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pets


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Animals were kept, inside and outside the house, as pets and for show, from early times. Dogs that fed from their master's table are mentioned by Homer, and Penelope found pleasure in watching her flock of geese, though there is symbolism here (geese = suitors). For Odysseus' dog Argos see Odyssey 17. The commonest pet was the small white long‐coated Maltese terrier, represented on 5th‐cent. bc Attic vases and gravestones. Epitaphs show the affection felt for pet dogs by their owners.

Tamed birds, esp. starlings, magpies, ravens, and crows, which could be taught to talk, were popular. Lesbia's ‘sparrow’ (Catullus 2; 3) was possibly a bullfinch. The more exotic parrot, introduced from India, was rarer. Nightingales and blackbirds were kept for their song. Monkeys amused the household with tricks they had been taught. The cat was a late introduction into the Roman house, probably because, being a sacred animal in Egypt, its export from that country was forbidden. But Seneca the Younger and Pliny the Younger assume their readers' acquaintance with it as a household animal. In earlier times, its function in controlling vermin was performed by the ferret. Other animals were kept outside the house, more as a hobby and for showing off to visitors. The fishponds of the rich contained murenas and bearded mullet which might be trained to eat from their masters' hands. Aviaries and game‐parks were fairly common from the late republic onwards. Here were kept singing birds, doves, pigeons, peacocks, flamingos, boars, hares, deer, and antelopes.

See animals, attitudes to.

See animals, attitudes to.

Subjects: Classical Studies.


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