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Birds in the Ancient World: Winged Words Hardcover – 24 May 2018
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Jeremy Mynott's Birds in the Ancient World is an absolute joy, beautifully written and gloriously illustrated. (Peter Thonemann, Books of the Year 2018, The Times Literary Supplement)
Superb book... Mynott quotes... 120 authors in total, some translated into English for the first time. All the translations are Mynott's own. The period covered is approximately 700 BC to AD 300 and, since Mynott's approach is thematic, each chapter ranges pretty freely across those thousand years. It is, without doubt, a major achievement and a brilliantly sustained exercise in what Mynott... calls 'thinking with birds'... We are fortunate to have in Mynott, who is both an ornithologist and a calssicist, the perfect guide for such explorations. (Mathew Lyons, History Today)
Classical literature is a rich source of bird-related forteana, as this superb study reveals... a delightfully easy read, thanks to Mynott's stylistic panache: fluent, quasi-Herodotean, jargon-free, consistently witty... Not many writers can claim to have the last word on their subject. Mynott though, is that - have to say it - rare bird... For naturalists, scientists, social historians, twitchers, this superlative study will surely fly... (Barry Baldwin, Fortean Times)
An astonishing combination of knowledge and sheer readability... a copiously and richly illustrated review... I think we should be grateful to Jeremy Mynott for this wonderful book, which both illuminates that understanding and broadens our knowledge. (Roger Riddington, British Birds)
... stunning new book ... reading this splendid study, I experienced some of the excitement that humanists must have felt at entering into a lost world ... Beautifully produced, informed by wonderful scholarship, Birds in the Ancient World embodies the Renaissance spirit, as a model of humane and civilised learning. (Mike McCarthy, Resurgence & Ecologist Magazine)
... excellent new book ... (Robin Lane Fox, Financial Times)
Jeremy Mynott's masterful cultural and scientific history tours their [birds] roles as timepieces, soundscapes, pets, messaging services even intermediaries with the supernatural. The vivid artworks and literary passages give this wings... (Barbara Kiser, Nature)
This is a wonderfully readable book, scholarly but fully accessible, continually thoughtful, properly sceptical, often amusing, and culled from knowledge of ancient literature that must be second to none ... It is nicely illustrated in full colour. Whether you read the book straight through, or in a series of dips, it is full of revelation and insight into the ancient mind-set, which was once familiar and strange ... Thanks to Jeremy Mynott, the birds of the ancient world have taken flight, and we can go birding in that magical lost world. (Peter Marren, British Wildlife)
For Dr Mynott, 'the significance of birds' is his binding theme in this illustrated cultural history with liberal quotations from some of humanity's greatest literature at this formative period of Western history. (John McEwen, Country Life)
A distinguished publisher and writer on both classics and bird-watching, Mynott has scoured thousands of pages on a literary nature trail... (Peter Stothard, The Times Literary Supplement)
About the Author
Jeremy Mynott is the author of Birdscapes: Birds in Our Imagination and Experience (2009), a book exploring the variety of human responses to birds, described by reviewers as 'the finest book ever written about why we watch birds' (Guardian) and 'a wonderful rumination on birds and birders through space and time for anyone interested in our relationship with nature' (THES). He has also published an edition and translation of Thucydides in the series, 'Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought' and, more recently, Knowing your Place, an account of the wildlife in a tiny Suffolk hamlet. He has broadcast on radio and television, is a regular reviewer for the TLS and wildlife magazines, a founder member of 'New Networks for Nature', and is the former Chief Executive of Cambridge University Press and an Emeritus Fellow of Wolfson College, Cambridge.
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If you are interested (for example) in fighting-bird contests as a proxy for ancient warrior courage and steadfastness, or the best way for a hunter to catch an ostrich mother and her chicks, there is something for you in the ancient texts quoted here.
The book is not a light read. We progress from birds as indicators of the natural world (in prose and poetry), birds as food resources (hunting, cooking, eating, farming), birds as pets and entertainment, and finally birds as enmeshed in ritual and magic. The numerous sources quoted (in new translations) are complemented by many plates of birds within illustrated porcelain and mosaics.
I would recommend this to the antiquarian scholar interested in the concepts of nature in antiquity. It's probably too dense and classics-situated for the modern-day lover of birds, however.
What I have read is exciting and exceptional, this cannot fail to please the reader.