The Risks of Riding a Dolphin: A Motif in Some Greek and Roman Narratives of Animal-Human Love

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter focuses on a little-noticed motif in the narratives of dolphins falling in love with humans found in Apion (quoted by Aulus Gellius), Pliny the Elder, Aelian, and Oppian: the dorsal fin appears either as a handle to grasp or as an improbably sharp object capable of piercing the flesh of the beloved, wounding or even killing him as he rides on his lover’s back. Observing the erotic charge of the language and imagery, Williams situates this motif in broader contexts: other narratives of animals in love with humans; Lucretian and Virgilian conceptualizations of erotic desire in terms of piercing and penetrating, pleasure and pain; the role of penetration in pederastic configurations of human desire. In a coda, two widely different texts on animals, humans, and physical intimacy—an epigram by Strato of Sardis and a scene from Jack London’s Call of the Wild—occasion some reflection on scratching, piercing, and shared pleasure.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Body Unbound
Subtitle of host publicationLiterary Approaches to the Classical Corpus
EditorsKatherine Hsu, David Schur, Brian Sowers
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
ISBN (Electronic)9783030658069
ISBN (Print)9783030658052
StatePublished - Sep 2021

Publication series

NameThe New Antiquity


  • Aelian
  • Zoophilia
  • Virgil
  • Strato of Sardis
  • Scratching
  • Plutarch
  • Pliny the Elder
  • Pleasure
  • Piercing
  • Periander of Ambracia
  • Penetration
  • Pederasty
  • Oppian
  • Lucretius
  • London, Jack
  • Gellius, Aulus
  • eros
  • Dolphins
  • Dogs
  • Desire
  • Aristotle
  • Apion
  • Animals


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