The Poetry of Animals in Love. A Reading of Oppian’s Halieutica and Cynegetica

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In this essay I offer a reading of two poems attributed to Oppian, the Halieutica (On Fishing) and the Cynegetica (On Hunting), with a focus on the knowledge which these poems communicate regarding the experience of love by animals of land and sea, in particular that love known as erōs which is anchored in the body. I suggest that the knowledge which this poetry offers its readers - both about animals and about love itself - is different from what we find in ancient philosophical prose, especially in the Aristotelian and Stoic traditions. It is sometimes argued that texts like Oppian’s which tell of animals in love are using figurative language or are engaging in analogic thought, attributing to animals what is properly a human capacity, but I suggest that there is an important distinction at work in the Halieutica and Cynegetica. These poems do indeed use metonymy, similes, and other techniques of analogy when comparing certain animal behaviours to characteristically human practices (this is the case with gamos, “marriage”); but with regard to the desires that lead animals to engage in these behaviours, this poetry repeatedly asserts that animals really do experience love (erōs). I point to signs of this distinction both in the Halieutica and the Cynegetica themselves and in their scholia and paraphraseis. Finally, I suggest that this poetry can teach its readers something important about the nature of erōs by portraying animals’ capacity to experience and express it independently of reproduction or even copulation - a point memorably made by several scenes of cross-species desire - and by representing love, both animal and human, from erōs to pothos to philia, as a continuum.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationAntike Erzähl- und Deutungsmuster
Subtitle of host publicationZwischen Exemplarität und Transformation
EditorsSimone Finkmann, Anja Behrendt, Anke Walter
Publisherde Gruyter
ISBN (Electronic)9783110612516
StatePublished - Nov 19 2018


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