Animal Gods: Classics and Classification
Candace Richards, Jude Philp
Although biological sciences and classical studies are today disparate disciplines, natural philosophers once drew heavily upon the mythological figures of the ancient past when creating new scientific names for animal and plant species across the world. Beginning with Linnaeus in the 18th century, these scholars were trained in the Classics as part of their formal education, and a working knowledge of Latin and ancient Greek was commonplace among their peers. Significantly, it was not the
... epics and poetic works of antiquity that supplied their names. Rather, taxonomists drew upon the work of ancient Roman mythographers, who had catalogued the many versions and variations of the myths and legends as they knew them. These mythographer texts act almost as handlists to who did what, who went where, and who was related to who, in the ancient myths. 'Animal Gods: Classics and Classification' examines the reception of Classics in natural history, exploring entomological specimens and their mythological namesakes side by side. Two epics are the focus of this exhibition: The Trojan War and The Odyssesy. Snippets from the epic tales are retold and illustrated by butterflies named after characters from these works, taxonomic work largely published by Linnaeus in 1758. The work of classification, much like the work of history, is one of constant refinement and new interpretation. For the exhibition we use the name given to the species from 1758, when the binomial naming system was first introduced, alongside its modern name. This exhibition was a wholly collaborative process. We would like to thank: Anthony Gill, natural history curator, for his expertise and editorial contributions; Matthew Huan, for his identifications, advice and installation of the specimens; Luke Parker and Paul Donnelly for their editorial work and guidance throughout the exhibition development; Robert Blackburn for his role in the conception of this exhibition; and Craig Barker and Suzanne Kortlucke for their supportive feedback.