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2 The systematic status of the hyena today
3 Confusion – the hyena in the older zoological discourse
3.1 The zoological basics (Gesner, Aldrovandi)
3.2 Hyena descriptions from antiquity to Renaissance
4 Breakthrough – Engelbert Kaempfer’s report on the Persian hyena (1712)
4.1 The locality
4.2 The report
4.3 Linné’s adaption of Kaempfer’s report
5 Completion – The ascertainment of the entire Hyaenidae family
5.1 The protracted discovery of the spotted hyena (1681-1777)
5.2 C. P. Thunberg’s primary description of the brown hyena (1820)
5.3 The discovery and classification of the aardwolf (1783-1882)
6 Imaginary hyenas
6.2 Lupus marinus
Appendix A: Source texts
A.1 Ctesias of Cnidus on the Krokottas (fourth century B.C.)
A.2 Aristotle on the hyena (after 350 B.C.)
A.3 Conrad Gesner on the Papio (1551)
A.4 Pierre Belon on the Lupus marinus (1553)
A.5 Busbecq’s report on hyenas in the Ottoman Empire (1581)
A.6 Pietro della Valle on the Caftar (Persian striped hyena) (1674)
A.7 John Ray on the Papio, the badger and the hyena (1693)
A.8 Willem Bosman on the Boshond (West African spotted hyena) (1704)
A.9 Engelbert Kaempfer on the Persian (striped) hyena (1712)
A.10 Peter Kolbe on the Tigerwolf (South African spotted hyena) (1719)
A.11 J. C. P. Erxleben (1777) and Thomas Pennant (1771) on the spotted hyena
A.12 Anders Sparrman on the aardwolf (1783)
A.13 Carl Peter Thunberg on the brown hyena (Hyaena brunnea) (1820)
A.14 Andrew Smith on the brown hyena (Hyaena villosa) (1827)
A.15 Isidore Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire on the Proteles (aardwolf) (1824)
Appendix B: Illustrations
B.1 Pictorial material
B.2 Pioneers in hyena research
The habitat of the four extant hyena species covers all of Africa and large parts of Asia. Hyenas living in this enormous area have been described by local and western observers for more than 2000 years. Many names have been given to the hyenas in the wide range of languages in which they have been described. Anyone who attempts to reconstruct the history of the naming and localisation of the hyenas will therefore soon reach the limits of their linguistic expertise and must rely on the help of experts.
I had the good fortune to receive the generous support of various scholars in this respect. This applies in particular to the languages of which I have only a rudimentary knowledge, such as Dutch and Swedish, for which I enjoyed the unhesitating assistance of Dr. Chris Smeenk, Naturalis Museum in Leiden, Holland, and Elin Behrens, University of Paderborn, and also to the languages which I do not understand at all, such as Amharic, with which Prof. Rainer Voigt, Seminar for Semitic and Arabic Studies at the Free University of Berlin, had the patience to help me.
My thanks are also due to Prof. Adam Jones, University of Leipzig, Prof. John Thornton, Boston University, and Dr. Beatrix Heintze, University of Frankfurt, for their help in researching into Africa. Not only did they share their specialist knowledge with me; they also provided me with valuable unpublished material.
In the course of such a study one can become beset by doubts about whether a topic which one considers important is also interesting for other people. Stephen E. Glickman, Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, who has himself provided an important contribution to our topic, encouraged me to continue with my work.
Last but not least I would like to thank two gentlemen without whose help this project would not have been possible: Dr. Heiner Emonds, Paderborn, who from the very beginning stood by my side as a critical reader, source of ideas and helper in translating the Greek and Latin texts. And finally David Jacobs, M.A. (Cantab), Munich, who provided suggestions for improving the English texts.
Paderborn, April 2010
Nomina si nescis, perit et cognitio rerum.
If you do not know the names, then perishes also the cognition of things .
Linnaeus, Philosophia botanica, 1751, § 210
Within the realm of knowledge regions exist which have been inaccessible to trusted insights for a long time. Knowledge about the hyena is one of these regions, as we can read in a travelogue of the Scottish naturalist James Bruce, written at the end of the 18th century:
“There are few animals, whose history has passed under the considerations of naturalists, that have given occasion to so much confusion and equivocation as the Hyaena has done. It began very early among the ancients, and the moderns have fully contributed their share.”
Bruce was not alone with his criticism. In a volume of the Histoire Naturelle by the French Comte de Buffon published shortly before, the author sneers at previous zoologists who have confused the hyena with no less than four different species, namely with the jackal, the wolverine, the civet cat and even with the baboon.
Even though there is some similarity to the hyena in all four animals, as Buffon concedes, careful attention should have ensured that the naturalists noticed the major differences, e.g. the fact that hyena and wolverine live in quite diverse habitats. But these zoologists who had evidently never sighted a hyena personally had blindly trusted their sources, with the result that more absurdities are spread about the hyena than about any other animal. Like Bruce, Buffon mentions not only classical writers but also contemporary scholars as originators of these errors.
Goals and structure of this study
In the present study we want to retrace how the wrong perceptions about the hyena, the “histoires absurdes” (Buffon), developed and how they were overcome by several scholars in a protracted process. Due to their research work we know today that the mysterious animal “hyaena” comprises four species which together build up the Hyaenidae family. We will start by introducing these species shortly (chap. 2).
Thereafter we return to the beginning of the hyena history and outline the classical Greco-Roman reports on the hyena and how until the Renaissance and beyond these modelled the occidental perceptions of this animal (chap. 3). Then we examine how the single members of the Hyaenidae family were discovered, described and named by later naturalists and zoologists. In chronological order these were the striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena), the spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta), the brown hyena (Parahyaena brunnea) and finally the aardwolf (Proteles cristatus) (chap. 4 and 5).
