community merely
as
scavengers
are
seldom,
if
ever,
named.'10 It
is
interesting
to observe that while the Greek named
dogs, they
did not
give
human names either to
hunting dogs
or to
pet dogs.
Four hundred
dog-names
have survived from
antiquity.
Some of
them are from the
Cynegeticus
(7.5)
of
Xenophon,
who
provides
the huntsman with a list of
possible
names for hounds.
Short,
two-
syllable
names facilitate the hunter in
calling
his hounds. As ex-
amples
he
gives 'Psyche'
(soul), 'Chara'
(joy), 'Hybris', 'Methepon'
(helper), 'Lailaps'
(whirlwind).
These
names, which
may
be taken
as
representative of Greek dog-names, indicate something of the
150 ATTITUDES TOWARDS ANIMALS IN ANCIENT GREECE
assumptions underlying
the
kinship
between man and animal. The
dog
was
regarded
not as a creature
possessing
a
complete, quasi-
human
personality
but as
exemplifying
some
generalized quality
or
spiritual
force.
The
intelligence
of
dogs
was
acknowledged.
Plato,
in the
Republic
(375
E-3
76),
discusses the
qualities
of the
guardian
of the state
and holds
up
the
dog
as an
exemplar. According
to
him,
the
dog
is
comparable
to a true lover of wisdom since he can
distinguish
between an unknown
person
and an
acquaintance.
Also in the
Republic,
as in other
dialogues,
Plato makes Socrates swear
by
the
dog,
the so-called Rhadamanthine oath
(Resp.
376,
Phdr. 228
B,
Grg.
461
A,
466
C,
482
B).
The
dog
was a
magical
creature with
therapeutic
functions. In
the cult of
Asklepios dogs
were sometimes an
integral part
of the
cure.
They
licked invalids back to
health,
and it was a sure
sign
of
imminent
recovery
if a
patient
dreamed about a
dog
(IG 4.951,
952;
Ael. N.A. 8.9).
The Greeks
kept dogs
as
pets,
whereas cats are
mostly
absent
from the record until Hellenistic times. The
table-dog appears
from Homer onward.
Vase-painting, sculpture,
and,
most
emphat-
ically, eulogies
to beloved
pets
in the Greek
Anthology
indicate
how cherished a
companion
the
dog
became.
Dogs
were buried in
cemeteries
alongside
humans."
Plutarch,
a late
source,
tells the
story
of
Alcibiades,
who deferred excessive
curiosity
and attention
to himself
by appearing
in
public
with a
magnificent
hound whose
tail he had
lopped
off
(Plut. Alc. 9).
The favourable
disposition
towards the
dog
in ancient Greece
stands in contrast to the mistrust for the
dog
in the Near East. The
strong
dislike can be
explained mainly
on
hygienic grounds: dogs
in the Near East are
scavengers
and hence
pestiferous
vermin.
They
became a
byword
for
intemperate
sexual activities.
Dogs
did not
provide
useful services to the
Jews
on the same scale as to the
Greeks.
Although
a
passage
from
Job
(30:1)
grudgingly
admits the
presence
of
sheep-dogs,
it is not at all certain that
dogs
were used
in the chase. But the
scavenger, frequently conjured up
as a threat
by Sophocles
and
Homer,
was also a real feature of the Greek land-
scape.
This can be deduced from
Thucydides'
vivid
description
of
the
plague
at
Athens,
where the
dogs
and birds are said to have
learned to avoid the
plague-ridden corpses
of the dead
lying
about
(2.50).
Ironically,
the domestication of the
dog may
have
developed
out of the realization that
dogs living
near areas of human habita-
tion could
provide
useful
scavenging
services. The
origins
of man's
relationship
with the
dog may
thus have a
symbiotic
basis,
and this
ATTITUDES TOWARDS ANIMALS IN ANCIENT GREECE 151
may incidentally help
to
explain
the
deep
emotional
impulse
between the two creatures.
Diseased and rabid
dogs
also aroused the Greeks'
anxiety.
