Ancient and Medieval Animals and Self-recognition: Observations from Early European Sources

In: Early Science and Medicine


This article presents the oldest European accounts that describe the reactions of animals to their own reflections on the surface of a body of water or in a mirror. The analysed sources will encompass Greco-Roman accounts, including the reception of these accounts in the Middle Ages. While this article belongs to the field of the history of science, it seeks to provide a historical commentary with insights from contemporary studies (the mirror test, MSR). The article presents surviving ancient and medieval accounts about particular animal species that describe their ability or inability to recognise a mirror reflection. The species discussed are the horse, mule, dog, birds (sparrow, partridge, rooster, quail, jackdaw, starling and pheasant), the monkey and tiger. Brief mention is also made of the sheep, pigeon, goose, parrot, raven and cat.