Online Review: Book

Cruelty and Sentimentality: Greek Attitudes to Animals, 600–300 BC

Louise Calder


Reviewed by Seth D. Pevnick

BAR-IS 2225, Studies in Classical Archaeology 5. Pp. x + 227, b&w pls. 20. Archaeopress, London 2011. $80. ISBN 978-1-903767-14-6 (cloth).

"There is little literature on Greek animals," wrote Richter, the great classical archaeologist and art historian, in her introduction to Animals in Greek Sculpture some 80 years ago (Oxford 1930 [xi]). The book under review, derived from the Oxford University D.Phil. thesis of Calder, offers an opportunity for reassessment, showing clear advances in the field. In addition to Richter's still useful survey, generations of researchers have contributed to what Calder terms a "vast modern scholarship" on animals and their interactions with humans in ancient Greece (1). Much of Calder's valuable work therefore consists of synthesizing an impressively diverse scholarly literature—from archaeology, art history, and philology to ethnography, medicine, psychology, and zoology.

The book consists of six main chapters, together with a short introduction and conclusion, plus a lengthy catalogue of objects cited in the text. As expected from a Beazley Archive publication, Attic figured pottery predominates, comprising well over half of the catalogue. Interspersed with these vases is a broad array of additional material, from non-Attic ceramics to terracotta figurines, carved gems, rings, coins, and bronze and marble sculptures. Occasional reference is made to faunal remains, though these are not catalogued. Ancient literary sources are cited extensively, including scientific and philosophical observations as well as more incidental mentions of animals both real and imagined. Calder notes from the start three self-imposed limitations of study: chronological (between 600 and 300 B.C.E.), geographical ("from mainland Greece, Magna Graecia, Ionia and the Aegean islands" [1]), and biological (with "primary focus . . . upon land-living mammalian species, with birds included only when a particular chapter's theme demands them" [1]). Although material evidence looms large throughout the book, the aim is decidedly not to collect every representation of animals, nor to highlight masterpieces (though some are included) or outline stylistic developments. Rather, for Calder, "the study of ancient art is very much a branch of the social history of human-animal relationships" (7), with focus especially on the types of lower-status interactions less fully treated by ancient authors or modern scholars.

Calder has clustered these relationships around a few main themes: sheep and goats (but not cattle) as renewable resources, for milk, wool, hair, and skins (ch. 2); beasts of burden, especially oxen, mules, and asses (ancient Greek horses being less useful, more glamorous, and more comprehensively studied [ch. 3]); animal threats to human well-being, from vermin to predators, plus animal allies employed in response (ch. 4); and animals as pets, both good and bad (ch. 5). Chapter 1 surveys the physical location of tame and domestic animals within the human sphere, while chapter 6 gives a largely philosophical discussion of how ancient Greeks viewed domestic animals and their use and treatment of them. Although discussed sporadically throughout, the "Cruelty and Sentimentality" of Calder's title finally come into focus in this last main chapter, as two opposite ends of a vast spectrum of human thought and behavior with regard to animals.

A few instances of uneven editing aside, the text does a fine job of presenting this array of attitudes. Particularly interesting are the distinctions drawn—and sometimes not drawn—between closely related animals. Well known, for example, is the divergence between the aristocratic horse and banausic ass, and Calder demonstrates nicely how mules, their hybrid offspring, sometimes upset this "neat polar system" (54). Similarly, while "the wolf was the ignoble anti-type to the domestic dog," wolves were also sometimes venerated as strong and Apolline, dogs sometimes disparaged for thieving (69). If domestic "cats and mustelids [i.e., weasels, martens, ferrets] incite mostly negative comments" in literature (95), there was nonetheless an apparent vogue in fifth-century Athens for large spotted cats, probably cheetahs, as high-status pets (second only to peacocks in glamour [87–8]).

Ultimately, it is to the material evidence that most AJA readers will turn, and while much support is marshaled here for claims made in the text, there is also some disappointment. Because only 27 of 323 catalogued objects are illustrated (across 20 black-and-white plates, not referenced in the main text), the reader will do well to read with the Beazley Archive online database at hand ( Together with LIMC, CVA, and a number of handbooks, the database provides images of most catalogued objects, but the meager selection of illustrations is somewhat curious. To begin, the full-color cover image, also shown on the frontispiece and plate 7A, seems an odd choice for such prominence. While certainly an arresting image—showing a mouse tied to a column, apparently as punishment for stealing the bits of grain in its mouth—the gold finger ring on which it appears (cat. no. 149 [London, British Museum, inv. no. GR 1854,0519.147]) dates to the third century B.C.E., just outside the chronological limits so boldly printed in the title of the book immediately above. Moreover, the ring is said to come from Alexandria, outside Calder's geographical limits. These might be minor quibbles for an object central to numerous themes within the book, but mice play a relatively limited role—mainly as pests—and this particular ring rates only two sentences of text (61). Other chronological and geographical outliers also appear, including some hardly discussed, such as a Cypriot Geometric krater fragment (pl. 16, cat. no. 258 [London, British Museum, inv. no. GR 1881,0824.52]). Oddly, only two objects outside London and Oxford are illustrated (both ex-Leo Mildenberg Collection).

Each catalogue entry includes museum name, inventory number, references to standard works and illustrations (usually), and a very brief description. Objects are catalogued in the order they are first discussed in the text, but without reference to specific page numbers. Thus, the reader must flip frequently between text, catalogue, and plates. A fairly comprehensive general index proves quite useful, but the addition of concordances or lists of catalogued objects by museum and subject, with page, catalogue, and plate references, would have been substantial improvements. One also misses a listing of vase painters, who sometimes appear in text and index but never in catalogue entries. Date ranges, always tricky, are strangely uneven: often spot-on, for example, ca. 480 B.C.E. for the famous Judgment of Paris cup by Makron (cat. no. 19 [BAPD, no. 204685]); sometimes varying between text and catalogue, such as an Arkadian bronze shepherd statuette dated 550–530 B.C.E. (16) and 525–500 B.C.E. (cat. no. 9 [Berlin, Antikensammlung, inv. no. 10781]); frequently giving the standard 50-year ranges of the Beazley Archive Pottery Database even when more precision is possible, such as 500–450 B.C.E. rather than ca. 470 B.C.E. for the Pan Painter's name vase (cat. no. 24 [BAPD, no. 206276]); occasionally simply missing the mark, such as a Euergides Painter cup dated ca. 400 B.C.E., about a century too late (cat. no. 241 [BAPD, no. 200762]); and sometimes altogether missing, such as a fragmentary oinochoe by the Shuvalov Painter given no date (cat. no. 252 [BAPD, no. 216503]).

Despite these criticisms, this is a very useful book that belongs in every major research library. The author has accumulated an important body of ancient material supplemented with hundreds of references, a very substantial bibliography, and even her own personal observations of animals, such as excited goats seemingly dancing to her flute music, recalling the scene on a bronze ring in Malibu (27, cat. no. 31 [J. Paul Getty Museum, inv. no. 85.AN.444.29]). The product of serious scholarship combined with an apparent love of animals, the book will prove a valuable resource for scholars working on a wide range of projects related to animals in the ancient Greek world.

Seth D. Pevnick
Tampa Museum of Art
Cornelia Corbett Center
Tampa, Florida 33602


Add new comment

Plain text

  • Use [fn]...[/fn] (or <fn>...</fn>) to insert automatically numbered footnotes.
  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
Click "Save" to submit your comment. Please allow some time for your post to be moderated.