Singing Orthoptera in Japanese Culture

by Robert W. Pemberton USDA-ARS,
3205 College Ave. Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33314

Cricket Cage PeddlarThe cricket cage peddlar

Bamboo Cricket CageBamboo Cages

How to Raise Singing InsectsHow to Raise Singing Insects

Tama Zoo ShowTama Zoo Show

Electronic KatydidElectronic Katydid

The Japanese have a long tradition of enjoying the calls of various Orthoptera, both in the wild and as caged pets (Lafcadio Hern, 1905, Exotics and Retrospectives, Little, Brown and Co., Boston). These customs have been popular with both the Japanese Court, which probably introduced some of the customs from China, and with the common people. Visiting places, known for the abundance and high quality of their singing insects, was one of the seasonal pleasures, such as cherry blossom and autumn leaf viewing. Although many of these customs have been lost or simplified with Japan’s modernization, there remains a fondness for the “cries” of certain species of crickets (Gryllidae) and long-horned grasshoppers (Tettigonidae). The following illustrations and notes show various aspects of Japan’s cricket culture.

The cricket cage peddlar“, Kiyonaga, ca. late 1700s, (courtesy of The Art Institute of Chicago). Cricket sellers were members of an organized guild recognized by the checkerboard motif used on the cloth of their stands and kimonos. These mobile merchants sold diverse and beautifully crafted cages, including ones that resembled fans, boats and country cottages, to house the singing insects. The singing insects of commerce were both reared and collected from the wild.

Cricket cage made of twigs, wire and the sheath of a bamboo shoot, ca. 1950 (courtesy of Kyushu-Tokai Univ.). This wire mesh type of cage was used for smaller crickets. The finely crafted cages of the past are now rarely made; most modern cages are clear plastic terrariums with ventilated tops. These terrariums are sold to keep and rear a few species of singing Orthoptera (mainly the bell insect, Homoeogryllus japonicus de Haan), which are also sold along with specially packaged bell insect food and soil in pet shops.

A book “How to raise singing insects” written in 1983 by Kimio ONO and Hideaki OGASAWARA (New Science Co., Tokyo). This book, which shows the bell insect (suzumushi) on its cover, contains natural history, rearing information and even poetry on five of the most favored cricket species and one katydid, and briefer sections on fourteen other crickets and katydids. Raising singing insects is a popular past-time. Singing crickets are given as gifts to customers by some produce markets and to the friends of some cricket hobbyists.

Program for Tama Zoo’s annual autumn show on singing Orthoptera. This very popular show started in 1958 and takes place in Tama Zoo’s Insectarium located in the Tokyo suburbs. At the 1993 show, forty three singing cricket and long-horned grasshopper species could be seen and heard by visitors. Each year, the Insectarium receives several thousand telephone calls from people wanting advice on how to raise singing insects.

Electronic katydid in a paper covered plastic box cage, 1992, $9 US. The plastic katydid and its electronic chip mimic a popular long-horned grasshopper (kirigirisu, Gampsocleis buergeri de Haan) in both appearance and sound. This cage also features flashing fireflies. Electronic bell insects, including one with a very accurate chip that was sold in a Tokyo Mitsukoshi Department store for $200 US in 1990, are also available. Recordings of singing Orthoptera are sold in record stores, and can be heard in subway stations and other public places.

Cultural Entomology Digest: Third Issue November

Welcome to the third issue of Cultural Entomology Digest. This issue focuses on “grigs” and cicadas, otherwise know as “singing insects.” The name “grig” is a resurrected term for orthopteroid insects, specifically crickets, katydids, and cicadas. Singing insects are among the most revered and cherished insects for their abilities to make music and bring us closer to nature. This insect/man relationship enjoys a long cultural history in both China and Japan.

CED In Your Ear

An introductory article to the third issue of Cultural Entomology Digest. Appreciation for the sounds of insects is culturally ingrained and has resulted in a two and a half thousand year history of cricket captivity.

William Rowe William Rowe

The contemporary pattern and alphabet designs of William Rowe can be found in two Dover Publication books entitled “Nature Fantasy Designs” and “Exotic Alphabets and Ornaments.” William Rowe was a master of patternation with numerous insect references.

Rodney Matthews Rodney Matthews

What a jewel to be found in UK’s extraordinarily prolific fantasy illustrator who’s imagery themes run rampant with insectoid inspirations. Check out his books “In Search of Forever” and “Last Ship Home.”

akridothera Greek Cricket Cage

Theokritos of Syracuse wrote in 282 B.C. “He plaits meanwhile then, with ears of corn, a right fine cricket cage.” Found in the Greek Peloponnesus, artistically platted strands of barley forming a beautiful conical cage, perhaps of similar style to referenced container.

