Popular Science Monthly/Volume 21/June 1882/The Introduction of Domestic Animals


THE roving shepherd sows hastily a piece of land, which he leaves after harvesting his crop, to do the same the next year with another piece of land. But, when fruit-growing is combined with agriculture, this unsettled shepherd-life becomes entirely changed. The plantation of trees and vines must be inclosed, and taken care of a long time before it will bring fruit. Hence arises the sense of a settled home and of individual possession. Even the house of the planter becomes a firmer structure; the ground is more thoroughly cultivated, so that a smaller territory suffices to support the family, and individuals combine more and more into social communities. Man thus becomes accustomed to a settled order of life, and to the relations which form the foundation of lawful constitutions. Closely associated with these changes in the mode of living is the introduction of domestic animals.

In the early time, when the tribes of the Indo-European people still formed one undivided folk in its Asiatic home, the sheep and the cow had already been tamed. This is proved in the case of the sheep by the numerous varieties existing among them. The word daughter, which means "the milker," and which is common to all the Indo-European languages, bears witness to the early taming of the cow. Of both these animals, man at first used only the milk, the flesh, and the skin. Afterward the cow became man's assistant in agriculture. It was not until a much later time that the horse took the place of the cow, at first chiefly in traveling and in riding, afterward more and more in agricultural operations. Here, however, arises the important question, whether the people already possessed these tamed animals when they moved into the several parts of Europe, or were they first received by them at a later time.

There is no doubt that the original home of the horse is not Europe, but Central Asia; for since the horse in its natural state depends upon grass for its nourishment and fleetness for its weapon, it could not in the beginning have thriven and multiplied in the thick forest-grown territory of Europe. Much rather should its place of propagation be sought in those steppes where it still roams about in a wild state. Here, too, arose the first nations of riders of which we have historic knowledge, the Mongolians and the Turks, whose existence even at this day is as it were combined with that of the horse. From these regions the horse spread in all directions, especially into the steppes of Southern and Southeastern Russia and into Thrace, until it finally found entrance into the other parts of Europe, but not until after the immigration of the people. This assumption is, at least, strongly favored by the fact that the farther a district of Europe is from those Asiatic steppes, i. e., from the original home of the horse, the later does the tamed horse seem to have made its historic appearance in it. The supposition is further confirmed by the fact that horse-raising among almost every tribe appears as an art derived from neighboring tribes in the East or Northeast. Even in Homer the ox appears exclusively as the draught-animal in land operations at home and in the field, while the horse was used for purposes of war only. Its employment in military operations was determined by swiftness alone. That the value of the horse must originally have depended on its fleetness, can easily be inferred from the name which is repeated in all the branches of the Indo-European language, and signifies nearly "hastening," "quick." The same fact is exemplified by the descriptions of the oldest poets, who, next to its courage, speak most of its swiftness. How beautiful, for example, is the description in Homer!

". . . As when some courser, fed
With barley in the stall, and wont to bathe
In some smooth-flowing river, having snapped
His halter, gayly scampers o'er the plain,
And in the pride of beauty bears aloft
His head and gives his tossing mane to stream
Upon his shoulders, while his flying feet
Bear him to where the mares are wont to graze."

Iliad (Bryant's translation, vi, 644-651).

And what lofty words does the author of the book of Job use in speaking of this animal!—

"He mocketh at fear, and is not affrighted;
Neither turneth he back from the sword.
The quiver rattleth against him,
The glittering spear and the shield.

He swalloweth the ground with fierceness and rage:
Neither believeth he that it is the sound of the trumpet.
He saith among the trumpets, Ha, ha;
And he smelleth the battle afar off, the thunder of the
captains, and the shouting."

(Chapter xxxix, verses 22-25.)

It was chiefly by reason of these two properties—fleetness and courage—that the horse quickly became an animal without which history would seem barren enough. Without the horse neither the expeditions of an Alexander, nor a migration of tribes, nor a Christian knighthood, would have been possible; in a word, without the horse, all those mighty movements which have shaken the world and have stirred the very foundations thereof, could never have been thought of; and the people, sitting still and silent upon the ground, would never have left their accustomed boundaries to go forth fighting and colonizing from land to land.