Aristotle mentions three kinds of
rabies,
only
two of them fatal
to man." Euripides several times refers to Lyssa, the personifica-
tion of martial
rage
derived from the same root as the Greek for
'wolf' and also
meaning
'rabies'. The
approach
inherent in the
dog's
uncleanliness is extended to
apply
to the animal's
supposedly
licentious sexual
practices,
which could be observed
taking place
close to man's
living quarters. By
the time of
Aristophanes,
at
least,
izkov had
acquired
the
meaning 'prostitute' (Wasps
1402).
The
dog
in
mythology
and art was a favourite
image
for
expres-
sing
a monster. Underworld
dogs
made difficult
pets.
Kerberos
cannot be named but is
allusively
mentioned in Homer as the
'baneful
dog
of Hades'. In the
Theogony
(309-12)
he is
unspeak-
ably
horrid;
Hesiod nevertheless calls him
by
name and describes
him as a
fifty-headed,
brazen-voiced,
flesh-eater. Hekate travels in
the
company
of her hell-hounds. These underworld
dogs possibly
reflect actual
experiences
of travellers
meeting
face to face with
inimical
watch-dogs,
as when
Odysseus, returning
in the
guise
of a
beggar,
meets Eumaios and his watchful
dogs
in book fourteen of
the
Odyssey.
The
dog
is not far removed from his wild
cousins,
the wolf and
jackal.
Certain breeds of
dogs
were believed to contain wild blood.
The Laconian hound had no less than seven
alleged
sires:
lion,
tiger,
civet, cat, fox,
jackal,
and wolf. The Greeks never missed a
chance to tell a
good story,
and the
following excerpt
from the
Historia
Animalium
(574a)
furthermore shows the Greeks' interest
in exotic
species,
stimulated
by specimens
which Alexander the
Great had his men
bring
back from
campaigns
in the East. In dis-
cussing dogs
Aristotle mentions a rare breed of
hunting dog
in
India which the owner would tie
up
to a tree in the
hope
that a
tiger
would mate with the
bitch-provided,
as he
drily
adds,
that
the
tiger
did not eat her
up.
The
tendency
to
adopt savage
animals
as
parents
to various breeds of
dogs
not
only
indicates a desire to
attach a fiercer
pedigree
to one's hounds that
they may
seem
worthier in the
hunt,
but also
expresses
an
attempt
to
explain
the
wildness observable in that
species
which lives closest to man.
This outline of attitudes towards
dogs
indicates
something
of
the ambivalent
feelings
that can be aroused for an individual
species. Dogs
are seen to be utilitarian
creatures,
working
with
man. Pet
dogs
are held in
affection,
and at death certain
dogs
were
buried and
eulogized
in a manner not unlike that which their
152 ATTITUDES TOWARDS ANIMALS IN ANCIENT GREECE
masters
might expect
for themselves. But
they
are conceived as
independent
entities
incorporating,
as their names
suggest,
some
abstract force.
Avoidance, mistrust, awe,
and fear are further
emotions associated with
dogs.
In time of war or conflict the
dog
becomes a
scavenger.
The fear that the
dog
will turn on his
master,
in essence become his
successor,
comes
through strongly
in stories
like Priam's
apocalyptic
vision of the fall of
Troy
in the
twenty-
second book of the
Iliad,
where his
table-dogs
tear out his hair and
rip away
his
genitals.
The
dog
is also made out to be
what
it is not.
In a moral sense the
dog
is turned into a shameful
reproach
for
sexual
intemperance.
In a
healing
cult the
dog
is held in
awe,
because he is believed to
possess magical therapeutic powers.
The ambivalence felt for animals stems from the
recognition
that animals
possess qualities, especially
the
power
of non-verbal
communication,
which humans do
not;
these
may
arouse
hostility
and
envy
in man. The animal
may simply enjoy greater speed,
agility,
or muscular
power,
or a keen scent in the
chase;
or the
animal
may
be
thought capable
of
controlling
the
fertility
of the
crops
and
flocks,
or to hold the
key
to conversation with the im-
mortal
gods.
The Greeks had a
tendency
to
interpret
events and
phenomena
as divine
signs.
