A History of the Animal World in the Ancient Near East

A History of the Animal World in the Ancient Near East

A History of the Animal World in the Ancient Near East

A History of the Animal World in the Ancient Near East

Synopsis

This book is about all aspects of man's contact with the animal world; sacrifice, sacred animals, diet, domestication, in short, from the sublime to the mundane. Chapters on art, literature, religion and animal husbandry provide the reader with a complete picture of the complex relationships between the peoples of the Ancient Near East and (their) animals. A reference guide and key to the menagerie of the Ancient Near East, with ample original illustrations.

Excerpt

Despite its title, this volume is not so much a history of the animal world in the ancient Near East as it is a narrative of human relations with animals told from the human perspective. After all, as Alan Bleakley, in the introduction to his book—The Animalizing Imagination—points out, it is only through the mediation of language and culture that we can know the animal world. Conceived as a resource for understanding animals as signifiers in the ancient Near East— in Bleakley's words, for understanding what they represent rather than what they present (as physical reality)—it reconstructs ancient attitudes towards animals, attitudes that have shaped our Western perception, and where they are still recognizable today.

The nature of the human-animal relationship in the ancient Near East is complex. But understanding that relationship can reveal how the peoples of the ancient Near East saw themselves and their place in the universe. Bleakley (2000: 38–40) speaks of animals appearing in three realms of experience, the biological (literal), the psychological (imaginal), and the conceptual (semiotic, symbolic and textual). The first of these relates to natural or real animals, the second to animals experienced in the personal and cultural psyche or imagination, and the third to animals used as signs in language (e.g., through simile and metaphor) or symbols in a system or code. “Biological” animals in the ancient Near East have been the subject of numerous zooarchaeological and material culture studies in recent years. But the manner in which the peoples of the ancient Near East used animals to animate their language, mirror their world, and ultimately define themselves, is a subject that scholarship has for the most part overlooked. Because animals of the mind and imagination are as critical to humanity's spiritual well-being as the herding of livestock is to its material well-being, it is this “unatural” role of animals in the lives of the inhabitants of the ancient Near East, that is, the embedding of animals as images in art, literature and the imagination, that forms the main focus of this work.

Perhaps the best-known ancient Near Eastern text relating to animals, the Flood Story in Genesis, will serve as a point of departure for understanding ancient Near Eastern attitudes. When, according . . .

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