Very first words decoded by the ideograms of Knossos Linear B were i-qo and a – to – ro – qo which mean man and horse. Our first meeting therefore with them took place centuries ago and since then we travel together through time and places.
Greek mythology gives wings to the horse since myth says he flew through the head of Medusa who was killed by Perseus. Myth also claims horse was tamed by a woman, goddess of wisdom Athena, to donate him to Bellerophon, son of Poseidon god of the sea. In accordance with cuneiform writings of 15th B.C.E., before that men had converted them in war tools, either on horseback or on chariots.
In Homer’s epics approximately during the 8th century B.C.E., poet gives them the ability to speak, express in words their thoughts, their feelings and to consult Achilles not to fight predicting his death.
The choice to present them as human beings can reveal the intimacy that people felt for horses. They know well that despite their lack of speech they aren’t deprived of perception and intelligence. Aristotle, considered father of zoology, classifies equines in the category of Perissodactylus, exactly like human kind, so can think of them as our zoo cousins. Story of Pegasus Could be a true one, as mammals descended from the sea millions of years ago.
In Decalogue on equine, he studies equine motion with precise detail leading to conclusions that until today remain as a reference to the knowledge of vets specialized for horses.
Horses of Achilles, named Xanthus and Valios, by proud and divine origin, are trying to persuade him no to go to the battlefield predicting his death. It is their passion to save their beloved friend and the power in their words that gives uniqueness to Homer’s verses. They are connected to Achilles in links of trust and respect, so fear for his future and they feel sorry for the brave man who is the only one they obey. But Achilles as a rare greatness of heroism and self awareness proceeds following his own fate (Rhapsody T, 356-424)
Constantine P. Cavafy inspired by Homeric verses he wrote the poem “The horses of Achilles.” Through Jupiter’s words he compresses their bad fate in this harsh human world:
“What were you doing down there in this miserable doom humanity which is a game of fate caught up in peoples troubles “” But tears for the death and constant tragedy poured from those two noble animals ” (From Poems 1897-1933, Icarus 1984)
DIVINE HORSES OF ACHILLES IN BANK OF AEGEAN SEA, Giorgio de Chirico 1963
Lady of the ice, mummy discovered by scientists in 1995 belonged to the distant era of the 5th or 4th century B.C.E. Most likely she was an Amazon and she was found buried along with six horses and their harness. She carries one of the oldest colored tattoo which depicts horses that are distinguished very easily. Investigation proved that she was only 25 years old when she died 2500 years ago.
In this quote from a short story of Emmanuel Lykoudi (1849-1925) “Memories from the sea” discern how even today we treat creatures that once served us with loyalty and now that they have grown old we don’t protect them anymore. It is the image of a priest on horseback walking to Areos Park in Athens. The horse was bought when it was old and “has become useless to the army so it was surrendered “in the auction hammer” which converted him into a humble porter. And the description of the unfortunate animal, “Deep compassion inspired the horse’s view, With his head almost reaching the earth, eyes dehydrated, thin, measuring his sides under the skin, trembling trying to walk, enduring the hits of his sacred rider’s stick. ”
Weak, aged, bony with look lost by misery and neglection stand for days and nights without food and water until the “owners” decide to take advantage of them. Travelling in miserable conditions for hours to slaughterhouses abroad or even use domestic slaughterhouses that were originally destined for other animals slaughter premises and torture.
Hippocrates, thousands of years ago, had spoken about their need for free access to grass and clean drinking water. Which is completely contrary to the modern practices of being tied up by ropes or chained through their feet and neck. Ground work since antiquity has been considered a necessity so as the horses enjoy a better quality of life.
Greek historian, writer, and military leader Xenophon in his book Art of horsemanship states clearly that those who hit them scare them to death. How much fear and despair must they feel when they hit them on the head “to teach them”, or when throwing foals away during illegally zoo markets, bought by killbyers to end their life in an endless torture.
Xenophon (between 431 and 429 B.C.E.) who grew up surrounded by horses mentions them in all his writings. Being involved with horsemanship through his childhood, in his book About Cavalry, gives advices and information about their health, practice and care. He explains why one should not become angry and that riding them in speed for hours doesn’t cool them off as very wrongly has being supported.
The reins held in his left hand so as to be able to use his right hand to handle
the spear or throwing the javelin, Amphora, Louvre Museum
Everything about equine world is a matter of communication and working always with them and not against them trying to enforce our human power. If they knew how to use their own muscle power we would have never being able even to approach them. Collaboration and understanding is the key of working together in harmony.