A
sneeze,
the
rustling
of oak
leaves,
or the
cry
of
the heron
might
have a
supernatural import. They
communicated
with their
gods through
animal sacrifices and
interpreted
divine
will
through
bird omens. The belief that the
Olympians
inhaled
the smoke of burnt sacrifices offered
by
mortals is
parodied by
Aristophanes
in the Birds.
Pisthetaerus,
one of the two
disgruntled
Athenian citizens off to find
utopia,
consults a
hoopoe-bird.
He
finds none of his
suggestions very good,
but Pisthetaerus himself is
suddenly
seized
by
the
ingenious
idea that the birds found a
city
in mid-air and starve the
gods by blocking
the smoke from human
sacrifices.
On a more serious
note,
the Greeks had a
professional
class of
seers,
olcwv6roXot,
who studied the movement and behaviour of
birds,
and
thereby predicted
events or
interpreted supernatural
decisions.
Prometheus,
in
Aeschylus'
Prometheus
Bound,
describes
how he
taught
man the subtleties of this craft: 'It was I who set in
order the omens of the
highways
and the
flight
of crooked-talcned
birds,
which-of
them were
propitious
or
lucky by
nature,
and what
manner of life each
led,
and what were their mutual
hates, loves,
and
companionships'
(P.
V.
488-92).
A
fascinating
historical docu-
ment from
Ephesus
in the sixth
century B.c.
indicates that there
was an
attempt
to
codify
the laws of
augury.
The
fragmentary
ATTITUDES TOWARDS ANIMALS INANCIENT GREECE 153
inscription
can be restored to read as follows:
Line of
flight
from
right
to left. If the bird
disappeared
from
sight,
the omen
is favourable;
but if it raised its left
wing
and then soared and
disappeared,
the omen is
inauspicious.
Line of
flight
from left to
right.
If it
disappeared
on
a
straight
course,
it is an ill omen, but if it raised its
right wing
and then soared
and
disappeared,
the omen is
good.
(SIG3 1167)
Fear and
hostility
are
prominent feelings projected
onto animals.
Animals have the
power
to make men feel
guilty.
Walter
Burkert,
author of an
important
work on sacrifice in ancient
Greece,
Homo
Necans,'3 interprets
the
discovery
of reindeer bones
stripped
bare
and.meticulously
replaced
in the
original shape
of the beast
by
Paleolithic hunters as evidence of man's desire to avoid the
aveng-
ing spirit
of the hunted animal.
In ancient Greece the sacrifice of an ox was like
killing
a brother.
According
to the
primitive legal system
of
archaic
Athens,
the
various
participants
of the
bouphonia,
the murder of an ox with
an
axe,
were tried and found
innocent,
while the axe was deemed
the
guilty agent.14
An attractive
explanation
for the
origin
of the
use of masks in Athenian
tragedy,
a word
literally meaning 'goat-
song',
is that the dramatic ritual involved the sacrifice of a
goat;
and the
sacrificer,
in order to avoid
being recognized by
the
animal,
disguised
himself behind a mask.
The hunt is an area where man asserts
power
over the animal
through
technical
superiority. Hunting
in Bronze
Age
and classical
Greece was not so much a
necessary activity
as a
pursuit
of adven-
ture and an educational
experience."s
A
spirit
of
sportsmanship
prevails
in the hunt as described in
epic poetry; hunting
is,
after
all,
the
off-duty pursuit par
excellence of the warrior. The hero hunts
not
only
wild animals but domesticated
species
when he
goes
cattle-rieving
or
horse-thieving.
But the sense of
challenge
that
emerges,
for
example,
in the
Odyssey description
of
Odysseus
hunting
his first wild boar on the
slopes
of Mt. Parnassos
(a
kind
of rite de
passage
that ensures his readiness for
war)
contrasts
sharply
with the deceitful and
exploitative
nature of the hunt in
later Greece and Rome.
