Dumb Animals: A Short History of Classical Logocentrism

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Abstract

Among the most common and influential stereotypes of Greco-Roman literature is the idea that animals are ‘dumb’ (ἄλογα/muta), that is, mute and devoid of reason. In recent years, several explorations of what Stephen Newmyer has aptly called the ‘man alone of animals’ topos have pointed out that in asserting the privileged status of humans the ancients attached special importance to articulate language. Yet, most of these explorations have adopted a thematic rather than historical approach in an attempt to provide a comparative assessment of ancient and modern paradigms. In the present paper, I follow a historical line through the literary representations of animals as ‘dumb’, focusing on two especially crucial moments: the rise of classical and Hellenistic stereotypes, and the Roman appropriation of Greek thought. A detailed account of the evolution of the idea of animal ‘dumbness’ is beyond the scope of this paper, but an overview of some of the most significant stages in the history of classical ‘logocentrism’ can refine our perception of codes, strategies, and devices which are currently being used in the world around us.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)81-97
Number of pages17
JournalVICHIANA
Volume58
Publication statusPublished - 2021

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