Interactions between Science, Religion, and Literature
Edited By Luis Arturo Guichard, Juan Luis García Alonso and María Paz de Hoz
Nonnus’ natural histories: anything to do with Dionysus?: Laura Miguélez-Cavero
Nonnus’ natural histories: anything to do with Dionysus?
The ancients would have described natural history1 as the enquiry into what was remarkable in the natural world, involving mostly animals and plants. Histories had a chronological component (talking of old things), at least an appearance of impartiality, and most of the time their subject matter came from distant lands, including strange elements that elicited surprised reactions in the reading public.
Animals rendered a neutral space to talk about other subjects. They were used as spaces (or bodies) for thought and narrative in fables, where they illustrated different types of characteristically human behaviour, and in religious narratives, with deities taking different animal shapes for the sake of disguise and punishing humans with the loss of their bodies. Through these two channels, animals entered the philosophical and scientific discourse in classical Athens. Natural history became fully formed as a scientific discipline with Aristotle’s studies on the natural world.2 He considered an educational acquaintance with all scientific fields, including animals, was good for the liberally educated man, who should be able to appreciate and judge a discourse on animals just as well as a philosophical one, although he did not need to have a productive knowledge of them, such as a veterinary would.
Aristotle and Nonnus of Panopolis are separated by chronological, physical and literary distance, since the latter has been dated to the fifth century AD, came from Panopolis in Upper Egypt...
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