Plato,
in the Laws
(822
D-824
C),
approves
those forms of
hunting
which demand skill and effort on the
part
of the
pursuer,
but condemns
cruel,
lazy,
and deceitful methods. In
keeping
with
the Greeks' love of
competition
the hunt should
ideally
be a more
or less fair contest. Plato rules out
hunting by
nets and
traps,
and
especially night-stalking,
where men
sleep
in rotation while the
wakeful member of the
expedition
watches to see if an
unsuspect-
154 ATTITUDES TOWARDS ANIMALS IN ANCIENT GREECE
ing
victim has fallen into a
pit. Fishing by
hand is
permissible,
but
creeling
and
angling'6
should be forbidden. Most
reprehensible
of
all is the use of
'muddying
waters',
vegetable dyes
which cloud the
water and
paralyse
the fish. In the
only acceptable
form of
hunting,
the athletic
young
hunter
pursues
land mammals on foot with his
dogs,
and overcomes his
prey by running, striking,
and
shooting.
There is little
sign
of
respect
or
compassion
for the hunted
animal in
Xenophon
or in other ancient treatises on the hunt. In
the
Cynegeticus Xenophon
describes in
great
detail how to
dig
pits
and
place
nets for
deer, hare,
and even wild boar. Once the
animal has fallen into the
trap
it is clubbed to death. An alterna-
tive method of
hunting
roe deer uses the
captured
fawn as a
decoy.
With it the hunter lures the bereft mother into a
clearing
and unleashes his hounds on her. Attitudes become
increasingly
callous,
culminating
in Roman times in the massive
slaughter
of
animals
by professional
hunters in the Circus Maximus.
Aristophanes' parody
in the Birds of the
uncanny powers
of
animals mentioned above is indicative of the humorous
possibil-
ities animals
represented
in entertainment. The Greeks' love of a
good story
and the narrative
importance
of animals in
myth
is
translated into action in the dramatic festivals of the archaic and
classical
period.
Amidst the
murky origins
of Athenian fifth-
century
drama lie
lyric
contests and animal
masquerades.
Aris-
totle
(Poet. 3-5)
traces the
origins
of
tragedy
to the
dithyramb,
a
lyric
contest in honour of
Dionysos,
and
performed by
choruses
of men
displaying
the
physical
characteristics of
goats.
Indeed the
light-hearted play
which
provided
relief from the
trilogy
of
trag-
edies at the Festival of
Dionysos
was known as the
satyr-play.
Goat- and horse-men
wearing giant phalloi
re-enacted,
or
perhaps
it is fairer to
say,
distorted ancient
legends
in a
wholly grotesque
and hilarious manner. As
part
of the
merrymaking
in the
Kiccoo,17
a
processional
mime
involving
an
agon
between revellers and on-
lookers,
some of the
participants
dressed
up
and
impersonated
animals. In Old
Comedy
it
may
be assumed that
plays
such as the
Birds,
Wasps,
and
Frogs
of
Aristophanes
made the most of the
dramatic
possibilities
of choruses of men
hopping
about the
stage
in animal
guise."1 Comedy incorporated
the
talking
animals from
folk-lore and fantastical
legends
about the
escapades
of the
super-
naturals in
every
manifestation,
including
animal
metamorphoses.
The fascination with
bestiality
known from Greek
myths,
such as
the seduction of Leda
by
Zeus in the form of a
swan,
seems to
have been
gratified
on
stage.
Hans Licht makes a
very convincing
case for the enactment of intercourse between animals and men
before
spectators
in Hellenistic
Greece."9
ATTITUDES TOWARDS ANIMALS IN ANCIENT GREECE 155
Animals are
important
in Greek
games
and contests. The
chariot-
race was the first and foremost event in the funeral
games
of
Patroklos
in the
Iliad,
and it continued to
enjoy
this
prominent
position
in the
pan-Hellenic games.
The
keeping
of horses became
something
of a
preoccupation among
aristocratic circles in
Athens,
and
Strepsiades,
in
Aristophanes'
Clouds,
is driven
bankrupt by
the vast sums of
money
his son
Pheidippides squanders
on
upkeep.
The Athenians also took
great
relish in
cock-fighting.
Bred for this
purpose,
these fierce birds battled it out on raised tables smeared
with
garlic
to resuscitate a maimed and fallen contender. A statue
base
dating
from c. 500 found in the Athenian
agora
shows two
ageing
men
urging
a cat and
dog
in a
fight.20
Animals do not
play
the same role in entertainment as
in the Roman
circuses,
although
isolated
references,
such as the
ape
in Pindar's Second
Pythian
(72 f.),
may
allude to animal
performers
in children's
shows.2'
In
summary
man's
relationship
with animals in ancient Greece
is neither
simply
one of
superiority
or submission.
