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Abstract Aim To study the composition of fauna in Greece and adjacent areas around 3000 years ago based on the knowledge of Homeric man about the animal kingdom. Location Greece and adjacent areas. Method Analysis of information derived from a thorough study of the first written documents of Greek literature, the epics, attributed to Homer and Hesiod. Results Records of 2442 animals were found, corresponding to 71 different animal names. All animal names were attributed to recent taxa, at different category levels; the majority (65%) were assigned to taxa at the species level and the rest to supraspecific taxa. Most of the animal names recorded in the epics have been retained as integral words or roots in Modern Greek and they have been used in the formation of the Latin scientific taxa names. Five animal phyla appear in the texts: (1) Chordata (mostly birds and mammals), (2) Arthropoda, (3) Mollusca, (4) Porifera, and (5) Annelida. Information in the epics also includes morphology, biology, ecology (habitat and prey–predator relationships), and behaviour. The presence of several species in the area in that period is documented on the basis of archaeological and/or palaeontological findings from various Greek localities. Main conclusions The knowledge of Homeric man about animals, as reflected in the epics, seems to concentrate mainly, but not exclusively, on animals involved in human activities. The populations of some common animal species of the Homeric Age in Greek populated areas have become extinct or reduced at the present time. On the other hand, some common animals of the present time do not appear in the epics, since they were introduced later. Useful zoological information can be derived from the study of classical texts, which may help historical biogeographers as a supplement to archaeology and art, in the reconstruction of faunas of older periods.