Routledge is pleased to share with you our author Q&A session with Professor Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones, author of the newly published title The Culture of Animals in Antiquity with fellow author Sian Lewis. Lloyd is Professor of Ancient History at Cardiff University. His research focuses on the Persian Empire, Achaemenid monarchy and the Persian court as well as Greek socio-cultural history, ancient gender and Hellenistic civilisation.
Congratulations on the publication of your book The Culture of Animals in Antiquity: A Sourcebook with Commentaries with fellow author Sian Lewis. What inspired you to write this book?
The impetus first came from Sian. We were chatting one day about a course that she had been running on the theme of animals in antiquity for her students at St Andrews and she was lamenting the fact that no solid sourcebook existed which was both all-embracing and academically reliable. I was already interested in the growing discipline of animal studies amongst ancient historians and classicists, and realized that here was an opportunity to contribute something of value to the field. Within an hour, Sian and I had agreed on working together to create a comprehensive study of animals in ancient cultures. It was that simple. I’m an animal lover (and Sian certainly is too). Animals have always been part of my life. Growing up in rural Wales some of my earliest memories are of feeding pigs and chickens in the company of my grandfather, of stroking calves and lambs, and, of course, playing with the dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, and rodents that helped make our house a home. I cannot abide animal cruelty and I’m active in supporting animal rights. I believe in animal dignity and the recognition of the central place that the animal world must be awarded in contemporary civilization. For all of that, though, I am a realist and recognize that animals can help humankind live better lives by providing life-staples from food (milk, meat, honey) to muscle-power. But humans must recognize that we are in a sympathetic relationship with animals and we must honour them as cognisant beings and co-workers and that if we as a species are to benefit from them, we must not subject them to pain, fear, starvation, or other forms of neglect. Hunting for pleasure or profit and battery-farming are things we can do without. The inspiration for the book came in our need to explore how the animal-human relationship operated in antiquity and to assess if and how humankind’s integration with a wide variety of animal species shifted, progressed, or recessed over the millennia. Needless to say, we encountered many examples of the more deplorable aspects of human-animal interfaces – the blood sports of the Romans, the battery-farmed sacred animals of Egypt bred for the tourist market, or the force feeding of (bizarrely) hyenas - provide only a few examples. But there is also a rich catalogue of humans getting things right. There are texts which tell of merchants expressing how much they love and value their donkeys, noblewomen devoted to their pet gazelles, and monarchs admiring the flight of eagles.
What makes your book stand out from its competitors?
To do our subject justice, we decided to take a longue durée approach to animals in antiquity. The book covers the period 3500 BCE to 650 CE – an incredibly long period in human terms, but in the eyes of vultures, voles, or tortoises, where eons of time have passed without any notable evolutionary changes, this is a mere flash in the pan! We wanted to see if there were continuities in human-animal societies and to look also for any ruptures or seismic-shifts in animal history during this formative period of human interaction with nature. To do that we needed not only a broad time span but to look at a wide geographical scope too. Therefore this book explores the civilizations of the ancient Near East, Egypt, Iran, and the Classical world. By taking this approach we were able to gauge some of these big (and small) cultural changes. Take, for instance, the chicken. First found in Persia as an exotic and expensive Indian import (the red-crested jungle fowl of India and the far east is the ancestor of all chickens), the bird was raised mainly for the sport of cockfighting and was imported into Greece for the first time for that means. From Europe the chicken entered north Africa and in late Ptolemaic times in Egypt we start to find chicken eggs and meat being consumed; it was the Romans though who first popularized the roast chicken dinner.
That kind of insight can only be achieved through an all-encompassing overview of animal history in antiquity. In the book we give the reader the first-hand evidence in terms of textual sources in translation, visual evidence, and archaeology and we have supplied detailed commentaries for them to contextualize and understand the source better in terms of animal histories. We have investigated close to a hundred species of animals – from ants to elephants, sparrows to ostriches, lizards to crocodiles – and we have thought too about ancient concepts of categorization (taxonomies) and also the place of humans in the animal world.
Is there one piece of research included in the book which surprised you or challenged your previous understanding of the topic?
There was much that was surprising, a great deal that was upsetting, and more that was simply delightful to engage with. The sources we used have been so diverse and our agenda for the book so open that we were constantly finding materials which made us go ‘Wow!’