By
virtue of
his reason and technical
accomplishment
man harnesses the
energy
of the domesticated animal and makes it work for him. Between
the
shepherd
and his
flock,
hunter and
dog,
there is a sense of
reciprocity.
The animal is a source of humour and
entertainment,
and men dress
up
in animal
masquerades
in festivals and cults at
least in
part
because 'the child in mankind dies
hard'.22
In the
hunt man asserts his skill and
superiority by tracking
down and
killing dangerous prey.
In turn the intrinsic
power
of the hunted
victim,
especially
the wild
boar,
may
be
thought
to reside in a
helmet or hide made from the animal and which the hunter there-
after wears. The
pursuit
lends
prestige
to a man and assures him
of the
right
to
fight.
In sacrifice and omens the animal
possesses
powers
inaccessible to man: the animal is therefore an
indispens-
able medium of communication with the immortal
gods.
There is an element of
agon
between man and animal. The two
are involved in a volatile master-slave
relationship,
as the Greek
cosmogony
shows. The
assumption
in
many
cultures that animals
once
possessed
the earth
plays
no
part
in the Greeks' creation
story." But monsters appear early on in the Greek creation myth
as told in the
Theogony
(137-53;
617
ff.).
The first animate
creatures that Earth bears to Ouranos are
Kronos,
the
one-eyed
Cyclopes,
and a fearsome trio of
monsters, Kottos,
Gyes,
and
Obriareus,
each with
fifty
heads and a hundred arms. Kronos
castrates Ouranos with a sickle fashioned
by loving Earth;
and
Zeus,
the son of Kronos and
Rhea,
in turn overthrows his father.
The monsters are tucked out of
sight
in Tartarus
along
with the
156 ATTITUDES TOWARDS ANIMALS IN ANCIENT GREECE
three-headed
dog
Kerberos. We are told that
they
are chained in
cruel bonds out of
jealousy
for their
strength.
But when Zeus and
the other
Olympian gods
find themselves
contending
with the
terrible race of Titan
gods,
Zeus resorts to
unleashing
the
monsters,
and
they
become his chief allies. The monsters
originally
can be
seen as wild
species.
Their banishment is an
attempt
to
free the
civilized
upper
world from
unruly
influences. Once Zeus is made
aware of their
indispensable powers,
he harnesses their
energies
for
the
Titanomachy;
he domesticates
them,
in effect. Later
they rejoin
Kerberos,
now
enjoying
the status of
guardians.
The relative lack of animals in the creation
story
is in
keeping
with the Greek
anthropocentric
world-view. The Greeks
naturally
distinguished
between men and
animals,
and
yet
it is
interesting
to
observe that there is no
generic
word for animals until
rod
6 ov
comes into use in the fifth
century
B.C. (Hdt. 5.1).
There is an
important passage
from
early
Greek literature which
points
out a
fundamental difference between animals and men. In the Works
and
Days
Hesiod addresses his
brother,
a landowner:
... Perses,
hear me out on
justice,
and take what I have to
say
to
heart;
cease
thinking
of violence. For the son of
Kronos, Zeus,
has ordained this law to
men: that fishes and wild beasts and
winged
birds should devour one
another,
since there is no
justice
in
them;
but to mankind he
gave justice
which
proves
for the best.
(Op.
274-80)
Here the fundamental distinction is an ethical one. Stated in its
most basic
terms,
the law of
Justice
restrains man from
preying
on
his own
kind.
Later in the fourth
century Xenophon distinguished
man from animal
by
virtue of man's
ability
to
speak
and
reason,
and his sense of
religious
awe.
(Ap.
12;
Mem.
1.1.3-5, 3.3,
11
f.)
This
strong tendency
to
distinguish
between man and animal
carries
over,
to an
extent,
in
myth
and
ritual.
