Ostrich for Breakfast, Ostrich for Lunch, Ostrich for Dinner

Or: Some History behind Ostrich Riding, Part 6 of 7

Background: I ran into two historical images from California with ostriches used as transportation. That got me wondering about the history of ostrich riding. And that lead me down quite a rabbit hole.

I’ve divided my findings into separate posts (find them with the ostrich riding tag). Warning: serious early history and language nerdery ahead in Serious Academic Voice.

TL;DR – Tracing ostrich riding to a 3rd century BCE tomb find (a statue of Arsinoe II) from Egypt doesn’t hold up. The use of various ostrich products in human material culture dates back thousands of years. A few ancient depictions involve humans handling ostriches; however, extant sources don’t tell us whether ostriches were merely hunted or whether they were also tamed in the ancient world. The most promising source seems to be a description of a magnificent parade put together by Arsinoe II’s husband-brother Ptolemy II. This Grand Procession included eight chariots drawn by pairs of ostriches, and the ostriches may have been ridden by boys in costumes.

I had hoped to find a nice, neat selection of ancient texts putting the Greek word for ‘ostrich’ in context, but even a cursory look reveals that the history of the word strouthos is complex. At best, we can say that there are no immediate red flags either in the original Greek or modern English translations for Arsinoe II’s statue or Ptolemy II’s Grand Procession. The poem Berenice’s Lock was said to contain further evidence of ostriches as mounts in Ptolemaic Egypt after Arsinoe II’s death. Instead, what we seem to have is a case of poetic ambiguity translated with poetic license and taken uncritically as evidence.

Some centuries after Arsinoe II and Ptolemy II, ostrich riding may appear in the Roman Empire. Claims in some secondary sources turn out unverifiable, however. Researching primary sources helps but a little: on one hand, many of these texts either have problematic histories or their authorship or accuracy may be questionable; on the other, ostriches tend to appear in context of fighting in gladiatorial games, not being ridden or raced. Surviving visual art only confirms the appearance of ostriches in hunting and arena scenes the Roman territories, not riding or chariot-pulling. A description in the life of Emperor Firmus comes closest, but Historia Augusta, the source of his life, is considered unreliable.

Below is the long story.

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A Lock of Hair Swept off to the Heavens… on an Ostrich?

Or: Some History behind Ostrich Riding, Part 5 of 7

Background: I ran into two historical images from California with ostriches used as transportation. That got me wondering about the history of ostrich riding. And that lead me down quite a rabbit hole.

I’ve divided my findings into separate posts (find them with the ostrich riding tag). Warning: serious early history and language nerdery ahead in Serious Academic Voice.

TL;DR – Tracing ostrich riding to a 3rd century BCE tomb find (a statue of Arsinoe II) from Egypt doesn’t hold up. The use of various ostrich products in human material culture dates back thousands of years. A few ancient depictions involve humans handling ostriches; however, extant sources don’t tell us whether ostriches were merely hunted or whether they were also tamed in the ancient world. The most promising source seems to be a description of a magnificent parade put together by Arsinoe II’s husband-brother Ptolemy II. This Grand Procession included eight chariots drawn by pairs of ostriches, and the ostriches may have been ridden by boys in costumes.

I had hoped to find a nice, neat selection of ancient texts putting the Greek word for ‘ostrich’ in context, but even a cursory look reveals that the history of the word strouthos is complex. At best, we can say that there are no immediate red flags either in the original Greek or modern English translations for Arsinoe II’s statue or Ptolemy II’s Grand Procession. The poem Berenice’s Lock was said to contain further evidence of ostriches as mounts in Ptolemaic Egypt after Arsinoe II’s death. Instead, what we seem to have is a case of poetic ambiguity translated with poetic license and taken uncritically as evidence.

Below is the long story.

Continue reading

The Curious Case of the Ostrich Statue and Ancient Vocabulary

Or: Some History behind Ostrich Riding, Part 4 of 7

Background: I ran into two historical images from California with ostriches used as transportation. That got me wondering about the history of ostrich riding. And that lead me down quite a rabbit hole.

I’ve divided my findings into separate posts (find them with the ostrich riding tag). Warning: serious early history and language nerdery ahead in Serious Academic Voice.

TL;DR – Tracing ostrich riding to a 3rd century BCE tomb find (a statue of Arsinoe II) from Egypt doesn’t hold up. The use of various ostrich products in human material culture dates back thousands of years. A few ancient depictions involve humans handling ostriches; however, extant sources don’t tell us whether ostriches were merely hunted or whether they were also tamed in the ancient world. The most promising source seems to be a description of a magnificent parade put together by Arsinoe II’s husband-brother Ptolemy II. This Grand Procession included eight chariots drawn by pairs of ostriches, and the ostriches may have been ridden by boys in costumes.

I had hoped to find a nice, neat selection of ancient texts putting the Greek word for ‘ostrich’ in context, but even a cursory look reveals that the history of the word strouthos is complex. At best, we can say that there are no immediate red flags either in the original Greek or modern English translations for Arsinoe II’s statue or Ptolemy II’s Grand Procession.

