Sunday, February 19, 2012


Louise Calder, Cruelty and Sentimentality: Greek Attitudes to Animals, 600-300 BC. Studies in classical archaeology, 5. Oxford: The Beazley Archive and Archaeopress, 2011. Pp. x, 227. ISBN 9781903767146. $80.00.

Reviewed by Donald Lateiner, Ohio Wesleyan University (

Version at BMCR home site

The bezel of a Hellenistic gold ring exhibits a naughty mouse manacled to a tiny column with two ears of grain (or grapes) hanging from its mouth. This unexpected image (humorous, sadistic, fantasist?) decorates the dustcover of Louise Calder's well- produced monograph. Volume five in the "Studies in Classical Archaeology" derives data from the Oxford Beazley Archive. Calder, for her D.Phil. at Oxford, examined Greek responses to animals as "pests, threats, beasts of burden, prey, sources of materials, objects to be studied, ... read as omens,... treated as toys, companions, and more" (1). Real world, "land-living mammalian species" crowd out birds, aquatic fauna, reptiles, maggots, etc., because mammals were renewable resources, the animals most likely to engender empathy and provide services, or to advertise status and confer prestige. The dustcover art remotely echoes that of Jocelyn Toynbee's comprehensive Roman 1973 survey Animals in Roman Life and Art. All studies of animals in Greek art are indebted to John Boardman, J.D. Beazley (18 and 15 titles cited, respectively), and the industrious H.B. Walters of the British Museum.

The introduction defines the themes, sources, and terminology to follow in six chapters. These discuss town and country animals, then groups of animals, such as sheep and goats, draught and burden animals, pests and animal allies (such as dogs and mustelids), pets, and, finally, a discussion of human-animal interactions and wellbeing, more practical than philosophical (3). Here, the author surveys the ethics of animal exploitation (their labor, killing them for sport, food and hides, animal intelligence, and (legal) responsibility for their actions) in Greek societies from 600 to 300 BCE. Calder mentions her personal experiences (e.g., playing the flute for her goats, 27). She directs readers to modern studies of zoology, animal domestication and husbandry. She includes several websites on goat clothing and marten vandalizing (e.g., Northwest Pack Goats and Supplies) among 1,756 continuously numbered footnotes.

Squalid and mundane tasks are sidelined in both literature and art, although Attic vases frequently feature agricultural scenes in the period 520-480. Her catalogue of 323 artifacts—featuring animals tame or domesticated, feral, and wild— includes museum acquisition numbers, brief descriptions, standard catalogue references, and usually reference to one or more images. Beyond pots, Calder surveys animal terracottas molded for various purposes: votive reliefs, sculptures, gravestones, coins and seals, and some exhumed faunal remains.

Chapter 1 notes that proximity of animal enclosures to houses clarifies the importance of keeping animals secure (in a world without cheap and dependable fences) and a "tolerance of noise and smell" (14). Apollo, Hermes, and Pan were all flock protectors, and both sheep and goats were commonly sacrificed to these and other gods. Greeks shared homes with livestock, unlike modern city-dwellers who frequently meet animals only in "neat packages of flesh in the supermarket" (15). Calder next distinguishes sheep from goats, but these two flocks were favored over cattle, because of their more accommodating dietary needs and quicker breeding and growth to maturity, and their renewable and marketable wool, hair, and milk (cheese). All three species provided flesh and skins. Goats, the favored ungulate, however, are friskier and prone to fight. Their voices are shriller (see Aristotle and Longus). Characteristics less well known to city-folk are billies' inclination to urinate on themselves and into their mouths and to lick their genitals after mating (30). Nevertheless (?), they provide symbols of human masculinity. Their typical routines rendered them less attractive for artists than certain other species.

Beasts of burden¸ "tools for survival on the land," occupy Chapter 3. Choose an ox before a woman, farmers, sang Hesiod (58, Op. 405). The bovines are crucial for large animal sacrifices and more useful transport machines than high maintenance, high strung horses. The latter, however, steal the prestige and glamor from their more helpful equine cousins, asses and hybrid mules. Calder is interested in how often, as a sign of their status and "belonging to a family," horses and dogs alone have names (and lineages) reported in literature (Homer, Xenophon¸ Ovid, Hyginus) and on pots. "Xanthos" is most common for horses, sharing heroic Achilles' epic umbra. Fridericus Jeschonnek's valuable, no longer rare, Konigsberg 1885 Dissertation, de nominibus quae Graeci pecudibus domesticis indiderunt (online at Hathitrust, provides extensive lists; cf. Clement Moore's named reindeer including Donner and Blitzen. The logorrheic painter Kleitias names two mules and various dogs (Hormenos, Methepon) on the "Fran├žois vase," now in Florence.