G. S. Kirk states
'...
there is no real confusion in the Greek
mythical
world between
men and animals as such.' And
later,
The Greeks'
anthropomorphism
was severe.
They
missed
something thereby,
I
believe,
but the reason for it
may
be obvious:
they
no
longer
lived in a world
dominated
by animals, by
the need to hunt and
trap
them and
keep
them at
bay,
in the
way
that
many simple
tribal communities did and
do.24
Is this a
complete explanation
of the
anthropocentric
Greek
world-view? The
propensity
to
regard
man and animal in a
separate
light
is to a
large
extent a valid
observation,
especially
if one con-
trasts Greece and
Egypt.
The Greeks lack the somewhat
bleary
line-up
of countless
theriomorphic deities, the millions of mummi-
fied cats-the
very
creatures which lived with them; nor did the
ATTITUDES TOWARDS ANIMALS IN ANCIENT GREECE 157
Greeks inhume cattle bones and later send around a
ship
to collect
them for reburial in a
special
locale. An animal fetish dominated
the
Egyptians
down to Hellenistic
times;
but from a
practical point
of view animals dominated the
Egyptians,
who
depended heavily
on cereal
products,
no more than
they
did the Greeks.
By
chance we have evidence of the Greeks'
impressions
of
Egyptian
attitudes and
practices involving
animals recorded
by
Herodotus.25 Herodotus delivered his
History
as a series of lectures
in the
market-place
at Athens and
elsewhere,
and is
generally
taken
to be a fair and unbiased
reporter.
What
emerges
in the tone of his
report
on the
Egyptians,
however,
is a certain
prejudice,
and over-
reaction to outlandish
Egyptian practices,
as if the Greeks were
unaware or
unwilling
to admit their own irrational attitudes
towards animals. No doubt the Greeks were staid
by comparison
with the
Egyptians,
but
archaeology
has revealed a number of to
us rather
incomprehensible
animal cults. The best known of these
took-place
at
Brauron,
just
15 miles from Athens at the
height
of
the Golden
Age
of Perikles.
There,
every
four or five
years,
little
girls
from five to ten
years
of
age living
in a sort of convent
dressed
up
in saffron robes to
impersonate
bears and dance offer-
ings
to the
goddess
Artemis,
who demanded their service
(so
the
aetiological explanation goes)
in
reparation
for
killing
one of her
sacred bears.26
Greek
mythology
did have its difficult
pets
in addition to Kottos
and his friends: monsters such as
barking Skylla
and
belching
Charybdis, hybrids
like the chimaira and
sphinx,
or
hungry
demons
-Lamia,
who fed on children's
flesh;
put slightly differently,
the
sorceress Circe turned her lovers into
castrated,
domesticated lions
or wolves who fawned and
wagged
their tails. The
tendency
to
banish monsters like
Kottos,
Gyes,
and Obriareus to the under-
world-imprison
them,
so to
speak,
in the lower
regions
of man's
mind-indicates both a fascination and an avoidance of the
frighten-
ing
and unknown. Such was the fate of the last and most fearful of
monsters in the creation
story, Typhon,
who,
according
to later
legend,
was buried under the volcanic Mount Aetna
(Pind.
01. 4.8
f.).
Clearly
the demonic element of the animal was
deeply impreg-
nated in the Greek
imagination
and
occasionally
it
erupted
and
fired the artist or
poet
to creative
heights,
as in Hesiod's
description
of the
very
creature in
question:
But when Zeus had driven the Titans from
heaven,
huge
Earth bare her
youngest child,
Typhon
of the love of
Tartarus,
by
the aid of
golden
Aphrodite.
From his shoulders
grew
a hundred heads of a
snake,
a fearful
dragon,
with dark, flickering tongues,
and from under the brows of his
eyes
158 ATTITUDES TOWARDS ANIMALS IN ANCIENT GREECE
in his marvellous heads flashed
fire,
and fire burned from his heads as he
glared.