Special attention is paid to the first zoological description of the striped hyena by the traveller and naturalist Engelbert Kaempfer from the end of the 17th century. The value of this widely unknown report lies in the fact that it actually made the breakthrough to overcome the confused and puzzling ideas about the hyena which had prevailed up to that time (chap. 4).
We conclude our survey with a chapter on “imaginary” hyenas in which we deal with animals that have been mistaken for real hyenas. In one of these cases the imagined hyena was apparently nothing but a fantasy creature, comprising nevertheless characteristic traits of two real hyena species (chap. 6).
The descriptions of the discovery, naming and localisation of the hyena species are followed by two appendices which contain extensive original source texts (some of which are available in translation for the first time) and pictorial material.
The reason for naming an animal
After an animal has been discovered, it must be named. Following the Old Testament, this is a primordial task of humankind which was assigned by God. In the Book of Genesis we read:
“So out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field.” (Gen. 2:19, 20)
In former times, this text was commonly understood to mean that God entitled man to subjugate the animal world and to make use of the animals. Nowadays we would interpret the task of naming rather in terms of knowing and understanding any animal, thus being able not only to use but also to protect it and to prevent it from downfall. According to this reading, God did not give the animals, which actually are his creature and as such “good”, to humankind to command, but entrusted them to the care of the human race.
It is a merit of the great Carl von Linné to have recognised the fundamental importance of a meaningful name for the research of a naturalist and to have stressed it in his scientific writings. In the twelfth edition of the Systema naturae Linné hallmarks his new “way” (methodus) as follows:
“The method, being the soul of science, evokes every object of nature at first view so that it says its proper name. And this name in turn says which insights could be gained through the centuries about the object bearing this name. Thus the greatest order of nature can be discovered in what appears to be the greatest confusion of things.”
The designation of an animal by means of an accurate, unambiguous zoological specific and generic name (similar to the human first name and family name) has on the one hand the practical benefit that zoologists of any national vernacular are able to communicate on a given animal unequivocally. Additionally, the zoological name assigns to the animal a definite rank within the system of nature and denominates in the shortest form important properties which distinguish it from other animals (appearance, behaviour, habitat etc.).
The binominal zoological designation of plants and animals which were introduced by Linné against some resistance are also a kind of condensed history of culture and science in the form of semantic pointers – which, however, one must be able to understand. This precondition cannot be taken for granted nowadays and in the course of our treatise we therefore enquire into the origin and meaning of the four hyena genera: What do the strange generic names Crocuta and Proteles for the spotted hyena and the aardwolf actually mean? Why is the brown hyena today characterised as a “by-hyena” (Parahyaena) by its generic name? And finally, what is the original meaning of the name Hyaena itself?
The perception of the hyena
Gus Mills and Heribert Hofer have pointed out another aspect in their standard work on hyenas. According to them the four hyena species have often been confused because they have very similar or identical names in different languages. The authors then continue:
“There has been no systematic effort to assess whether such linguistic ambiguities influence people’s perception of and attitudes towards a species. Are differences in the behaviour and ecology of each species recognised, especially behaviours and activities likely to bring a predator into conflict with humans?”
The question posed by Mills and Hofer targets the hyena designations in the numerous languages spoken in Southwest Asia and Africa which they, Rookmaaker and Shortridge collected. A multitude of specialists would be necessary to answer the question, for a single person would hardly be able to achieve this. Our study tries to contribute to this answer by asking for the linguistic perception of the first European observers in Greek antiquity as well as those of the later colonists and naturalists in Africa. In concentrating on this linguistic perception, two aspects which are closely connected attract attention: first, newly discovered animals are usually named after well-known animals; and second, they are judged according to the alleged or real benefit or disadvantage for humans. To express it from a linguistic angle, the human attitude towards an animal is often predetermined by the way in which it is named (or renamed) – and vice versa.
 James Bruce, Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile, In the Years 1768, 1769, 1770, 1771, 1772 and 1773. Vol. V. London 1790, 107.
 Georges Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon , Histoire naturelle générale et particulière. Quadrupèdes, Tome 3. Deux-Ponts 1787, 250-262.– An English translation of Buffon’s hyaena article is provided by William Smellie, Natural history, general and particular, by the Count de Buffon. The third edition, in nine volumes. Vol. V. London 1791, 226-238.
 ”And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the cattle according to their kinds, and everything that creeps upon the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.” (Gen. 1: 25).
 “Methodus, anima scientiae, indigitat, primo intuitu, quodcunque Corpus naturale, ut hoc corpus dicat propium suum Nomen, et hoc nomen quaecunque de nominato corpore beneficio seculi innotuere, ut sic in summa confusione rerum apparenti, summus conspiciatur Naturae ordo.” Carolus Linnaeus, Systema naturae per regna tria naturae (…). Tomus I. 12th reformed edition. Stockholm 1766, 13. (All translations in this study are ours, if not stated otherwise.)
 Mills & Hofer (1998: 99).
 Mills & Hofer (1998: 16, 21, 26, 30), Rookmaaker (1989: 5) and Shortridge (1934: 159-160).
 On the occasion of the discovery and colonisation of the West African coast by the Portuguese, P. E. H. Hair pointed out: “Some animals were renamed to fit known animals – the hyena was a ‘wolf’, the bush-cow a ‘buffalo’, any large feline a ‘tiger’. Interest in many wild animals (…) was related principally either to their economic product or to alleged medical properties of some parts of their body.” (Hair 1997, I 19-20).
 This is discussed amongst linguists under the term Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis; for details, see Pütz & Verspoor (2000).
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