Happily the horse possessed still other important properties which rendered possible its employment in other than warlike uses. Chief among these properties are its sagacity, endurance, and fidelity. When, therefore, war was no longer the chief employment of Europeans, and agriculture had taken its place, man soon thought of employing the horse as a draught-animal as he in like manner had hitherto used the cow. Then did the horse become, for the first time, of real use to culture, and a leading actor in it. Such had not been the case in Asia up to this time. The ox had drawn the plow and wagon but lazily and slowly, and agriculture had made slow progress; but with the horse came a new impulse, a higher purpose in this occupation, which made it an important and valuable one. Even to this time the horse, by reason of his excellent properties, is regarded as the truest companion and aid of man in all the operations as well of war as of agriculture. Neither is this noble animal to be forgotten in commerce and trade, nor in art; in a word, it is the most valuable and therefore the best treated domestic animal which Europe has to exhibit.

Besides the horse, some other animals, which in the pastoral time had not yet entered Europe, soon made their appearance. They were the ass, with its near relative the mule, and the goat. All these wandered, as did the vine, fig, and olive, from Asia Minor and Syria to Greece; and, strange as it may seem, the mule preceded the ass, whose original home may after all have to be sought for in Africa. Both spread at a later date from Greece into the same regions in which the vine and the olive found their way, and for a time did not pass beyond these regions. For, notwithstanding their patience and contentment, by virtue of which they are satisfied with the most wretched food, they did not find the climate in Northern Europe a hospitable one for them, and are both still really strangers there.

The goat, too, on account of its predilection for young trees, buds, and sharp, aromatic herbs, can be kept in great numbers only in those regions in which the injuries inflicted by them are of relatively little importance. It therefore feels more at home in the rocky labyrinths of the Grecian islands, Sicily, Sardinia, and Italy, than in the northern regions. According to the census, Italy in 1863 possessed forty-one million goats.

Of four-footed animals, Europe has received only one further addition—the cat. Unlike the dog, it was most probably not a primitive companion of man, but is relatively a late gain. The taming of the animal is a fruit of the religious customs of the Egyptians, who recognized the worth of this mouse-destroyer, and permitted divine honors to be paid to it. Its picture, therefore, meets us beside other wonderful figures upon numerous Egyptian monuments, and in the tombs whole layers of cat-mummies are sometimes to be found.

The ancient Greeks were not acquainted with the cat, but the mouse was certainly known to them from the earliest period—a fact shown by the name which is common to all the Indo-European languages, and which signifies apparently "thief"—and they not seldom suffered so severely under the plague of these pests that whole regions were devastated and in consequence had to be abandoned. For the destruction of the mice they used either the weasel or the marten, which were tamed for this purpose. The weasel, especially, held just the same place among them that the cat now holds among us, and it passed in like manner into proverbs and fables. In Aristophanes, a certain person is summoned to tell a story, and he begins his fable with the words—

"There was once a mouse and a weasel."

That the cat was as little known as a domestic animal to the Romans as it was to the Greeks, is plainly shown by the story of the country and the city mouse, as narrated by Horace, who lived in the time of Augustus.-There is certainly no question that if Horace had known the cat he would have mentioned it in this passage, but no mention of it is made. In the fourth century a. d., we find the cat mentioned for the first time among the domestic animals, and it not only spread abroad among all the European peoples, but was also transplanted to Asia. If Hehn's conjecture be correct, its general introduction was occasioned by the irruption of the rat, which seems to have entered Europe in company with the immigrants from Asia.