And there were voices in all his dreadful heads which uttered
every
kind of sound
unspeakable;
for at one time
they
made sounds such that the
gods
understood,
but at
another,
the noise of a bull
bellowing
aloud in
proud,
ungovernable fury;
and at
another,
the sound of a
lion,
relentless of
heart;
and at
another,
sounds like
whelps,
wonderful to
hear;
and
again,
at
another,
he would hiss so that the
high
mountains re-echoed ... But Zeus raised
up
his
might
and seized his
arms,
thunder and
lightning
and the lurid
thunderbolt;
he
leaped
from
Olympos
and struck
him,
and burned all the marvellous heads
of the monster ...
Typhon
was hurled
down,
a maimed
wreck,
so that the
huge
earth
groaned
... And flame shot forth from the thunder-struck lord in
the
dim,
rugged glens
of the mount when he was smitten.
(Tb. 819
ff.)
NOTES
1.
Among
the
primary literary
sources Aristotle and Aelian are authors who wrote
works
pertaining wholly
to animals. Aristotle's extensive scientific
writing
on animals
includes the Historia
Animalium,
De Partibus
Animalium,
De Motu
Animalium,
sections
of the Parva Naturalia,
and De Generatione Animalium. For a
summary
of these
works,
see G.
Lloyd,
'The
development
of Aristotle's
theory
of the classification of
animals',
Phronesis 6
(1961),
59-81. Aelian, by contrast,
is an arm-chair
zoologist.
A Roman
historian and teacher of rhetoric
writing
in Greek in the second
century A.D.,
he com-
piled
a voluminous work entitled De Natura Animalium. His account is full of
tales,
proverbs,
and
popular
cures
involving
animals taken from medical handbooks. Xeno-
phon,
a
fourth-century
B.C. Athenian
aristocrat,
wrote two
pedagogical
treatises con-
cerning
animals: a member of the
cavalry
and an
expert horseman, Xenophon
wrote
On
Horsemanship
for the education of his
sons;
the
Cynegeticus
is a treatise on
hunting
hare,
as well as deer and wild boar.
Xenophon
stresses the educational value of the hunt
for
breeding
a noble character and
preparing
a man for war.
RE contains no
general
article on 'Tier'
per
se but does include entries under individ-
ual
species.
A
long
article entitled
'Tierdiiamonen' rightly emphasizes
the 'demonic'
element of the animal in
religion, magic,
and
superstition.
On a much smaller scale the
OCD' contains a short
entry by
H.
J.
Rose on 'Sacred Animals'. In one
paragraph
Rose
presents
evidence for what some
suspect
to be residual
totemism,
but
strongly rejects
the
possibility
of this
phenomenon having
existed in Greece. Rose refers the reader to
Nilsson, GGR3, pp.
212
ff.,
who
speaks
of a
totemistic
void in Greek
religion.
In the
light
of
subsequent
clarification from both
anthropology
and
archaeology
this statement
seems too
strongly negative.
A. B. Cook's 'Animal
worship
in the
Mycenaean age',
JHS
14
(1894), 81-169,
is overstated in the
opposite
direction,
but nevertheless con-
tains some
insightful hypotheses
on the
religious
function of demons in
Mycenaean-
Minoan art.
For the role of the animals in Greek intellectual
history
see F. M.
Heichelheim
and
T.
Elliot,
'Das Tier in
Vorstellungswelt
der
Griechen',
StudGen 20
(1967), 85-9; cf.
H. Rahn 'Tier und mensche in der homerischen
Auffassung
der
Wirklichkeit',
Paideuma
5
(1950-54), 277-97, 432-80; Urs
Dierauer,
Tier
undMenscb
im Denken der Antike,
Studien zur antiken
Philosophie
Bd.
6
(Amsterdam, 1977).
Among
the
encyclopedias
and
specialized
lexica on Greek fauna are the
following:
O. Keller,
Die antike Tierwelt
(Leipzig,
1909-13; reprinted
1963).
This two-volume
encyclopedia (unfortunately
not
up-dated
before
reprinting)
is useful because it dis-
cusses the literature and
monuments-relating
to individual
species
in a
comparative way
in
Biblical,
Near
Eastern, Greek,
and Roman cultures. For a
survey
of
species
in the
Greek
world,
see
O.
K6rner,
Die homerische Tierwelt' (Munich, 1930).
