Princeton (2023) h/b 232pp £15 (ISBN 9780691240435)
U. is a Professor of Classical languages and Literature at the University of Vermont. This is the third volume that he has contributed to Princeton’s ‘Ancient Wisdom for Modern Readers’ series (previously How to say No in 2022 and How to be a Farmer in 2021). The format of the series is to present a selection of passages relevant to the topic with the original text and a translation on opposing pages (Loeb-like) and with an introduction, brief notes and bibliography provided by the editor. The topic on this occasion is about how the ancient world approached its relationship with animals.
U. has selected 12 passages of varying length (4 in Latin and 8 in Greek) with three themes: animals in an anthropomorphic setting (sections 2, 3 ,4 and 9—Babrius, Theognis, Apion and Ovid respectively); strange animals or animal behaviours (sections 5,7 8 and 10—Aelian, Aristotle and Pliny the Elder); and what we can learn from animals (Sections 1, 6, 11 and 12—Aristotle, Seneca, Plutarch and Porphyry).
The first two groups are full of charming, if rather inconsequential, vignettes but the final group is much meatier. Its weakest segment is possibly the Plutarch in which Circe suggests that Odysseus might try to persuade one of her transformed pigs to re-assume human form. Gryllus, the pig selected, turns out to have been a rhetorician in human form and trots out a series of reasons why he prefers to remain an animal, heavily based on the more civilised approach that animals adopt to sex. Both the dialogue and the argument are a bit laborious.
Seneca inveighs against the way in which men excessively exploit the natural world in contrast to the measured approach of animals. Aristotle, having established that there are two sorts of beings in nature—the eternal and indestructible (about which our knowledge can only be slight) and those that participate in birth and decay (about which we can confidently expect to investigate and learn from)—goes on to argue cogently that in this group the study of animals is equally as productive as the study of humans.
Porphyry starts from the Stoic proposition that there are two types of logos, the expressive and the internal, and goes on to argue that animals possess both types of logos—mainly in the expressive, where he cites the ability of animals to communicate and to learn from experience, but also in the internal where he cites the special powers of sight and smell identified in some animals and in their social behaviour. The passage ends with his suggestion that there is a case for refraining from killing animals to eat or for fun. As abstaining from a pleasure is in Stoic terms a virtue, man will become virtuous by turning vegetarian.
Apart from selecting the passages (the original text for which appear to have been drawn from the Loeb series), U. contributes a workmanlike translation, Introduction and notes with a minimal bibliography. Overall, the selection contains enough entertainment and intellectual stimulus to be commended to Classics for All readers.