Montag, 13. Februar 2017

Animals in Byzantium: Three case studies. A lecture by Prof. Stavos Lazaris

A weblog entry by Shahrzad Irannejad. 

On the 26th of January, 2017, within the Lecture Series "Kult, Kunst und Konsum – Tiere in alten Kulturen", Prof. Stavos Lazaris, research fellow at CNRS (Le Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique), Paris, presented his lecture on the views regarding animals in Byzantium. He chose to share with us such views using three case studies: exploited animals, tamed animals and studied animals. He began by a general review of the state of research in the matter, and how, despite much interest, an all-encompassing picture of the relationship between man and animals, both domestic and wild, in the Byzantium is yet to be painted. He, therefore, presented three concrete aspects of this relationship. 

Exploited Animals

After general remarks on domestication of animals by man, and explaining how man has historically chosen those species willing to collaborate in labour and transportation, Prof. Lazaris presented us with various examples of Byzantine pharmacological preparations containing animal products or parts. For instance, how milk, honey, and lamb liver is meant to cure epilepsy. With only few exceptions (like such exotic ingredients as lion liver), most of the animal products and parts mentioned in Byzantine pharmacological texts belong to domesticated animals. Comparing such recipes to their counterparts in Pliny (23-79 AD) or Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179 AD), Prof. Lazaris explained, the Byzantines had a pragmatic and realistic approach to the use of animals in medications.

Tamed Animals

Drawing on textual evidence and iconographic data, Prof. Lazaris presented us with the Byzantines’ approach to taming of animals and their relations to their tamed animals. He presented data from Timothy of Gaza’s (active during the reign of Anastasius I, 491-518) book on animals. Furthermore, he introduced the autobiographical poem of Paulinus of Pella (377 – after 461), in which there is mention of the desire to own a good horse, a swift hound, and a hawk. Furthermore, the mosaics from the Villa of the Falconer in Argos (Fig. 1), alongside textual evidence show that falconry was practiced since early Byzantine period. Last but not least, drawing on the chronicles of Constantine Manasses (fl. 12th century), he demonstrated that there were emotional ties between raptors and the hunters using them.

Figure 1: ÅKERSTRÖM-HOUGEN, G. (1974), The calendar and hunting mosaics of the villa of the falconer in Argos: a study in early Byzantine iconography, Stockholm (Skrifter utgivna av Svenska Institutet i Athen. Series prima in 4° 23).

Studied Animals

Prof. Lazaris demonstrated, based on several texts he discussed, that animals were also studied under the Byzantines. These texts mostly dealt with training of raptors, caring for them and their food: for instance, Demetrius Pepagomenus’s (fl. 13th century) text devoted to dogs. He also gave an example from a text by an anonymous writer that prescribed cooked bat for epileptic falcons. Lastly, he reviewed visual samples from hippiatic illustrated manuscripts. Prof. Lazaris believed that the illustrations in these manuscripts acted as some sort of visual checklists: they would facilitate memorization and could also act as guides for navigation of the reader throughout the text.
Prof. Lazaris also presented some early Christian debates regarding the status of animals. Such debates circled around these questions: Did Jesus Christ descend to earth also to redeem animals? Are animals, thus, also resurrected? Should they be treated as moral beings? Prof. Lazaris introduced the Physiologus (author unknown, 2nd century AD), as one of the first zoological Christian texts. He noted, however, that this text is rather meant to discuss the evils of the realm of the soul. Each chapter in this text comprises of two parts: first a summary of ethological data; then a symbolic and allegorical reading of the data in the first section, containing moral and religious messages.
To round up the lecture, Prof. Lazaris mentioned that it is currently becoming fashionable in the realm of research in man-animal relationships, to shift the research away from the perspective of man. He noted, however, that the texts one deals with in medieval times are very much anthropocentric and it is thus very difficult to reconstruct the perspective of the animal.
The lecture was followed by questions and comments from the audience, moderated by our colleague Tristan Schmidt.

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