Greek storyteller Aesopos wrote fables. In these stories people and animals participate together in a symbolic way. The moral animal fables symbolize values and ideals. Among animals that work and speak as common people are donkeys and mules. He wants to caution about deception, defects and show how people can fall into calamity many times by their own tricks, ignorance, ungratefulness and morals.
Joseph and Mary are using a donkey fleeing to escape persecution and save the unborn child. Years ago same way Jesus comes into Bethlehem. This humble animal with endless patience has been by our side for ages asking nothing more but the basic to survive. From mythology to tradition he is an essential part of contemporary Greek reality and history.
Also found pictured on ancient coins being ridden by Bacchus or Hephaestus. In ancient years many considered donkeys as sacred animals. In Greece we often call a donkey Kyr-Mentios (meaning mr. Medios). Origin of this name comes from an ancient town called Mendi in Chalkidiki. Currency of this town depicted the figure of drunk god Dionysus on the back of a donkey holding a cup of wine.
He our most patient friend and without his help wouldn’t survive through years in which technology hadn’t exceeded enough. Donkeys have helped us as means of transport but also to develop our rural economy. What is particularly necessary for them is just to have access to clean water. They don t need much food but what they can’t stand is dirty water. Unfortunately, very often we see them pack saddled standing still or working for hours under the sun or rain so that they bring profit through their exploitation. Not a drop of water given to them so that they will not urine and wont make a dirt. People usually think that this kind of animals can suffer anything. But there is always a limit and without strict laws bad owners will always manage to manhandle them.
In sncient times, donkey’s relative the mule, appears in an sport event called apini (wagon with two mules) 70a Olympia, 500 B.C.E. Along with horses, mules were always by our side during wars, doing the hard work up in the mountains carrying items and tools where man could never approach. Those species are disappearing more and more through the years. Sadly few of these animals still exist usually live in very bad conditions.
Among the best books of world literature is Cervantes Don Quixote. A Romantic hero who starts his own journey trying to change the world. Don Quixote is as weak as his horse is named Rosinante. With the companion of his horse and servant they all together reveal the ideals of the era of knighthood.
The most important artworks are inspired of equines world. Sculpture and painting throughout the centuries reftlect their beauty, power, pride but mainly their bravery of body and soul.
Horses of Phidias
In classical works of art in antiquity such as the head of the horse with human eyes and look which is located at the Acropolis Museum. One more convincing witness of the high culture and authentic humanism at the Greek world.
He is our companion in many sports for thousand of years. But the most important contribution concerns the treatment of persons with disabilities. Particularly for children with either any kind of autism, medical mobility problems, disability, paraplegic or abused with severe soul “injuries”. The way a horse moves its body gives the opportunity to people with mobility difficulties to feel what they can’t through their own body.
If you attend a therapeutic riding session you will easily distinguish the joy on the face of the children even if they can’t express it in words. Their satisfaction while on the back of a horse is due to this feeling of freedom that is difficult to be achieved on a wheelchair. The love and sensitivity this wonderful animal is showing is nothing else but understanding and very simple his effort to help and protect. Animals don’t judge. Just love us.
Respect and love have being shown by all animals to the needy people. In contrast with human kind where usually they face a non-social acceptance or make them feel sorry and bad for themselves. A huge horse body knees down and wait until a child can ride him. Instead an entire society asks a man in need to knee so as to be accepted.
Someone has written that animals is what is left to us form paradise. I totally agree. And would like to add that horses are our own guardian angels that can fly us to heaven. We have to protect them.
- Th.G.Antikas, DVM, PhD, «HORSES & IPPOLOGIA” Volume I, 2nd edition, 2012
- Jacquelline De Romilly, «The Roses of Solitude” translation Spyrakou Anni, publications Synopses, 2007
- G.Mpampiniotis, “Dictionary of Modern Greek Language”, second edition, Lexicology Center, Athens 2002
- C.P. Cavafy, ‘The horses of Achilles’, official web site of Cavafy archive, http://www.kavafis.gr/poems/content.asp?id=5&cat=1
- Xenophon, “The art of Horsemanship”, Edition Daedalus, Athens 2002
- John Kakridis, “Greek Mythology” Editorial Athens, Athens 1986
- “The last donkey”
- Walk with Donkeys, Equine Sanctuary in Crete, http://www.walkwithdonkeys.com/
Photographs published to this article are available in the internet and don’t belong to our equine welfare society.