Among the Germans this animal was allotted to Freya, whose carriage was drawn by two cats. At the same time it was regarded as a shrewd, magic-working animal, and it therefore played a leading part in matters of witchcraft, during the middle ages, beside the owl and the bat, in myths that grew plainly enough out of its sneaking movement, its preference for the night, its dark fur, and its eyes, which glow in the dark. Cats guarded secret treasures in mountains and caves, they lay at cross-roads, at night they carried on their operations in ruined mills in the forest; even witches and magicians assumed their forms in order either to inflict injury upon others or to visit the Blocksberg. The German fables of animals allot to the cat the prize for wisdom and deception. When it becomes necessary to bring the robber Reynard to court to make an end to all his evil deeds and the complaints arising therefrom, and Brown, i. e. Bruin, the bear has failed in the attempt, then it appears that only Harry, the cat, is able to accomplish the task of delivering the artful message to the evildoer. Again, the cat does not lack certain desirable qualities. How burdensome does the dog with its caresses often become, how unskillfully does he exert himself to please; how gentle and amiable, on the contrary, can the cat be, how pleasant its manner and motion! During the middle ages, therefore, the cat served as a plaything for distinguished ladies, who nursed it on their laps and fed it with dainty bits; and at the present time, among many persons, the cat finds recognition and love: in Gottfried Mind it has found its Raphael, and poets, like Tieck, Amadeus Hoffman, Lichtwer, and in recent times Scheffel, have ennobled their thinking and striving; who, for example, does not hold in grateful remembrance the deep philosophizing of the cat Hidigeigei (in Scheffel's "Trompeter von Säkkingen") on the theme "Why do men kiss?" Even Lessing's quaint nature could find a source of enjoyment in this animal; on his writing-table lay his cat, and no one can read without emotion how Lessing, when his favorite had destroyed the manuscript of "Nathan," patiently and quietly wrote the poem anew without depriving the author of the mischief of its usual place. Notwithstanding this, for most men there is something demoniacal and weird about the animal, which withdraws it from their sympathy; hence Massius rightly says of it, "Complicated by the favor of parties and by their hate, its character in history wavers."

Among manifold other varieties of animals, birds have always excited in a marked degree the attention and the favor of man. Since the primeval time hosts of songs have been sung to the lark, the stork, the nightingale, and the swallow, and the speech of people greets them in their flight with a thousand fond, familiar words. Nay, it is not too much to assert that, without the birds, even the spring-time would be sad, just as by their flight the winter becomes so much the more gloomy and desolate. But that which most attracts us to birds is their power of song and of flight. In ancient times favored men pretended to understand their mysterious sounds, which were to them the voice of Fate, since they seemed either to encourage by a cheerful address or to warn by threatening tones. The flight especially seemed to be supernatural and worthy of admiration, and there has certainly been no lack of attempts to imitate it, as the myth of the Greeks regarding Dædalus and Icarus shows. But it was precisely this power of flight, and the impulse to wander connected therewith, which made it impossible for man to draw the majority of fowls into closer relations with himself, and to make them useful to him. He was in reality able to domesticate only those which had lost more or less the power to fly, or those which had in only a slight degree the character of flying animals, and were not compelled to change their dwelling-place in winter. Thus our presentation is limited to the few which are now regarded as really domestic animals—viz., to the goose, duck, turkey, and peacock.

Although the taming of the goose and the duck reaches back to a very early period—since neither of them was brought hither from Asia, but both are descended from our native wild varieties—the fowl, or chicken, is of comparatively recent date in Europe. In the Old Testament, and upon the Egyptian monuments, it is not to be found. It appeared first in India, and gradually spread farther westward, where it gained much respect, especially among the Persians. In the religion of Zoroaster the cock was sacred, being regarded as the herald of the morning and a symbol of light, because he drove away the evil spirits of darkness.

In Homer and Hesiod, and in general in the oldest Greek poets, we find no trace of the fowl. It seems to have been first mentioned by Theognis (about 600 b. c.), and was universally known to the contemporaries of the Persian War. The comparison between the fights of cocks and of men is a favorite one with the poets of that period.

Themistocles is said to have once stirred the courage of his army by pointing to two fighting cocks which staked their lives for the glory of victory, and not for their hearths and gods. It agrees well with its late introduction that the cock has attained to but little importance in cultivated circles: he was sacred to Ares (Mars), and people were accustomed, after recovery from sickness, to bring to Æsculapius, the god of medicine, a cock as a sacrifice.

From Greece the fowl quickly found its way into Sicily and Lower Italy; only the Sybarites, who were notorious gluttons, are said to have admitted no fowl within their walls, so that they might not be disturbed in their sleep.

