This catalogue is the second volume of our series on Animals in Antiquity, focussing on the Egyptian and Classical Worlds and encompassing three of the great ancient civilisations of the Mediterranean: Egypt, Greece, and Rome. While sometimes ancient cultures are thought as completely separate and almost insulated, these three civilisations compenetrated and influenced each other, and the discerning eye of the reader will be able to spot numerous similarities across this catalogue, revealing common trends of evolution and the synthesis of a plurality of cultural elements.
Domestic and wild animals are presented in this catalogue, along with mythical animals and animal gods. For example, a number of Egyptian Scarabs are featured, calling the reader to reflect on the peculiar symbology behind this subject: in the life cycle of the beetle, the Ancient Egyptians envisioned a microcosm of the daily rebirth of the sun. They imagined that the ancient sun god Khepri was a great scarab beetle rolling the sun across the heavens. The scarab also became a symbol of the enduring human soul as well, hence its frequent appearance in funerary art.
Further ahead, a Greek fresco and a Roman statuette portray dogs. Greeks and Romans had many pets, from cats to apes, but favoured the dog above all others. Dogs feature in many mosaics, wall frescoes, in poetry and prose. There is a large series of reliefs showing men and women with their canine companions, sometimes even on funerary sculptures with the pets bidding an emotional farewell to their departed masters. Dogs will even be mentioned in the Roman law code as guardians of the home and flocks. In one case which was recorded, a farmer brings a suit against his favored because the neighbour dogs rescued the farmer’s hogs from wolves and the neighbor’s then claimed ownership of the hogs. Varro claimed that no farm should be without two dogs and they should be kept indoors during the day and let free to roam at night in order to prevent just such a possibility as the one discussed above. He also suggested that a white dog should be chosen over a black one so that one could distinguish between one’s dog and a wolf in the darkness or the twilight of early morning.
These objects show the meaningful relationship between man and nature in these three great cultures, a subject which I have tried to make sense of in my art and through the artefacts I have collected.