Gendering animals. Feminine and masculine species in Artemidorus’ Interpretation of dreams. Part one

Cristiana Franco


Ancient Greek discourse about animals presents a principle of polarization along gender categories, aligning animal species with “masculine” or with “feminine”, regardless of the referents’ sex. This process is partly driven by the grammatical gender of the zoonym, as shown by the frequent congruency between the conceptual gender assigned to the animal and the grammatical gender of its name. However, gendered characterizations cannot be always attributed to grammatical influence, as in the case of species whose names are of common gender, i.e. they can be masculine or feminine (κύων, ὗς, ἵππος, ὄνος, ἡμίονος, χήν, βοῦς, ὄις, αἴξ, ἔλαφος). Animal symbols in Artemidorus’ Oneirocritica offer clear evidence of “genderization” of species, as becomes clear when the animal symbol predicts the participation of either a man or a woman in the outcome of the dream. By analyzing a selection of this type of dreams, and confronting Artemidorus’ interpretations with the received lore about the animals involved, the paper aims to: i. distinguish between received and idiosyncratic genderizations, ii. suggest different processes in the overall phenomenon of the gendering of animals (i.e. influence of grammar on culture, influence of culture on linguistic usages, polarization). After a general introduction, Part One of the paper focuses on dreams in which the traditional gendered characterization of the animal is congruent with the sex of the person in the outcome, and on the interpretation of the couple lion/lioness.

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