Added 16 September 2006.

A selection of poems on animals from the Greek Anthology


The Greek Anthology is a collection of about four thousand poems of the ancient Greek-speaking world, drawn together by Byzantine scholar in the Middle Ages. They cover a broad range of subjects (epitaphs, epigrams, jokes and love odes) and the gamut of tone from frank lewdness to pagan and later Christian piety.

Anyte (sometime early 3rd century BC) was a female poet who was one of the first to write epitaphs on animals. The following poems illustrating various aspects of the interactions of the ancient human world with wild and domestic animals have been selected from the Penguin edition of the Greek Anthology, the which volume holds about 860 poems. The numbers in parentheses refer to the number of the poem in that book.


Roused by November seas, wrecked on Italian rocks,
a kraken squid was washed ashore:
The masters of the cattle-ship set up this,
its huge rib, in homage to the Gods.

Theodoridas, 3rd century BC, trans. W G Shepherd [206]

The mangled tentacle of the huge scolopendra,
the deep-sea calamary as long as eight fathoms,
smeared over with foam and torn by the coral,
was found spreadeagled here on the seashore
by Hermonax, when about his usual business
of fisherman, hauling his usual catches.
And now he has left it here hanging
for Ino and her offspring Palaemon,
for the gods of the sea, a sea-monster.

Antipater of Sidon, 2nd century BC, trans. Tony Harrison [243]

In the clear water by the beach
an octopus was swimming, and
a fisherman, who saw it, grabbed
and threw it high upon the land,

afraid his prey might trap him if
he wasn't careful. There it flailed
its tentacles and writhed until
it happened on a timorous wild

half-sleeping hare among the reeds,
and strangled it. Thus, all unplanned,
the fisherman's sea-plunder brought
him further plunder from the land.

Bianor, circa 1st century AD, trans. Robin Skelton [444]


Bow-legged, pinchered sand-digger -
backward-running, neckless, eight-footed,
shell-backed, hard-skinned swimmer -
Kopasos the fisherman dedicates
this crab to Pan - the first fruits
from the harvest of his line.

Statilius Flaccus, about 1st century AD, trans. Barriss Mills [437]


And you too perished long ago, by a bush with matted roots,
Lokrian bitch, swiftest of whelps delighting to give tongue -
A speckled throated adder coiled about
Your light-moving limbs such a corroding poison.

Anyte, trans. John Heath-Stubbs and Carol A Whiteside [106]

The dog from Malta

He came from Malta, and Eumelus says
He had no dog like him in all his days;
We called him Bull; he went into the dark;
Along those roads we cannot hear him bark.

Tymnes, poss. 3rd century BC, trans. Edmund Blunden [211]

Epitaph of a dog

Stranger by the roadside, do not smile
When you see this grave, though it is only a dog's.
My master wept when I died, and his own hand
Laid me in earth and wrote these lines on my tomb.

Anonymous epigram from the Roman period, trans. Dudley Fitts [522]


You expect, Puss-in-Boots,
to go on treating my house
as your house
after treating my pet partridge
as a comestible?

No, pet partridge!
Over the bones of his treat
The cat shall be slain,
& you honoured in blood rite:
As Pyrrhus, recall,
(rightfully) slew
over the corpse of Achilles.

Agathias, 536-82, trans. Peter Whigham [824]


No longer, cricket, sitting
In a furrow, will you sing
Out, delightful, nor lull me
With music from your wingbeat
As I lie beneath the vine.

Mnasalkes of Sikyon, 3rd century BC, trans. Edward Lucie-Smith [202]

Cricket, you'll sing no more
in Alkis' elegant house,
shrill-voiced in the sunlight.
For now you've flown away
to the grassy fields of the dead
and golden Persephone's
flower-meadows, wet with dew.

Aristodikos, probably 3rd century BC, trans. Barriss Mills [216]

The gutsy bugs grabbed grub from me till disgusted.
Grudging the bugs as they grubbed disgusting me I grabbed them.

Parmenion, trans. Peter Jay [510]



Sosos the cattleman slew the lion
that dismembered his burgeoning calf,
and flayed it. Flayed, it loped
from forest to fold, from fold
to forest no more. Stuck, it discharged
its bloody debt with its blood.

