Humans being fond of their animals is nothing new. We may think we are ‘kinder’ nowadays, and we do have a greater awareness of ‘Animal Rights’ and treating our fellow creatures humanely, but human capacity to engage with and even bond with animals is timeless.
I shall look first at the ancient Egyptian attitude to animals, which they worshipped in the form of many different deities. Although Isocrates’ Busiris (11.26-27) suggests that this worship was a means of crowd control by inculcating practices of respect for authority in the people, one could perhaps argue it shows respect for animals and their power from Sobek the Crocodile deity, Tanet the Hippo, or Bastet the cat god and guardian of the dead, or the great symbol of kingship in its role as a protection deity associated with Ra the sun god, the cobra. This lovely article from the Reading Museum states:
“Animals often had attractive qualities that the ancient Egyptians perhaps admired
and wanted to emulate. These included strength, the ability to ward off predators,
protective nature, nurturing characteristics and connections to rebirth.”
This admiration was not completely absent from Greek thought. Homeric similes show that lions, boars, and birds of prey were stock cast members of the Homeric epithet for the hero. In his last charge, Hector ‘swoops like an eagle as it dashes forth to snatch a gentle lamb or cowering hare’ (22.307-309). Certain animals were associated with strength, power, and majesty.
Equally, there is a lot of evidence from the ancient world that shows the same tender regard we share for our pets. An article from the Greek reporter notes:
“Archaeologists have uncovered countless epitaphs on tombstones dedicated by
Greeks to their furry friends.”
Dogs in particular have long been considered domestic animals, but tombstones betray a deep level of affection. The article quotes a tombstone set up by a girl called Rhodopis for her dog Stephanus for whom she ‘shed tears.’
So, maybe we can learn something from the ancients and this comparison. Animals have reason to command respect from us, they can impress us, and they can certainly touch our lives.