a trio of butterflies

Animal gods

Classics meets classification
When taxonomists began to name the thousands of plant and animal species, they drew on Classical myths and legends for inspiration.

Ancient myths from Greece and Rome have shaped our modern world in surprising ways. They have been translated into many languages for more than 2000 years and continue to echo through contemporary theatre, film and television.

In the 1700s taxonomists used names drawn from the myths and legends of the Classical past to name the natural world.

This exhibition retells some of these myths – the ancient Greek epics of the Trojan War and the Odyssey – through the animal namesakes of the main characters and in the images painted on pottery and sculptured in stone that survive from the ancient past.

Featured images (top of the page), left to right: Troides helena (Linnaeus, 1758), collected Malaysia, Macleay Family, 1790–1892, NHEN.20048. Stalachtis calliope (Linnaeus, 1758), NHEN.51600. Papilio ulysses Linnaeus, 1758, collected Cairns, Queensland, donated by Dorothy Lamberton, 2003, NHEN.18946

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