Everyone can guess that dogs and cats are among the ancient world’s most popular and revered animal species.

But the list does not end there. Other animals people have loved to love include snakes, spiders, horses, hedgehogs, squirrels and primates, such as baboons and monkeys.

Royal dogs in China’s Forbidden City lived like they were kings and queens. According to Chen Shen, a curator at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum, canines in the court reportedly lived in marble-floored pavilions, slept on silk cushions and were tended to by specialized eunuchs who worked for the Dog Raising Office.

Shen was quoted in a July 20 piece on the subject at www.ancient-origins.net: “The eunuchs were trained to care for the royal dogs and waited on their every need, while the royal women entertained themselves by dressing up their dogs in luxurious outfits that were specially commissioned and tailored to each dog’s size and breed. The pet’s name was carefully recorded on the lining.”

While Egyptians worshipped many animals, cats were top dog (pun intended). There were three feline deities. Mafdet protected against venomous bites and Bastet guarded lower Egypt, the pharaoh and the sun god. Sekmet rounded out the trio and was a fierce lioness that helped the other two. To harm a cat in ancient Egypt was to try and harm a god and was punishable by death.

Snakes, of course, were feared by people the world over. It is believed that snakes were militarized and flung at enemies by the Greeks. The species most likely used for that was a 2-foot, harmless sand boa that is nonvenomous. But slapped in your face from the sky in the heat of battle, it likely didn’t matter.

Spiders have a plus-minus relationship with history. It still amazes me to see a grown humans lose their mind when a tiny spider comes within a 10-foot radius. What’s to fear? But people do feel — even to this day fear — disgust, panic, curiosity and even appreciation.

The article says spiders have inspired myths, legends, art, literature, music, architecture and technology. Emotionally, there is literature to support their resourcefulness, creativity, destructiveness, cunning, deception, intrigue, forced famine, patience and death. I say just read the Harry Potter books. Chinese folk culture believes spiders bring happiness in the morning and wealth in the evening.

Horses are a cult of their own. First painted on cave walls some 30,000 years ago, they have been hunted for meat, used as a beast of burden, for transportation, warfare and as a source of power. Lumped in are the mythical unicorns and seahorses and left out are asses, zebras and donkeys.

To me, a zebra looks like something people should worship.

Hedgehogs have been both revered and hunted for bounty. In Egypt, they were a symbol of rebirth, the Mongolians thought they were deceptive and dishonest. Later in England, they were associated with witchcraft and the 1566 English Parliament put a 3-pence bounty on their little heads.

Squirrels are fast, can cross rough terrain and climb like no other. In Norse mythology, there was the famous squirrel, Ratatoskr, who carried messages forth from the underworld beneath the tree.

Now the primates. They too have had various jobs and attributes. The Egyptians trained baboons to police the streets like we use police dogs. Imagine that for local law enforcement.

“Sir, may we search your vehicle?”

“No.”

“Okay then, let me go back to my car and get out our trained baboon to pat you down and then we’re going to turn him lose in your car.”


Charlie Powell is the public information officer for the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, which provides this column as a community service. For questions or concerns about animals you’d like to read about, email cpowell@vetmed.wsu.edu.

Recommended for you