The Influence of Ancient Greek Culture on Animal Names

Greece's history began long ago. Ancient Greek civilization had a tremendous impact on many parts of life, including the naming of animals.

Source Image by pch.vector on Freepik


Although Greek is not as widely spoken as English, it is a fascinating language with a rich history. If you choose to read this article, you like the Greek language and culture. To get to know Greece better, we advise you to start with Greek tutor, so you will have a greater breadth of actions in studying Greece.


Let's move on to animal names and what Ancient Greece left behind.


Ancient Greece's effect on animal names


Indeed back at that point, a long time prior, Ancient Greece significantly impacted numerous perspectives of culture, counting the names of creatures. The Greeks had a created dialect and culture, and their commitment to the arrangement of logical phrasing was critical. 


One vital viewpoint of this impact was that old Greek culture advanced the systematization and classification of creatures. The foremost celebrated illustration is the work of the antiquated Greek researcher Aristotle, “The History of Animals.” In this work, he displayed portrayals of different creature species and proposed a framework of classification that in numerous regards expected cutting-edge logical approaches. 


Also, many animal names have their origins in ancient Greek culture and are still used today. For example, the names of some animals, such as elephant – έλεφας, hippopotamus – ἱπποπόταμος, leopard – λεοπάρδαλις have Greek roots.


Impact of Art and literature on animal names


The symbolism and names of animals from ancient Greek mythology were major aspects of the art and literature of the period, thus each activity contributed to the names of animals.


Animals, both real and imaginary, were frequently depicted in sculptures. Famous ancient Greek sculptures of lions, swans, and stallions, for example, served not only as decoration but also as a reminder of the animals' names to visitors. Examples of names: Lion (Λέων), Owl (Γλαύξ), Raven (Κόραξ), Dolphin (Δελφίν). Amphoras and vases, for example, were commonly depicted in ancient Greek art with scenes from mythology, everyday life, and nature. These images depict a range of animals, including lions, deer, birds, and fish. Examples of names: Griffin (Γρύψ), Centaur (Κένταυρος), Siren (Σειρήν), Chimera (Χίμαιρα).


Of course, animals were frequently mentioned and described in ancient Greek literature and poetry. Many myths and stories about heroes and gods featured depictions of various animals. These descriptions helped people distinguish animals and affected how their names were used in ordinary English. For example, the Odyssey mentions lions, deer, and wolves, as well as Greek gods in the form of various animals, such as Athena in the form of an owl.


Aristotle's teachings


Let's take a closer look at the influence of ancient Greek scientists, in particular Aristotle, on the terminology of the animal world.


Aristotle, one of the most prominent scientists of ancient Greece, made enormous contributions to the development of biology and zoology. His works “History of Animals”, “On the Movement of Animals”, and “Definitions of Animals” are the most important sources of information about the animal world of his time.


Two thousand years after its creation, “The History of Animals” remained the basis of biological knowledge throughout that era, when the term “biology” itself did not yet exist, and this discipline did not exist in anything close to the modern sense of the word. When in 1727 its future founder, Carl Linnaeus, as a very young man, left his native village for the nearest university town of Lund, there was only one book in his knapsack – Aristotle’s “History of Animals”. But almost a century later, Georges Cuvier, the father of modern anatomy, admitted that the more often he reread “The History of Animals,” the more he admired it. It is republished and read with enthusiasm to this day. This centuries-old and millennial agelessness in itself testifies to many things. For example, he introduced the name "vertebrata" to denote creatures with a vertebral column, which was a significant step in animal categorization. Aristotle also coined terms for animal anatomy and physiology, such as "heart," "liver," and "lungs." His publications also incorporated terminology about animal reproduction, nutrition, behavior, and ecology.


Scientific works


As we said above, Aristotle was not the only one who wrote a scientific work that contributed greatly to the naming of animals. Who else contributed?


    • Aristophanes "On Birds". Although he was known more as a comedian, he also wrote a short treatise on ornithology. His work contains descriptions of various species of birds.


  • Plato "On Animals". In this work, Plato examined the nature and behavior of animals in the context of his philosophical ideas. Although Plato's work is less extensive and detailed than Aristotle's, it also contributes to the general understanding of the animal kingdom.


What else can Ancient Greece give us?


Ancient Greece made a huge contribution to the scientific names of animals. However, it is worth noting that we can borrow many interesting words to name our pets.


For example, a lizard can be called Λεπίς (Lepis) – this word translated means “thin” or “light”; Σαύρα (Saura) is a general term for lizard in ancient Greek; Δράκων (Drakon) is the Greek word for "dragon"; Σκαλίδα (Skalida) – this word translated means “jumping”.


If you are going to get a cat, here are the names to choose from:


  • Λέων (Leōn) – translated as “lion”;
  • Φίλος (Philos) – this word translated means “friend” or “favorite”;
  • Πύρρος (Pyrrhos) – this word is associated with "fiery" or "red".


The dog can be called Αρκτος (Arktos) – translated as “bear”. This name may be suitable for large and strong dog breeds. Another example would be Κυνός (Kynos) – this word translated means “dog”, that is, ideal for a dog’s name.


If you have an aquarium and fish are swimming there, or someone from the underwater world, then here are the names for your pets:


  • Θάλασσα (Thalassa) – this word translated means “sea”;
  • Ιχθύς (Ikhthys) – literally translated as “fish”;
  • Νηρεύς (Nereus) – this name is associated with the ancient Greek god of the sea, the father of the Nereids, sea nymphs;
  • Δέλφις (Delphis) – this word translated means “dolphin”.




Finally, we'd like to point out that ancient Greek civilization has left us with many intriguing names, not just for animals. In general, it is worth mentioning that ancient Greek civilization has greatly influenced the modern culture of various countries, and animal names are no exception.