Barking at the Threshold: Cicero, Lucretius, and the Ambiguous Status of Dogs in Roman Culture

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Abstract

Over the past few years, students of ancient Mediterranean societies have shown consistent interest in the cultural construction of dogs as reflected in texts, artefacts, and other media. However, whereas the cultural and literary implications of the Greek representation of dogs have been the subject of thorough investigations, Roman dogs have remained at the margins of the scholarly debate. By adopting an interdisciplinary methodology that combines cognitive theory, rhetorical analysis, and socio-anthropological research, the present paper discusses some affordances of dogs (in the terms of James Gibson’s 'ecological approach to visual perception') that are given special significance within the metaphoric universe of Roman culture. In the first section, I shall point to some salient characteristics of dogs emerging from the moral, scientific and religious discourse of the Romans. By reassessing the often-overlooked evidence of Latin 'technical' writings in conjunction with relevant pieces of archaeological evidence, I will attempt to point out the central prominence of liminality as the most distinctive symbolic feature of Roman dogs. In the second part of the paper, I will switch to a vehement piece of forensic rhetoric, Cicero’s speech for Roscius Amerinus, in an attempt to show how Cicero intelligently exploits the traditional depiction of dogs as ambiguous beings, at the same time watchful and deceitful. For the sake of comparison, I shall also consider the case of a poet acting, in several respects, as a cultural outsider: Lucretius. While announcing the gospel of a philosophical community frequently associated with pigs and dogs by its opponents, Lucretius never indulges in the double- sided characterization of the canine most familiar to his readers. On the contrary, though clearly aware of the background of his Roman audience, Lucretius chooses to assign new meanings to old and already existing patterns of representation (the hunting hound, the house pet, the Molossian guard dog, the couple mating at a crossroads).
Lingua originaleEnglish
Titolo della pubblicazione ospiteImpious Dogs, Haughty Foxes and Exquisite Fish: Evaluative Perception and Interpretation of Animals in Ancient and Medieval Mediterranean Thought
Pagine73-102
Numero di pagine30
Stato di pubblicazionePublished - 2019

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Tutrone, F. (2019). Barking at the Threshold: Cicero, Lucretius, and the Ambiguous Status of Dogs in Roman Culture. In Impious Dogs, Haughty Foxes and Exquisite Fish: Evaluative Perception and Interpretation of Animals in Ancient and Medieval Mediterranean Thought (pagg. 73-102)