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Journal Article

A Defense of the “Monstrous” Animals of Pliny, Aelian, and Others

Kenneth F. Kitchell Jr.
Preternature: Critical and Historical Studies on the Preternatural
Vol. 4, No. 2 (2015), pp. 125-151
DOI: 10.5325/preternature.4.2.0125
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Page Count: 27

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Topics: Animals, Animal tales, Pelicans, Moths, Authors, Humans, Snakes, Testes, Blood, Literary history
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A Defense of the “Monstrous” Animals of Pliny, Aelian, and Others
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It is customary to criticize ancient and medieval authors on animal lore for being gullible and repeating any story no matter how incredible. This article seeks to mitigate this criticism by pointing out four factors that are often overlooked by such critics. First, a great number of the stories are based on real facts that became distorted through misobservation or because such stories often traveled vast distances on their way to Greek and Roman authors. Seven examples, from stories ranging from the self-castrating beavers to a blood-sucking moth, provide evidence of these processes. Moreover, we must consider the ancients' inherent awe before nature, an attitude that was supported and augmented by mirabilia displayed by conquerors of far-off places. Finally, reverence for previous authors and a faith-based agenda are adduced for the Middle Ages.

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