Dr. D. K. McE Kevan Chinese Pictographs

Dong Ba scriptures from the Yunnan Province of China include various insects. The butterfly, ant, bee, fly and silkworm cocoon are used to elucidate metaphors, illustrate religious standpoints or are used as portents of calamity or good omen.

Cricket Cages Chinese Cricket Culture

Crickets have been deeply intertwined within Chinese culture for two thousand years. Ranging from an appreciation for their sweet chirping to gambling on the valiant battles of cricket fighting matches, Chinese cricket culture is very much alive today.

Tama Zoo, Japan Japanese Singing Insects

A loose collection of notes on Japanese cultural references to singing insects. Much as in Chinese culture, the Japanese are partial to the sounds of singing crickets and house their singing captives in a wide variety of containers.

Cicada Netsuke Cicada in Chinese Folklore

An ancient Chinese symbol for rebirth, Buddhism teachings draw on their symbolism as the Egyptians did with the scarab. Funeral jades and girdle pendants formed the mosts common manifestations of this symbolic insect.

Chinese Cricket Culture

Crickets have been deeply intertwined within Chinese culture for two thousand years. Ranging from an appreciation for their sweet chirping to gambling on the valiant battles of cricket fighting matches, Chinese cricket culture is very much alive today.

Hellenistic Cameo Cicadas in Ancient Greece

Illustrating the plethora of cicada references found in ancient Greek culture, Rory Egan explores symbolism found in Mycenaen artifacts, Homer’s Iliad, Plato’s Phaedrus and pastoral epigrams. The cicada symbolized Eros, resurrection, rebirth and immortality.

Note on a Greek Cricket Cage

Cultural Entomology – Note on a Greek Cricket Cage

by Herbert Weidner, (bibliography)
Hamburg, GERMANY

Cricket Cage

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)

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.

D. Keith McE. Kevan

by Vernon R. Vickery Emeritus Curator,
Lyman Entomological Museum and Research Laboratory,McGill University

Keith Kevan & Vernon Vickery

Vernon Vickery (right)

Little Jong Mountain

“Little Jong Mountain
Last night the chilly cricket did not cease its song.
It woke me from dreams a thousand miles away. `Twas midnight
And I arose and walked upon the steps alone.
`Twas still, no-one was around. Bright the moon without the screen.

The Living Fossil of Sulphur Mountain
The emblem of the Society
was selected with propriety.
It does not matta
that Grylloblatta
is not enormis.
Our interest lies,
not in its sies,
nor its lack of ubiquity,
but in its antiquity:
it is as old as the hills
upon which it dwills!

Bulletin of the Entomological
Society of Canada 5 (4): 147 (1973).

The Mantispid
One night I spied a mantis-fly
Midst leaves upon a tree.
The mantis-fly to me did cry
“Why spiest thou on me?”
So thus I did to her reply:
“Art thou Mantispidae?”
“I am” she said, “for I have fed
“When young on spider’s eggs,
“But now, instead, for daily bread,
“Gnats catch I with my legs –
“My claws embedded `til they’re dead –
With mantid spine-like pegs.”
So I was right on yester night
She was a mantid-fly –
Mantispid slight, mantispid wight,
That reached toward the sky
And in my sight, her eyes quite bright,
Prayed to the Lord on High!

Keith Kevan was born in Helsinki, Finland, in 1920, of British parents but all of his formative years were spent in and around Edinburgh, Scotland. His father was an accountant as well as one of Scotland’s leading conchologists and coleopterists. His mother was a botanical enthusiast. This produced an environment that led him at an early age to study natural history. He began collecting insects about the age of five and this interest remained with him throughout his life.

His formal education was begun at George Watson’s Boys College in Edinburgh, where he claimed to have performed creditably but not outstandingly. He achieved great distinction at Edinburgh University, winning Second-Year Class medals in zoology and botany and the Third-Year Class medal in zoology. He also won the University/ Royal Botanic Garden Herbarium Gold Medal. Even at this early age he displayed his ability in innovation by persuading the Faculty of Science to permit him to include in his curriculum all available courses in entomology and parasitology, initiating, in effect, an Honours Entomology program in a “pure science” stream. Prior to this, all entomology was included only in the Agricultural Zoology program.

