Laughing Weasels. Animal Voices from Myth to Natural History

Maurizio Bettini


Starting from the story narrated by Alcmena in Ovid, "Metamorphosis" 9. 281-323, this paper explores a portion of the sound landscape in which ancient representations of the weasel are placed by Roman culture. Striking similarities appear between the ancients' descriptions of the weasel's voice, preserved in both poetical and erudite texts, and the authentic sound characteristics of the animal as recorded by contemporary scientists. Accordingly, this paper invites more attentive exploration of the sound components of the ancient literary tradition in the broader context of the 'symbolic affordances' offered to human culture by the natural characteristics of the various animals.

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