Mules and asses are hardier, more disease-resistant, longer-lived than horses; mechanical Hephaestus rides these more useful species on the Florence crater (46). Calder describes differences in nature among these equines, asses, for instance, being territorial. Asses' desire for food and sex and their outsize features of penises, lips, and large heads, made them the butt of, e.g., Apuleian, ridicule. They also feature in non- appetite directed proverbs such as "an ass's shadow" (found in Aristophanes, Sophocles, Plato, Ps.-Plutarch's mini- Demosthenes [Mor. 848b], and Apuleius [Met. 9.42]). Mules, however, biologically and symbolically, occupy some middle ground, appreciated for their strength, serving in wedding and funeral processions, and celebrated by Pindar as athletes for (short-lived, fifth-century) Olympic mule-cart victories (Ol. 5, 6). The mount one rode, like the automobile one drives today, communicated "class and respectability." On the other hand, 22/47 Animal fables about asses stress sympathetically their "over-burdening and mistreatment," a theme central to Lucian's Onos and its congeners.

Animals threatened human interests: insects (who, along with fish, barely rate a paragraph) and birds adept in raptorial and excretory "attacks." The heads of sculptured dedications may have been protected from bombing by metal covers (meniskoi, cf. Ar. Av. 1114-17, p. 60). Rats and mice raided larders and fields, although Apollo's temple at Hamaxitos honored mice and fed some at public expense (Aelian NA 12.5, an important source for animal habits and human customs). Calder wrestles with distinguishing ancient images of vermin exterminators—cats from weasels, ferrets, stoats, and martens (worshipped at Thebes, Aelian, ibid.). Aristophanes twice refers to the "severe pungency of a weasel's 'farts'" (64 n. 959 reff.). Reference to cats on the mainland never occurs within Calder's time parameters. Large wild predators, such as boars, bears or lynxes, lions and panthers, were less accurately represented than kept animals more easily studied. Theriophilia was rare (but exists in vase painting and sculpture).

Wolf and dog form a polarity for herdsmen, despite the wolf's associations with Apollo. Greek peasants living on the polis' margins developed coping strategies, among which the wolf-descended shepherd dog was bred to ward off his savage cousin. Dogs helped in herding, farmhouse-protective tasks, and the hunt (Eumaeus' or Odysseus' dogs). Dogs, nevertheless, expressed occasional, unexpected and unwelcome aggression, e.g., in the oft-painted story of hunter Actaeon's savaging pack (Greek names catalogued by Ovid), in the Iliad, where they are predicted to scavenge royal genitals, and more comically, in Wasps where the stinger-wielders "steal" various goodies. Fleas, dog parasites, and other dog diseases, e.g., Argus' ticks, "abound in literature" (73).

Cultic piglet sacrifice is attested by substantial numbers of small pig bones (76), but honeybees' contributions deserve richer treatment. Homer's ubiquitous animal similes borrowed from, and contributed to, lengthy traditions (e.g., popular animal fables) of equating humans and animals in thinking and feeling, even speech. The Odyssey features wild and domesticated creatures, but Circe's zoo or Homer's hundreds of faunal similes remain unexploited. Calder ignores clever swine, e.g., Aristophanes' Megarian's little "piggie" (obscene double- entendre) or the many tasty animal encomia by his famished characters.

Theories about pets, one form of human-animal symbiosis, multiply in modern psychology, philosophy, and environmental studies. Health benefits and risks, expense and time, factor into the equations of pet ownership (Wikipedia's pet article provides many startling statistics: for instance, on pet popularity). Calder (79) refers to five factors—survival, love, power, freedom (?), and fun—that determine Greek animals' treatment. Cockerels provided alarm clocks, pigeons appear on tombstones as caressed pets, and Pollux identifies tombs of beloved, named dogs (cf. Theophrastus' man of petty ambition: 21.9). Indeed, the Melitaean (Maltese?) breed was particularly loved (83) because it seemed affectionate and certainly was expensive. One appears accompanying a red-figure lyre-player (BM Vase E267): Plate 10, Catalogue #215. (Because Calder's catalogue of animal images neither refers to plate numbers in the text discussions, nor to the text discussions on the plates or in the catalogue, readers must juggle three pages at once).

