Dr. Fields explored the ways in which Classical Greek and Roman writers used birds to think about human political actions or institutions. One such topic addressed in the lecture was the distinction between human justice and the law of the jungle, as both established and questioned by Hesiod’s “Fable of the Hawk and Nightingale.” A related question in Hesiod, as well as in Imperial Greek sources, is whether kings are required to be just—a question raised in the depiction of the characters of rapacious winged sovereigns, who may or may not represent Roman Emperors.
Birds also serve in ancient writings to embody both the ideal of freedom and its valuation, as we can see from reports of suicidal caged birds that simply could not bear to live in captivity. Yet, while some authors use speaking birds as a symbol of freedom, others call avian speech mere sycophantic mimicry. Dr. Fields’s presentation raised questions not only about the place of animals in ancient thought, but also about the function of metaphorical or otherwise indirect expression in political discourse.