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‘Birds in the Ancient World:

Winged Words’

Jeremy Mynott

Oxford University Press

Birds pervaded the ancient world, impressing their presence on the daily experience and imaginations of ordinary people and figuring prominently in literature and art. They provided a fertile source of symbols and stories in myths and folklore and were central to the ancient rituals of augury and divination.

In his book, Mynott illustrates the different roles birds played in culture: indicators of time, weather and the seasons; a resource for hunting, eating, medicine and farming; domestic pets and entertainments; and as omens and intermediaries between the gods and humankind.

We learn how birds were perceived – through quotations from over a hundred classical Greek and Roman authors, through illustrations from ancient wall-paintings, pottery and mosaics, and through selections from early scientific writings, and anecdotes and descriptions from works of history, geography and travel.

Mynott acts as a stimulating guide to this rich material, using birds as a prism through which to explore the similarities and differences between ancient conceptions of the natural world and our own. The book is an original contribution to the flourishing interest in the cultural history of birds and to our understanding of the ancient cultures in which birds played such a prominent part.

About the author

Jeremy Mynott is the former Chief Executive of Cambridge University Press and an Emeritus Fellow of Wolfson College, Cambridge.


  • Charming, quirky, and lavishly detailed, this beautifully illustrated book helps us to understand ancient cultures from the unfamiliar angle of the ornithologist.

Wolfson History Prize judges