Statue of Chinese dragon
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Picture This: The animals that haunt our imaginations

Across the world, animals have had starring roles in human art and folklore. Their steady presence has been interpreted as metaphors for religion, relationships, and complex emotions.

But a new book suggests it might not be that complicated. Instead, author Paul Trout thinks animals show up so often in our art because they showed up so often in early human history - often with eating people on their mind.

The fear created by these early attackers - as well as the vigilance needed to keep early humans alive - inspired early homo sapiens to memorialize them in song, dance and story.

"One has to only think of Egyptian mythology and the giant serpent Apep who swallows every night the barge of the sun god Ra.

"Thinking of Indian mythology, there is of course the great bloody goddess Kali who has sharp fangs and dresses in the skin of a tiger," says Mr Trout, author of Deadly Powers. Aztec, Norse and Pacific Island myths all have similar characteristics.

"I think that what we find in these myths and in those animals is a deep and primal fear of being chased, caught, eviscerated and eaten alive by an animal."

  • 27 Oct 2011
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