Leonidas of Tarentum, poss. 3rd century BC, trans. W G Shepherd


Damis set this up, to commemorate
His steadfast horse, when dead:
The crimsoned War-god beset it, at the bare breastbone.
Through the tough hide the black blood seethed,
Making wet the soil in grim slaughter.

Anyte, trans. John Heath-Stubbs and Carol A Whiteside [105]


A Decoy Partridge

Your throat, my hunting partridge, will no longer
Send its echoing cry through the shady copses,
Chasing your spotted friends in their woodland pastures.
You have flown for the last time - to Acheron.

Simias, trans. Peter Jay [81]

A Cock

Never again rising at dawn
will you wake me from my bed,
flapping your noisy wings;
for while you slept, the Ripper sneaked up
and sank his claws down swiftly in your throat.

Anyte, trans. Sally Purcell [107]

The linguist parrot flicked his flowery wings
and changed his wicker cage for greener things,
but constantly saluting Caesar's fame
kept on the hills the memory of his name.
All these quick-learning fowls began to strive
which should greet first the god that is alive.
Orpheus commanded animals with a word:
these birds sing 'Caesar' of their own accord.

Krinagoras of Mytilene, circa 70 BC, trans. Alistair Elliott [361]

To a Swallow

Relish honey. If you please
Regale yourself on Attic bees.
But spare, O airy chatterer,
Spare the chattering grasshopper!

Winging, spare his gilded wings,
Chatterer, his chatterings.
Summer's child, do not molest
Him the summer's humblest guest.

Snatch not for your hungry young
One who like yourself has sung -
For it is neither just nor fit
That poets should each other eat.

Euenos, trans. John Peale Bishop [497]


Never, my partridge, O patient heart,
Were you to see your hills again.
And never now will you wake up
In your elegant wicker coop,
Shake as the fat-eyed day comes on,
And freckle your wings with the dawn.
The greedy cat has got your head,
I've taken what's left from her teeth
And hidden you well from her claws.
Small bodies should not lie so deep,
May the dust be light on your grave.

Agathias, 536-82, trans. Guy Davenport [823]
(see also poem in the Cats section)


On a Dolphin

No more in delightful chase through buoyant seas
Shall I toss up my throat from the depths, nor blow around
The ornamented beak of the ship, exulting
In the carved figure-head, my image. But the sea's
Glittering blue has thronged me out of the moist element:
I lie stretched out on a narrow space of dry land.

Anyte, trans. John Heath-Stubbs and Carol A Whiteside [108]


The children have tied you, billy-goat, with bright
purple reins, and a band round your hairy mouth,
teaching you to race, like a horse, around the god's temple
that he may keep an eye on their games.



A nasty snake once bit a Cappodocian,
but died itself, having tasted his blood's poison.

Demodokos, fourth century BC, trans. Peter Jay [39]

Keep away from asps and toads,
Vipers and Laodiceans.
Keep well away from rabid dogs,
And also Laodiceans.

Anonymous epigram, trans. Alistair Elliott [787]

See also 106 under Dogs.


John spared his patient labouring ox,
worn out by years and the plough,
the answer of the bloody axe,
and thanked it for its service; now,
somewhere, half-lost in meadow grass,
it lows in unrequited ease,
glad of the respite from the plough,
rejoicing in release.

Adaios, Roman period, trans. Robin Skelton [476]

We oxen are not only good
at cutting furrows with the plough,
but excellent at hauling ships
up from the sea to land; we know
the oarsman's trade as well as that
of ploughman; therefore, sea, command
your dolphins to be just as deft
and yoke them up to work the land.

Leonidas of Alexandria, Roman Empire 1st century AD, trans. Robin Skelton [586]

Tauromancy at Memphis

At Memphis the horn'd bull told our friend
Eudoxos of his approaching end.
That is the story I have heard.
But lest you think me so absurd
As to believe that bulls can chatter,
Or bull-calves either, for that matter,
Hear what happened: the prophetic brute
With its long wet tongue lapped the fine new suit
Eudoxos was wearing, as much as to say
Your demise is arranged for this very day.
Whereat our friend obligingly
Went home & died. Age? 53.

Diogenes Laertios, early 3rd century AD, trans. Dudley Fitts [635]

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