marycatelli (marycatelli) wrote,

Birds in the Ancient World: Winged Words

Birds in the Ancient World: Winged Words by Jeremy Mynott

What ancient Greeks and Romans thought about birds. Arranged by topics.

For instance, time. Cranes and other migratory birds were used by farmers to time activities -- some were to be done before the cranes flew south, or before the sparrow arrived -- and of course the various birds that would call at different times of day. Birds as predictors of weather, and the effect of birdsong in the soundscape. The use of birds, hunted or raised, for food or as pets, or as wonders to be exhibited or taught to speak. Birds as omens -- in fact, in Greek, "omen" and "bird" are the same word.

The difficulty of working out species comes up several times, since the words don't map, they may not give enough for us to work out, and the range of species has changed.

Lots of interesting bits. Storks were omens of childbirth. Crows were thought to be faithful mates, and so there was a crow song at weddings, but a single crow being heard at a wedding was a bad omen. Ostriches were the only bird to be regarded as worthy game. A Carthaginian who tried to advance himself by teaching birds to say, "Hanno is a god" except that as soon as they were released, they flew back to their haunts and never repeated it where humans could hear.
Tags: history reviews: classical

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