“And to Every Beast of the Earth and to Every Bird of the Heaven and to Everything That Creeps on the Earth’: Worms and Insects in the path to Byzantine sanctity.”
Byzantine animals have seldom occupied the minds of Byzantine scholars. On the one hand, only recently archaeologist have started examining zoological ceramic evidence to reconstruct Byzantine social life and their eating habits; on the other hand Byzantine historians have often preferred to focus on animals like; lions and bears for either they appeared in hagiographies as literary tools for moralistic tales or -at best- wild but faithful companions for solitary saints and monks.
Indeed,when we talk about animals in Byzantium (as well as in any Medieval society), we have the tendency to think about livestock providing a supplement with agricultural produce or big and wild animals who appear in hagiographies and literary sources (like poems) as they had symbolic meaning; they could even be used allegorically to explain the political situation of the empire. In fact wild animals such as the wild boar and bear in the story of Isaac of Nineveh, the story of Martyr Blaise and Synaxarion of the Honourable Donkey could represent both Christians who are sinning or even heretics and wild pagans.
Things being so little animals such as worms and insects have been generally ignored although they often re-surface in particular hagiographic sources like Theodore of Sykeon. Therefore, this paper aims to explain the roles of worms and insects and how they often seem to accompany saints and martyrs in their journey of the holiness. For instance, when depicted as eating the corrupting body indicates “inverted” relationship between human and animals for worms and insects are represented not as tamed and inferior beings but rather as occupying the pride place in the path of Byzantine sanctity.