Animal Peculiarity Part 7
Suicide is commended as an escape from the ills of life, and riches are to be despised. Aelian’s Stoicism hardly goes below the surface. His primary object is to entertain and while so doing to convey instruction in the most agreeable form. More
Suicide is commended as an escape from the ills of life, and riches are to be despised. Aelian’s Stoicism hardly goes below the surface. His primary object is to entertain and while so doing to convey instruction in the most agreeable form.
He was among the first to break away from the age-long tradition of the periodic structure of sentences, at least for works of a serious nature, and to affect a simpler prose of short, coordinated, sometimes paratactic, clauses.
In this and in the rich variety of topics and in a certain fondness for piquant, not to say earthy, stories from the life of men and of animals one may trace the influence of the Milesian Tales.
Unfettered by any canons of style or language, picaresque, and sometimes gross, they pandered to popular taste. To adopt their technique while refining the style and imparting a moral favour to his narratives may well have seemed to Aelian a sure way of gaining a like popularity with educated readers.
Some might find fault with his random and piece-meal handling of his theme-of that he is well aware, and in the Epilogue he defends himself with the plea that a frequent change of topic helps to maintain the reader’s interest and saves him from boredom.
But as to the permanent value of his work he has no misgivings, and since. Philostratus informs us that his writings were much admired, we may assume that they appealed to cultivated circles in a way that the voluminous and possibly arid compilations of grammarians did not.
The principal sources of the De natura animalium have been investigated by Max Wellmann and Rudolf Keydell in a series of articles which appeared in the journal Hermes between the years 1891 and 1937.
Here it will be enough to state their conclusions and to indicate some of the reasons for them. That the name of Aristotle should occur over fifty times in a work professing to deal with animals will surprise no one. Yet it is certain that Aelian knew Aristotle only at second hand through the epitome of his zoological works made by Aristophanes of Byzantium (3rd/2nd cent. B.c.).
Even so there is little enough of genuine descriptive zoology, and it was not in any purely zoological work that Aelian found his chief inspiration and guide. It is notice- able how often his statements regarding the names, habits, and characteristics of animals refect in their manner of presentation, their content and style, the comments of scholiasts and writers like Athenaeus.
Clement of Alexandria, and Pollux, who took their materials from grammarians. It became a mannerism with the scholars of Alexandria to cite Homer whenever it was possible, and Aelian follows the fashion, less (so it would seem) with an aim to establishing some fact of natural history than to proving Homer's knowledge of the science.
Specimens of grammarian’s lore meet us in the excursions into etymology and lexicography, in the myths and proverbs relating to animals, with their illustrations from dramatists and poets, and in a wealth of other matter which a professed zoologist would disregard as being irrelevant. Aelian is" not, like Athenaeus,
His primary object is to entertain and while so doing to convey instruction in the most agreeable form. Some might find fault with his random and piece-meal handling of his theme-of which he is well aware, and he defends himself with the plea that a frequent change of topic helps to maintain the reader’s interest and saves him from boredom.