Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Creature Feature: Arabian Ostrich.

Those of you familiar with Sappho 1 are probably aware of Aphrodite's sparrow-drawn chariot.
If that sounded weird to you, don't worry, there's a reason for that: The word used, "struthio," can refer to two completely different birds. One of them is, obviously, a sparrow; the other is an ostrich, quite possibly the Arabian Ostrich (Struthio camelus syriacus):


The fuck? How did the word for 'sparrow' become the word for 'ostrich,' too? Do not ask me to explain why the Greek language evolved that way; I honestly haven't the foggiest. Really, though, the "ostrich" part of struthio has a dinosaur to go with it; it's kinda weird that the translations of Sappho 1 that I have read only use "sparrow."

"Sparrow mimic" my ass.

Enough with my language lessons. The Arabian Ostrich was, as its name indicates, an ostrich native to the Near East. The main thing distinguishing it from the larger African Ostrich was a slightly smaller size (as well as a possibly lighter female). There were two distinct subpopulations: One near Arabia, Syria, and Iraq and another closer to Africa.

By the way, Disney cannot sex ostriches worth a crap. This is a male; Disney's Prince of Persia called it a female. You'd think an ostrich racer would know what sexes his birds were.

This bird, being native to the area, was featured prominently in Sumerian culture. They used the bird for sacrifices and painted its eggs into the most awesome Easter eggs ever. (Except they were not used for Easter, obviously.) It was traded as far as Etruria (central Italy) by the Sumerians, and later went all the way to China.

The Jews also cited it as a bad parent (in contrast to the stork that brings babies) because the female left the nest so often. Yeah, ostrich eggs have a nice hard shell, and human babies are weak, noisy little poop bags. It's hard to not anthropomorphize at times, but when your offspring are that different, the analogy falls flat.

Islamic culture saw this bird as a representation of status. Like the aurochs, it became classy to hunt Arabian ostriches.If killed in a certain way, it was also A-OK to eat ostrich meat...what? They're basically giant chickens.

The Greeks and Romans would have been aware of both the Arabian and African populations. The Romans in particular used the Arabian ostrich in venationes, hunting games held in Roman amphitheaters.

It is easy to see why this bird went extinct. Over-hunting, using its eggs as art, and use in Roman games all contributed to the bird's extinction. The last known individual died in 1966. Its niche will not go unfilled; captive-bred Somali Ostriches are being released into the areas where the Arabian Ostrich once flourished.

 Now I have the image of Aphrodite in a chariot drawn by chocobos in my head. Could someone please get it out? (I thought my chocobo jokes were over. I was wrong.)

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