Making specimens in the periplus of Hanno and its imperial tradition

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The Periplus of Hanno is a short Greek description of Hanno’s voyage from Carthage along the west coast of Africa. In this article, I turn attention to Pomponius Mela, Pliny the Elder, and Athenaeus’ reception of its final, infamous scene, in which Hanno kills and flays female “Gorillai” and brings their hairy skins back to Carthage. The Gorillai are called human beings (anthro\poi) but also marked as nonhuman. Contrary to modern expectation, Roman writers did not interpret the Gorillai as monkeys or great apes. Rather, Mela, Pliny, and Athenaeus look to myth and other animal species to understand them. They also reinterpret Hanno, first as a marvel-collector and hero and then as a Roman general. Yet even in an age of poena post mortem and summa supplicia, these writers are hesitant to depict Romans flaying human women. Hanno the barbarian can skin a human being, but Hanno in his Roman guise only skins animals. In the Periplus of Hanno and its Imperial receptions, we see the interdependence of ethnicity, humanity, and animality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)67-100
Number of pages34
JournalAmerican Journal of Philology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Classics
  • Cultural Studies
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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