Exploring the Non-Human Animal in Herodotus’ ‘History’

Primary author: Robin Bond

Primary college/unit: Honors College
Campus: Pullman


Recent works exploring the philosophical views of the Ancient Greeks on animals have made only limited mention of the depiction of animals in Herodotus’ ‘History’, despite the historian’s many references to animals both in his historical narrative and in discussions of geography, ethnography, and zoology. This project explores patterns around animal phenomena in Herodotus’ accounts of imperialism and conquest during the formation and expansion of the Persian Empire in scenes where two animal species appear juxtaposed in battle descriptions, oracles or omens. In these episodes, animal activity is connected with points of invasion, and conflicts between two species (aligned respectively with two opposing human groups) disrupt the expected outcome of human battles.

Animal appearances in these episodes amplify the ‘History’s’ central theme of imperial expansion in the form of unexpected upsets on the battlefield and unheeded warnings to confident aggressors. In this respect, animals function similarly to other natural forces in the ‘History’. Storms and earthquakes, for example, have been seen by scholars as operating in accordance with the divine principle of balance by creating obstacles as a natural check on imperialistic overreach. Patterns in Herodotus’ narrative accounts of royal expansion and aggression where animals have a similarly disruptive effect hint at a coherent conception of animals as a category of the natural world and open the door to further discussion of the moral status of animals as portrayed in the ‘History’.