For instance, accepted contemporary taxonomies of animal species which have been codified since Darwin’s time had no meaning in antiquity. The general rule across ancient societies was to categorise animals as things that fly (birds and some insects), things that swim (mainly fish) and things that “creepeth upon the earth” (everything else). A bat, therefore, caused considerable consternation. What was it? As a small furry thing it should be one of the animals that “creepeth”, like a mouse, but the fact that it flies put paid to that. In an Egyptian tomb in Beni-Hassan, therefore, bats are included in a long ornithological text inscribed on the walls and are represented alongside a myriad of feathery birds. Likewise, etymological studies show that in ancient Mesopotamia a lion was classified by the name “glorious dog” – thereby not recognising the lion as a feline but as canine – whilst the elephant was called “water-ox with a protuberance”, which must be a reference to its trunk.
We thought it important too to include in our study the category ‘Human.’ It is vital to see humankind as a species which shares the environment – man made or natural – with animals. Doing so opened up fascinating dichotomies and eye-opening realities. Ancient peoples loved keeping pets and could be as emotionally close to them as we are to ours. Monkeys and cats were the pets of choice in Egypt, while the Greeks could become very sentimental over dogs and even cicadas. Tastes in pets tended to vary across ancient cultures, but all were united by the fact that human slaves could also be kept as pets. Whether dwarfs or children, miniature adults had a hold on the pet-keeping needs of ancient elites. The Romans in particular indulged themselves in the rearing and petting of ‘delicia’- exotic slave children. The nexus between animal and slave is, of course; we have known this for a long time, but the definition of a ‘pet’ in its ancient context really make us pause for thought.
Tell us an unusual fact about yourself
My background is by no means that of a ‘typical’ academic. My formative years were spent working in TV and theatre as an actor, a designer and a director. I still like to direct whenever I can, especially opera. I think my theatrical past has been good training for working in contemporary academia. After all, it’s all about performance, isn’t it?
Do you have plans for future books? What’s next in the pipeline for you?
I’ve lots of ideas for future projects, two of which are underway: the first is a study of the lives of the Ptolemaic queen Kleopatra III and her sister, the Seleukid queen, Kleopatra Thea. This is a co-authored book (with Alex McAuley) and our aim is to look at queenship in what we are terming the ‘High Hellenistic period.’ Next on the list is a study I’ve long wanted to do: its an exploration of the Hebrew bible’s Book of Esther in its Persian context. It’s my belief that at its core Esther is a fourth century BCE text and shows a remarkable knowledge of Persian court life. My aim is to provide a commentary on the text by employing Persian (and other relevant) materials.
I have a longer-term ambition too to write what I’m planning in my mind as ‘a global history of queenship.’ The roles played by royal women in ancient societies has always been a theme that speaks to me, but I also enjoy using cross-cultural and cross-temporal materials and I think that the institution of queenship, shared by so many societies, will be a good way of flexing my academic muscle and thinking outside of the box. I’m a HUGE fan of the work of Jeoren Duindam whose book ‘Dynasties: a global history of power’ has opened my mind to the rich possibilities of thinking big – of thinking globally.
Who was/is your role model who inspired you to pursue a career in academia...?
I would find it impossible to say that any one individual has inspired me more an others. That’s simply because of the fact that in my life I have been lucky enough to have benefitted from the support, kindness, enthusiasm, and openness of so many individuals. My mother always provided me with the books I wanted to read when I was a child; my brilliant teachers at comprehensive school saw something in me and fostered my love of History (Mrs. Mainwaring, Mrs. Hillshort and Mrs Carey), Religion (Mrs. Thomas) and Drama (Mrs. Mason). My best friend, Rhian Morgan, inspired me to be a better writer – jargon-free, hopefully.
When I decided to commit myself to academia I was so lucky in being shown ‘how to do it properly’ by Professor Nick Fisher who taught me that it is possible to be both a scholar and a human being at the same time. This was confirmed by Professor Douglas Cairns who quickly went from being a mentor to a great friend.
But there’s not a day that goes by when I’m not inspired by somebody with whom I come into contact. My students are a constant source of inspiration – I’m delighted to say.
Anything else you would like to add?
I’ve had the pleasure to work with Routledge many times over the years. I want to express my sincere thanks for the support and enthusiasm they always bring to our projects.
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