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Society for Late Antiquity Panel: Animal-Human Interactions in Late Antiquity

In this panel, we invite papers on the animal, the human, and/or their interactions and interrelations in the era of late antiquity.

Patricia Cox Miller (2018) outlines two discourses of animality in late antiquity: one which portrayed humans as naturally dominant over animals, and one which questioned this sort of human-animal binary. Philosophy, as representative of the first discourse, tended to position humans, who possess the faculties of rational thought and speech, as categorically different to animals (as unreasoning and unspeaking). Wielders of Roman imperial power also found the ‘unreasoning’ animal to be a useful rhetorical characterization of opponents, and an effective source of mass entertainment. However, Cox Miller also shows the reverse: some late antique authors portrayed animals as reasoning, speaking beings, and humans as unspeaking, and yet divine. Animals thus provided opportunities for conceptual explication, political management, religious experimentation, Christian theology, and literary playfulness. Some suggestions for topics and questions are detailed below.

Categorization: When are humans compared to animals? How are they described as animal? How do humans respond to their animalization? How are ancient scientific writings about
animals and humans in conversation with one another?

Religion: Did the conception of the animal change with the development and spread of Christianity or philosophies such as Neoplatonism? How do animals fit in with religious practices that do not cleanly fit into conventional religious categories, like magic? How are religious concerns for or about animals visible in literary and material records? Where is the dividing line between the animal, the human, and the divine, especially in texts that explore the extremes of holiness, when saintliness seems like something bestial?

Empire: How were animals considered part of the empire or demonstrative of imperial power? How were animals used in war? Were they considered to be closer to weapons or soldiers? How were they trained, outfitted, and kept healthy alongside humans? Displayed in person and represented in mosaics, ivories, and other art, why did animals have such a hold on the audience? How were humans, whether venatores, chariot drivers, or something else, considered as part of animal-based entertainment? How were these people portrayed in relation to animals on mosaics and tombs?

Papers may last no longer than twenty minutes and will be followed by five minutes for discussion. The session will conclude with an extended period of discussion on the topic between
panelists and audience members. Please send questions and anonymous abstracts to Kelly Holob ( Abstracts without names should be sent as an email attachment no later than Monday, February 6, 2023. All submissions will be judged anonymously by two referees. Prospective panelists must be members in good standing of the SCS at the time of submission and must include their membership number in the cover letter accompanying their abstract. Please follow the SCS instructions for the format of individual abstracts: Submitting an abstract represents a commitment to attend the 2024 meeting if the paper is accepted. No papers will be read in absentia, and the Society for Late Antiquity is unable to provide funding for travel.