Mongrels, undoubtedly common, are not the artists' canine of choice. Ownership of expensive breeds of lap-dogs and exotic pets (cheetahs, Persian peacocks in menageries) or control of powerful or dangerous animals (Bucephalus, Molossian mastiffs) provided prestige as "image enhancers," because they conveyed a particular person's wealth or skill or both. Under "fun," Calder examines the pleasures of dressing up apes, training birds to sing or talk, observing or caging birds, not only partridge or quail but also herons, geese (think Penelope), swans, and ducks (pl. 17, catalogue 264). The Greeks, it would seem, were readier to put up with untrainable animals excreting inside the house. Tending animals not only advanced children's socialization but also formed their characters. Taming animals seems to Plutarch, following Bion, a "win- win" situation (Mor. 964e-65b, cited n. 1604), since alive they are intelligent, willing, and strong "helpers."

Cruelty, oddly the first word of Calder's title, plays a small role in this book describing classical Greek life. There were no staged beast hunts, animal torture is rarely referred to (e.g., when boys stone frogs for fun), although hunting "anti-social" animals was prestigious or necessary, and baiting and abusing animals was never illegal. Quail-philipping, "consisting of hitting the quail on the head... [to test its] pugnacity" (95), provides one example, but more often, Calder conjectures, a "throwaway mentality" meant unpredictable and short lives for pets. "Animal rights" had not been invented. Vegetarianism and concern for metempsychosed souls arose from sympathy for human ancestors, not for animals. Anxiety for other creatures' welfare often met ridicule, not respect.

This topic of philosophical views of the place of animals in the human constructed ladder of life occupies the last chapter. Animals' apparent ignorance of justice and speech persuaded Aristotle the expert and many ordinary folk that it was right and unobjectionable to use them as unequal slaves/partners in labor, to kill them for sport, for sustenance ("carnivory"), for appeasing divine powers, and even to capture and cage or leash them for human amusement. The zoologist Aristotle plainly states (Pol. 1, 1252b-56a) that man is an animal, but the other animals were created for man's sake, so hunt for sport, kill, flay, and especially eat them for human pleasure and benefit. Indeed the validating paradigm of Prometheus' division of blood sacrifice transparently excuses the pleasurable consumption of what little meat ordinary hungry Hellenes could gobble up (103, oath-sacrifice providing the uneaten exception). Few species of meat were taboo, although some creatures were lower on the scale of gourmet treats. Thus, no right to life for working animals or wild ones, although their suffering and service to owners and their kinship with humans (oikeiosis), was acknowledged, here and there (108-11: "speciesism"). Polyphemos' monologue (?), sung to his ram in Od. 9, conveys sympathy and sentimental attachment, empathy and bonding, a cry to elicit compassion from a dumb but companionable beast. The ambivalent Plutarch (Mor. 985d-92e) has Circe enable her pig Gryllus ("Grunter") out-argue and instruct Odysseus about animal superiority (cf. S.T. Newmyer's recent sourcebook, Animals in Greek and Roman Thought).

The Athenians' unpaid Thracian allies at Mycalessus (Thuc. 7.29) pointlessly butchered pack animals and all other living creatures. While their emphasized barbarian ethnicity may explain the omission, the fact remains that visual representations, not texts, are Calder's strong suit. Historical horseracing victories enriched politicians' appeal and leverage; recall Herodotus' Alcmaeon, Miltiades and Cimon, and Spartan Demaratus. For these men and Thucydides' Alcibiades, philotimia, status ambition, produced megaloprepeia, elite "magnificence." Hellenic elites' prestigious horse-displays invite further "thinking with animals;" cf. Timothy Howe's Pastoral Politics (Claremont 2008, ch. 5: "Animals, Identity and Power"). Philaid Cimon was buried with his prize-winning mares (Hdt. 6.103).

Calder's handsome book, then, collects scattered material evidence for human interactions with mundane and exotic beasts. She has no dominating thesis, except perhaps: "Deliberate cruelty was reviled, but incidental suffering was largely disregarded when it competed with human needs and desires" (115). While she downplays animal "cruelty," she admits indifference as "part of a farmer's toolkit." Calder's book will benefit and entertain students examining environments of the Classical Greeks and their ineradicable anthropocentrism.

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