Among the Romans the fowl played a very important part: sacred cocks accompanied the departing commanders to the scene of war, and were used for taking the auspices. It was considered a favorable sign if the fowls ate greedily; but, on the other hand, it denoted a misfortune if they refused food. It will thus be readily seen that the attendant of these birds (putllarius) exercised much influence in this matter, according as he did, or did not, give the fowls food before the taking of the augury.

How widely the breeding of fowls spread and developed in Italy may be learned from the writings of Varro and of Columella. Fowls, and especially fighting-cocks, were constantly imported from places which had become noted for breeding them e. g., Rhodes, Chalcis, Delos—or directly from Persia.

That the fowl did not come into Germany from Italy, but that a more direct transfer of it from Persia—perhaps by way of Thrace, Illyria, and Pannonia—must have taken place, is shown by the names (hahn huhn, henne), which are independent of, and different from, the Greek and Latin names; and it is further shown by the ideas and representations which, in the North, are connected with the fowl. Thus we find in separate and distinct places the same belief as in Persia—that the cock, by his crowing, frightens away the evil spirits; he was the symbol of flame, the animal of Loki, the god of fire: when he unfolded his wings, conflagrations started up under him, whence comes the still current expression for an act of incendiarism, "To set the red cock upon any one's roof." Cæsar reports of the Britons that among them, just as among the Persians, no one was allowed to eat the flesh of fowls. At what time, however, the northern immigration took place can not be accurately stated; yet the supposition can not be wide of the truth that it was when the Persians, during their expeditions to Greece, came into contact with the above-named tribes—somewhere about the fifth century b. c. From that starting-point, then, this useful domestic animal soon spread abroad everywhere, and found always the most ready reception wherever man was about to change from a nomadic shepherd-life and have a settled, permanent home. At present the breeding of fowls receives most attention in France, which country is said to support, at the lowest calculation, 100,000,000 fowls—a striking example of what an important part in the economical life of a people this animal is capable of playing.

The peacock, too, is a native of Asia, having come to us from India. Phœnician ships, so early as the time of Solomon, brought it to the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The first place in which peacocks were kept in Greece seems to have been the temple of Hera in Samos, for there, according to mythology, this bird had its origin. That the peacock was dedicated to Hera can not astonish us, for she is the goddess of the starry heaven. Another myth related that the thousand-eyed Argus, the watcher of the moon goddess Io, had been slain by Apollo and changed into a peacock, or that Hera had placed his thousand eyes upon the feathers of her bird. Moreover, the peacock was very profitable for that temple of Hera, inasmuch as its plumage enticed thither many inquisitive sight-seers, who willingly paid the temple tribute for a sight of the beautiful bird. As a reward for this, the Samians placed its image upon their coins.

In Athens we find the peacock first mentioned in the fifth century b. c., and the contemporary writers fail to find sufficient words to tell what a surprise its appearance had made among that inquisitive and novelty-loving people. It is, therefore, not remarkable that, already in the fourth century b. c., peacocks were more numerous in Athens than quail. The question, "By what way and by whom was the peacock brought into Italy?" is shrouded in deep darkness; and the supposition of Hehn, that it was brought thither directly from Phœnicia or Carthage, stands upon doubtful testimony. It was, however, cordially received and prized in that country, especially in the later times of senseless luxury. The orator Hortensius, a contemporary of Cicero, was the first to bring the peacock roasted upon the table, and, despite the lack of palatableness in its flesh, his example seems to have been extensively imitated.

From Italy the peacock found its way into the rest of Europe, and became in Christian lands the subject of a double symbol. On one side it was regarded as an emblem of immortality, for the story gained credence that its flesh was incorruptible; on the other hand, it served as an exhortation to humility, according to the well-known proverb, "The peacock has a brilliant coat of feathers, but do not look down at its feet."

Reference was made, too, to its sneaking walk and its vicious character, especially in old age. But the knight gladly adorned his helmet with its feathers, and the custom at great banquets of bringing to the table, amid the flourish of trumpets, a roasted peacock adorned with its own feathers, and of taking a vow thereupon, lasted down to the end of the middle ages. In more recent times, however, the bird, together with its flesh and its feathers, has fallen into discredit; and it is left to the Chinese mandarin to carry the peacock's feathers as a sign of rank.

  1. Translated from the German.