Animali tra cultura ludica e rappresentazione simbolica: giochi e contese della quaglia (ὀρτυγοκοπία, ὀρτυγομαχία)

Salvatore Costanza


Animals between game culture and symbolic representation: Quail-games and fighting (ortygokopia, ortygomachia)

Ancient Greeks frequently used to play with birds: we may recall the so-called ortygokopia or “quail-tapping” that Pollux´s Onomasticon (2nd half of the 2nd c. AD) describes in detail: one player puts his quail on a board, and another taps its head and tries to drive it from its place. This gambling game founded upon the endurance of the quail was wildly popular in Classical Athens, as Old Comedy (Aristophanes, Plato Comicus, Phrynichus) attests. In Roman imperial times, it was still flourishing. It is interesting to highlight certain anthropological values linked with quail-striking and -fighting. Sports with birds were used to sublimate personal and political rivalries between contestants. Instead of physical confrontation, players used to compete through their birds. Subsequently, the winner was also reputed the smartest and best qualified to rule the polis. Moreover, bellicose animals offered an incitement to fight to young boys, as Lucian, Anacharsis expressly states. Finally, quails played a peculiar role in ancient game culture: they suggested a model of imitation founded upon an ideological pattern and oriented to a process of self-identification.

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