Note on a Greek Cricket Cage

by Herbert Weidner, (bibliography)
Hamburg, GERMANY

The author published in (1977: 36, fig.8) a beautiful conical cage made from artistically platted strands of barley, strengthened with suspensory ligaments. The cage was collected in the Greek Peloponnesus around 1975 and was given to the Zoological Museum of the University of Hamburg. It was supposed to have been constructed to hold a cicada as a singing pet. Kevan also published this illustration, (1978: 350) but was more prudent in describing the container as an “insect cage”. In hindsight, I am rather sure the case was designed for a cricket or bush-cricket (Saltatoria, Gryllidae, or Tettigoniidae). The improbability of the case being intended for a cicada is illustrated by the problematics of keeping cicadas in captivity. There is much confusion surrounding the identification of popular singing insects due to the numerous common names bestowed upon them by individuals, poets and translators. (See also Kevan 1978)

Cricket cage

A useful distinction between chirping cicadas and singing crickets can be found in the bucolic (pastoral) romance of “Daphnis and Chloe”. The romance was written by Longos, a Greek poet living in Mytilene on the Aegean island of Lesbos, at the end of the second Century A.D. The theme is based on the innocent and natural development of the sexual love between two pastoral children. Chloe, age 13, collected rushes to make a basket cage for a talkative cricket. This cricket was probably the field cricket, Gryllus maculatus De Geer, or the house cricket, Acheta domesticus Linnaeus, which can still be found in the Mediterranean region including beneath the Sinan bridge near G?cek, Anatolia. In the story, the cricket sings the girl to sleep in front of the Nymph’s grotto (first book, Chap.10). Daphnis, age 15, stopped playing his shepherd’s pipe (syrinx), while Chloe was asleep, fearing she might awaken. Daphnis scolds a cicada for loud chirping (first book, Chap, 25). Thus the cricket is associated with delicate singing favorable for sleeping, while the cicadas loud chirps are associated with disturbance.

Longos was not the first poet to mention children holding crickets within cages. Theokritos of Syracuse (316 or 310-260 or 250 B.C.) makes in his “Idyll I: Thyrsis” (ca. 282 B.C.) the following verses:

Greek poem

These lines have seen multiple English interpretations with differing translations, especially for the word “akridothera(n)” Kevan suggests (1978: 362 and 489-490) that “there is no reason to suppose this was anything but a cage in which to place crickets.” Therefore, it seems the most authentic translation may be by Charles Stuart Calverley (1862) if we replace a translation of “cricket trap” with “cricket cage.” The verse is translated as follows:

Near him two foxes: down the row of grapes
One ranging steals the ripest, one assails
With wiles the poor lad’s scrip, to leave him soon
Stranded and supportless. “He plaits meanwhile then
With ears of corn a right fine cricket cage,
and fits it on a rush: for vines, for scrip,
Little he cares, enamored of his toy.”

For additional paraphrases, see Kevan (l.c.). Theokritos probably heard about these or similar cricket cages while he lived on the island of Cos, one of the Dodecanese in the south eastern Aegean Sea. (not when he was living in Sicily).

There are other Greek epigrams containing references to holding crickets or bush crickets as pets. The earliest reference might be a poem from a young poetess named Erinna. Possibly a disciple of Sappho of Lesbos from about 600 B.C., she describes her lament for the death of a captive singing insect. (Plinius Major. in Naturae historia XXXIV 57 – Rudy 1925: 6). Kevan (1978: 349-353) reveals the following four epigrams about holding singing insects as pets that were collected from Anthologia Graeca, (in Greek with English paraphrasing): Arist?dikos of Rhodes ca. 400 B.C., Simias of Rhodes (ca.. 300 B.C.), Leonidas of Tarentum (mid 3rd Century B.C.), and Nicias (3rd Century B.C.) However, none of these epigrams shed light on the physical characteristics of these cages.