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Birds in the Ancient World: Winged Words

Publisher: Oxford University Press, Oxford

Publication Year: 2018

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 475

ISBN Number: 9780198713654

Price: £ 30.00

Birds in the Ancient World: Winged Words

The history lover inside me drew me to this title but I was pleased to find my ecologist’s curiosity satisfied many times whilst reading this book. The author delves into how birds fitted into the lives of people living around the Mediterranean during the classical era and it is one of the most comprehensive and detailed descriptions I have ever read. If you are of an inquiring mind then the reference lists will take you further but for the typical reader you will find most topics covered to your satisfaction.

From learning how different birds were used to predict the seasons and weather (though often quite contradictorily and inaccurately!) through their use as resources or entertainment, the people of the ancient Greek and Roman worlds were never far from their avian neighbours. The book also moves further from practical connections into seeing birds as omens or messengers from the gods. Though interpretations and translations can be tricky given the passage of time and evolution of language, Mynott takes care to point out links with current knowledge and science. I found myself chuckling from time to time as how the simplest of encounters with birds could be read favourably depending on the viewer; in particular when he pointed out that whether a bird passed you on the “lucky” side depended on which direction you were facing!

From the earliest images and writings that birds can be identified from, you will find yourself amazed at what can be discovered from sources well over 1000 years old that can be linked with present day species and their distributions. It is such a richly detailed book that you might not be able to read it from start to finish in one go, but the chaptering allows you to dip in and out and discover something new each time you pick it up.

Book reviewed by Katharine Bowgen

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