Two classifica-
tory works,
both labours of love
by
the naturalist Sir
D'Arcy Thompson,
are A
Glossary
of
Greek Birds' (Oxford, 1936)
and A
Glossary of
Greek
Fisbes
(Oxford, 1947).
ATTITUDES TOWARDS ANIMALS IN ANCIENT GREECE 159
J. Fernando,
Nombres de insectos in
griego antiguo
(Madrid, 1959), catalogues
insects
mentioned
by
Greek authors.
2. Cf. Keller
(above,
n. 1).
For a
bibliography
of works on the fauna of
Greece,
see
A. Kanellis and C.
Hatzissarantos, Bibl. Faunae Graec. (1800--1950) in To Vouno
(1949-50).
3.
Does2,
Knossos Mc-Series.
4.
Apiculture
was
practised
since Neolithic times. It had the same
importance
as
sugar production
has now. Certain
regions,
such as Mt.
Hymettos
near
Athens,
were
famous for their
honey.
5. P.
Einzig,
Primitive
Money
(Oxford
and
London,
1949 and
1966).
6. M.
I. Finley,
Rev. internat. des droits de
l'antiquiti
30 Ser. 2
(1955), 167-94,
sees
two
stages,
one
matrilineal,
the other
patrilineal.
7. The Linear B tablets record
names, mostly colour-names,
for
oxen,
such as Wo-no-
quo-so, 'Rusty', (literally
'wine-coloured'); cf.
Docs",
under the Knossos
Mc-series,
105.
8. Cf. E. R.
Dodds,
The Greeks and the Irrational
(Berkeley, 1951), Appendix
I
'Maenadism', pp.
270 ff.
9. W. Burkert in Il mito
greco,
edd. B. Gentili
and G. Paioni
(Rome, 1977), p. 281,
sees
pastoral myths
as the survival of
legends
from Paleolithic times
reapplied
to an
agrarian
and urban Athens.
10. M.
Leach,
God Had a
Dog (Rutgers,
N.
J., 1961), p.
354.
11. Cf. G.
Herrlinger, Totenklage
zum Tiere in der antiken
Dichtung (Stuttgart,
1930).
12. See De
Canibus,
The
Dog
in
Antiquity (London, 1971), pp.
43
f, by
R. Merlen
of the
Royal Veterinary College
for a discussion of the non-fatal forms.
13. Homo Necans
(Berlin, 1972).
14. Cf.
J.
L.
Durand,
'Le rituel du meutre du boeuf et les
mythes
du
premier
sacrifice animal en
Attique' (above,
n.
9).
15. For a
fascinating
article on the
hunting origin
of the Athenian
Ephebeia,
see
P.
Vidal-Naquet,
PCPhS n.s. 14
(1968),
49-64.
16. Sc. 66hoc (bait)
also means 'deceit'.
17. Cf. A. W.
Pickard-Cambridge, Dithyramb, Tragedy
and
Comedy2
(Oxford, 1962),
pp.
225-53.
18. Animal choruses are shown in
vase-painting representations
a full
century
before
Old
Comedy.
19. Sexual
Life
in Ancient Greece
(London, 1969), p.
147.
20. G.
Richter,
Animals in Greek
Sculpture (London, 1930), fig.
175.
21. Cf. W.
McDermott,
The
Ape
in
Antiquity (Baltimore, 1938), pp.
131 f.
22.
Pickard-Cambridge (above,
n.
17),
p.
245.
23. Plato in the Timaeus 91 f.
gives
his own version of a creation
myth
for
women,
birds, animals, reptiles,
and fish. Birds are the issue of men with
flighty thoughts
on
astronomy,
land animals from men who had no use for
philosophy,
etc. These transfor-
mations are
part
of Plato's theories on
metempsychosis
discussed in the
Phaedrus 248 ff.
24. The Nature
of
Greek
Myths (Harmondsworth, 1974), pp.
50 f.
25. Cf. A.
Lloyd,
Herodotus 2
(Leiden, 1977), passim.
26. Cf. L.
Kahil,
AntK 20
(1977), 86-98,
who links Artemis with
Aphrodite;
the
cult
ceremony
confers
good
luck and
fertility
on maidens about to
marry.