BOOKS: Parrot Culture
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2004:
Parrot Culture by Bruce Thomas Boehrer
University of Pennsylvania Press (4200 Pine Street, Philadelphia,
PA 19104), 2004. 224 pages, paperback. $27.50.
The parrots who were popular in Greco-Roman imperial times, and
thereafter in Europe during the Middle Ages, came from India. But
the overland traffic in parrots slowed after the rise of Islam,
partly because Mohammed taught against caging birds and partly
because warfare between Christians and Muslims significantly reduced
the chances of moving fragile species through Central Asia alive.
Bruce Boehrer’s research shows that the parrots who flooded
into Europe after the Renaissance came from the New World, as a
direct result of Christopher Colum-bus’ voyages of discovery.
Over two millennia, the reverence with which captive parrots
were originally treated disappeared and the birds later became
objects of ridicule and satire. Boehrer delves at some length into
depictions of parrots in art and literature over the ages. Included
is the famous Monty Python “Dead Parrot Sketch.”
Renaissance writers transformed parrots into comic figures,
and some painters of the period did the same thing. Parrots appear
in numerous paintings by great masters including Rubens, Van Dyk,
Manet, and even some of the French impressionists, notably Renoir.