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Ancientandmodernresultsoftheobservationofanimalbehaviourbasedonthefox
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TisgivesrisetoaquestionconcerningwhatAesopandhiscontemporaries,
i.e.theancientGreeksandRomans,knewaboutthefox.Werefoxesobserved
intheirnaturalhabitat,ordidtheancientsgonofurtherthantheobserva-
tionsmadewhentheanimalcameintodirectcontactwithhumansandtheir
livestock?Towhatextentistheimageofthefoxpresentedinancientaccounts
aresultofobservationsfromnature,andtowhatdegreeisitaconsequenceof
theanthropomorphisationoftheanimal?
Inordertoanswerthesequestions,weshouldcomparetheGreekandRo-
mansourcematerialswiththeresultsofethologicalresearch.Ofcourse,it
shouldbestressedthattherewerenoconditionsandmethodologicalassump-
tionsinantiquity,forconductingobjectivefieldobservationsofnature,and
therefore,themainsourcesofinformationwereanecdotalmaterials,collected
withouttheappropriatetoolsandrigorousresearchmethods.Itabsolutelyhas
tobeemphasisedthat,fortheGreeksandtheRomans,itwasnaturaltoin-
cludedetailedinformationabouttheappearanceandhabitsofanimalsinthe
literaryworksfromvariousgenres.Today,apartfromtheworksbyAristotle,it
wouldbedifculttodistinguishstrictlyzoologicalworksintheancientlitera-
ture,allthemoresobecausethetermzoologyitselfwascoinedmanycenturies
later.Teotherreservationconcernsthestateofpreservationoftheancient
literaturethattodaywewouldclassifyastheliteratureofnature.Itshouldbe
rememberedthatmostoftheworkshavebeenlostand,whatisparticularly
important,notmuchisknownaboutthepre-Aristotelian(protozoological)
heritage.Terefore,wehaveaselectionofliteratureatourdisposal,whose
degreeofrepresentativenessfortheentiretyofantiquityisdifculttojudge.
Ontheotherhand,concerningtheresultsofethologicalresearch,wemust
rememberthatnaturalistsdocumentgeographicvariationinthebehaviourof
agivenspecies,suggestingalocaloriginandtransmission6.Tefoxmaynot
beuniversalinspaceandtime.
TefoxinthedailylivesoftheGreeksandRomans
Tecommonfox(Vulpesvulpes),oftheCanidaefamily,wasawidespread
speciesintheancientMediterraneanSeabasin.Teremainsoftheanimal
havebeendiscoveredinprehistoricsettlements.Tefoxwaswellknownin
16552,drawingandcommentary:F.Lissarrague,Aesop,BetweenManandBeast:Ancient
PortraitsandIllustrations,in:NottheClassicalIdeal.AthensandtheConstructionoftheOther
inGreekArt,ed.B.Cohen,Leiden-Boston-Köln2000,pp.137-138,fig.5.1.
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See:EncyclopediaofAnimalBehavior,vol.1,A-C,ed.M.Bekof,Westport2004,s.v.culture.