Monkeys, Mules and Mockery

The Early Text Cultures ( seminar is looking for contributors to the project Monkeys, Mules and Mockery; Pejorative animality in the pre-modern world. The Project Host Kirsty Stewart (Merton College) specialises in Byzantine literature, and she is interested to collaborate with colleagues who study the Near East, Far East, Egypt, ancient Mesopotamia and other regions.

Project Description Animals are frequent, if often silent, characters in pre-modern literature. They can appear as a means of praising people, as positive exempla to be copied, and often as pejorative tools to mock individuals, classes, races and institutions. Few animals are presented as exclusively positive or negative even within a single text. Much discussion has centred on why animals are so often used for the purposes of criticism, and some animals have been analysed as specific motifs. However, which animals are most commonly used to criticise, and the elements of society and individuals which they critique, can add interesting detail to a universal trope.


The contributors will collaborate with the Project Host to consider the ways in which animals are most commonly employed to criticise within the pre-modern period, and how such imagery alters between cultures. The collaborators will exchange their disciplinary expertise and knowledge of primary sources in order to produce innovative research of more than narrow disciplinary importance.

The interested parties are requested to provide a brief statement of interest of 200-500 words with a description of their primary sources and a statement regarding how the scrutiny of these sources could contribute to the project. The statements of interest should be sent to the Seminar Coordinator Yegor Grebnev ( ) by 13 March. The Coordinator will also be happy to answer any questions and to provide clarifications. It is expected that the Project Host and the contributors will conduct collaborative research over several weeks and prepare a joint presentation to the participants of the Early Text Cultures seminar in Trinity 2017.

The seminar is accepting contributions from graduate students and early career researchers alike.