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The Weasel in Antiquity: Pet or Pest?

Hand colored engraving, published in Edinburgh, 1838. (Source: Art Resource)

Least Weasels. Hand colored engraving, published in Edinburgh, 1838. (Source: Art Resource)

It’s a nice time for a light-hearted piece, and I’ve been dying to write this article for a while. It’s about pet weasels in antiquity. A surprising amount of respectable scholarship all the way from 1718 to 1997 has claimed that the Greeks and Romans kept tame weasels as household pets. At the very least, there is good evidence that weasels lived and nested in the houses of ancient Greeks and Romans. But to claim that weasels were kept as tame, domesticated pets requires more evidence from the sources than simply evidence that they wandered around in human houses. This article will examine the evidence for the taming of various members of the weasel family. Remarkably, the marten seems to have been tamed at least once before Aristotle. There is also evidence that the polecat, the ancestor of our ferret, was tamed for hunting purposes by at least the first century AD. But what of the little red creatures we know and love as “weasels”? Were they pets or pests in the eyes of the Greeks and Romans?

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What would happen if Vesuvius erupted again?

Here’s the deal. Vesuvius has erupted dozens of times since its last massive eruption in AD 79. But news reporters and documentaries, the most easily consumable sources of expert advice (that phrase badly needs inverted commas), tell me the volcano is overdue for another catastrophic eruption.[1] I haven’t got a background in the earth sciences, so I won’t comment on the likelihood of impending classical déjà vu in the near future. But I am curious – what would happen if Vesuvius had another eruption in our lifetime, the kind that Pliny the Elder witnessed and ultimately died from?

Pierre-Jacques Volaire, View of the Eruption of Mount Vesuvius, ca. 1770.

Pierre-Jacques Volaire, View of the Eruption of Mount Vesuvius, ca. 1770.

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Bird feeds chicks her own blood

So I was flicking over a manuscript in a digital collection, and saw a scene of Adam and Eve in Paradise. I looked up and saw birds in the trees.

'Holkham Bible Picture Book,' British Library, Add MS 47682, Folio 3v

‘Holkham Bible Picture Book,’ British Library, Add MS 47682, Folio 3v

And I thought, that’s beautiful. I love birds.

But then I saw blood…

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