Below is the long story.

Continue reading

Add Eight Ostrich Teams and Call It a Procession

Or: Some History behind Ostrich Riding, Part 3 of 7

Background: I ran into two historical images from California with ostriches used as transportation. That got me wondering about the history of ostrich riding. And that lead me down quite a rabbit hole.

I’ve divided my findings into separate posts (find them with the ostrich riding tag). Warning: serious early history and language nerdery ahead in Serious Academic Voice.

TL;DR – Tracing ostrich riding to a 3rd century BCE tomb find (a statue of Arsinoe II) from Egypt doesn’t hold up. The use of various ostrich products in human material culture dates back thousands of years. A few ancient depictions involve humans handling ostriches; however, extant sources don’t tell us whether ostriches were merely hunted or whether they were also tamed in the ancient world. The most promising source seems to be a description of a magnificent parade put together by Arsinoe II’s husband-brother Ptolemy II. This Grand Procession included eight chariots drawn by pairs of ostriches, and the ostriches may have been ridden by boys in costumes.

Below is the long story.

Continue reading

That’s a Large-Ass Egg, All Right!

Or: Some History behind Ostrich Riding, Part 2 of 7

Background: I ran into two historical images from California with ostriches used as transportation. That got me wondering about the history of ostrich riding. And that lead me down quite a rabbit hole.

I’ve divided my findings into separate posts (find them with the ostrich riding tag). Warning: serious early history and language nerdery ahead in Serious Academic Voice.

TL;DR – Tracing ostrich riding to a 3rd century BCE tomb find (a statue of Arsinoe II) from Egypt doesn’t hold up. The use of various ostrich products in human material culture dates back thousands of years. A few ancient depictions involve humans handling ostriches; however, extant sources don’t tell us whether ostriches were merely hunted or whether they were also tamed in the ancient world.

Below is the long story.

Continue reading

How Easy It Is to Be Wrong about Early History on the Internet

Or: Some History behind Ostrich Riding, Part 1 of 7

Background: I ran into two historical images from California with ostriches used as transportation. That got me wondering about the history of ostrich riding. And that lead me down quite a rabbit hole.

I’ve divided my findings into separate posts (find them with the ostrich riding tag). Warning: serious early history and language nerdery ahead in Serious Academic Voice.

TL;DR – Tracing ostrich riding to a 3rd century BCE tomb find from Egypt is rubbish, but the concept is, indeed, ancient.

Below is the long story.

Continue reading

Visual Inspiration: Ostrich Riding

Last week, I shared the image of an ostrich cart. There must’ve been random serendipity rays in the air, because this week I happened on a photo of someone actually riding an ostrich:

Man riding an ostrich at the Cawston ostrich farm, South Pasadena, California. Via Elle Decor, June 2014, p. 67.
Man riding an ostrich at the Cawston ostrich farm, South Pasadena, California. Via Elle Decor, June 2014, p. 67.

Cawston ostrich farm. Postcard by Detroit Photographic Company; South Pasadena, California, unknown date. From the collection of Marc Walter, published in An American Odyssey: Photos from the Detroit Photographic Company, 1888-1924, by Marc Walter and Sabine Arqué (Taschen, 2014). Found in Elle Decor magazine, June 2014, p. 67.

Huh. I used to think that the various tallstrider or hawkstrider type mounts in World of Warcraft were based more on fantasy than fact. I’m sure large birds come with a host of training and handling issues, but apparently it’s not as far-fetched as I thought. On the other hand, having grown up two hours south of the Arctic Circle and traveled in Lapland multiple times, seeing reindeer doesn’t make me bat an eye. Just goes to show how our experiences influence our sense of normal. 🙂

The Visual Inspiration occasional feature pulls the unusual from our world to inspire design, story-telling, and worldbuilding. If stuff like this already exists, what else could we imagine?

Visual Inspiration: Ostrich Carts

Ostrich pulling a cart at the Los Angeles Ostrich Farm. Via William H. Hannon Library, Loyola Marymount University.
Ostrich pulling a cart at the Los Angeles Ostrich Farm. Via William H. Hannon Library, Loyola Marymount University.

 

Ostrich pulling a cart at the Los Angeles Ostrich Farm. Postcard by unknown; Lincoln Park, Los Angeles, California, 1919. From the Werner von Boltenstern Postcard Collection; Department of Archives and Special Collections, William H. Hannon Library, Loyola Marymount University. In public domain.

Why do fantasy stories so often employ equines as beasts of burden, when you could breed large birds for the task? In our world, humans do have a long history with the horse family, but who’s to say that in another, more SFFnal one you couldn’t find giant versions of armadillos, capybaras, or rats used for transportation? Or faster, large-scale chameleons?

The Visual Inspiration occasional feature pulls the unusual from our world to inspire design, story-telling, and worldbuilding. If stuff like this already exists, what else could we imagine?