"[This] is one of the outstanding paradoxes of the Roman mind that a people that was so much alive to the interest and beauty of the animal kingdom, that admired the intelligence and skill to be found in so many of its representatives, that never seemed to tire of the sight of rare and unfamiliar specimens, that displayed such devotion to its pets, should yet have taken pleasure in the often hideous sufferings and agonizing deaths of quantities of magnificent and noble creatures."--from the Introduction
Animals in Roman Life and Art explores animals in Roman iconography, Roman knowledgeboth factual and fancifulabout various fauna, and Roman use of animals for food, clothing, transport, war, entertainment, religious ceremony, and companionship. Arranged by species, J. M. C. Toynbee's magisterial survey ranges from the exotic (the rhinoceros and hippopotamus) to the commonplace (dogs and cats) and proves revelatory. Romans clearly loved their pets and gave them human names. The wealthiest kept gazelles and ibex on their estates as living lawn ornaments. At the same time, they imported exotic animals from Africa and then slaughtered them in both gladiatorial combat and cold-blooded spectacle. Toynbee concludes her study with a discussion of Roman beliefs about animals in the afterlife where, according to Virgil, "the herds will not fear the mighty lion" and "the timid deer will... drink beside the hounds."
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