He graduated in 1941 with First Class Honours in Zoology and was awarded a Vans Dunlop Postgraduate Scholarship and a British Colonial Office Postgraduate Agricultural Scholarship. At this time it looked as though he would soon be serving in His Majesty’s Armed Forces but, fortunately for entomology, the government sent him instead, as an Entomologist Specialist Cadet of the Colonial Agricultural Service to Imperial College, St. Augustin, Trinidad, for a two-year course in tropical agriculture and related subjects. In 1943, he was awarded Associateship of the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture, equal to a Masters degree, and was granted a short leave. He returned to the United Kingdom and, as short as the leave was, it was long enough to court and marry Private Kathleen E. Luckin, Royal Army. Some months later she was discharged to await the birth of their first son, Peter. Later they had two more sons, Martin, born in Kenya, and Simon, born in England. Keith was posted to Kenya as Entomologist with the Kenya Department of Agriculture. He was promptly attached to the East- African Anti-Locust Directorate and became involved in reconnaissance and control of the Desert Locust in Kenya, Ethiopia and the Somalilands as well as some other pests for several years.

He returned to the United Kingdom in 1948, resigned from the Colonial Service and, at age 27, became the first head of the new Zoology Section in the Faculty of Agriculture of the University of Nottingham. There he developed undergraduate teaching programs, directed graduate students and, at the same time, developed his study of orthopteroids, specializing in the Family Pyrgomorphidae, eventually becoming the world authority on this group of grasshoppers. He was directing Ph. D. students so he thought it might be appropriate to have this degree himself and it was granted in 1956. His thesis was taxonomic, on the genus Chrotogonus in the Pyrgomorphidae.

He was active as well in Soil Zoology, organizing the first international conference at the University in 1955 and published the proceedings the following year. He also wrote the first edition of his book, “Soil Animals” that year but it was not published until 1962, after he had left Nottingham.

In 1957 he was offered full professorship and Chairmanship of the Department of Entomology, McGill University, Macdonald College, Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, Quebec, Canada. He accepted and moved to Canada in 1958. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society, Edinburgh, the same year.

He served as Chairman of Entomology from 1958 to 1971, as was also Chairman of the Department of Plant Pathology from 1959 to 1964, a period when the two departments were joined. He gave up the Chair in 1971 for health reasons. He directed the research of 22 M.Sc. and 23 Ph.D. students in Canada (plus others in Notting-ham), and 12 Postdoctoral Fellows and Associates. He introduced modern concepts of soil zoology in North America and, as well, taught all aspects of Entomology except Insect Physiology and Economic Entomology, although he had taught these subjects too in Nottingham.

He was an accomplished administrator and, as Chairman in Entomology, he strengthened the department by adding staff members with expertise in insect ecology, soil fauna and acarology, and fresh water biology, as well as hiring a professional curator (myself) for the Lyman collections of insects. This resulted in the transfer in 1961 of the collections from the Redpath Museum on the Montreal Campus to the Macdonald Campus in association with the Entomo-logy Department. This eventually increased in size and scope into the internationally known Lyman Entomological Museum and Research Laboratory. Kevan was appointed Director of the Museum in 1971.

He and I jointly established the Memoir and Notes series in 1974 and to date 17 volumes of Memoirs and 17 Notes have been published. These publications have served to make the Lyman Museum better known throughout the world. The famous reprint file was built up over the years and now comprises about 80,000 titles.

Keith traveled widely to all continents (except Antarctica) and was well known to associates in all parts of the world. His main accomplishments were in systematics (including experimental taxonomy and cytogenetics), morphology and biology of the orthopteroid insects and on the ecology and biology of soil and litter-inhabiting microarthropods. His research produced nearly 400 scientific publications as well as many others; book reviews, tributes, obituaries, popular and semi-popular articles, published verse, miscellaneous other publications and theatrical productions. There are more scientific publications in press and others that are complete, or nearly so, that will be submitted very soon.

He was active in many organizations and was honoured by many of them. He was a Director (1963-65) and President (1972-73) of the Entomological Society of Canada, was made Fellow of the Society in 1977, and received their Gold Medal for outstanding leadership in 1981. The shield bearing the insignia of the Society containing Grylloblatta campodeiformis (presented by the Entomological Society of Quebec) was devised by him. He also wrote a short poem, prefaced with the following: “A doodle done during duties and deliberations by the President” [of the Entomological Society of Canada].

Together with J.A. Downes and E.G. Munroe, Keith Kevan initiated the drive for the Biological Survey of the Insects of Canada and he contributed extensively to the Survey.

Keith had considerable theatrical talent, acting as well as writing and directing several productions. His sense of humour was quick, sometimes mordant and sometimes biting, qualities that are apparent in his writing (as well as in manner), particularly in verse. Sometimes he was inclined to pomposity and I have heard Mrs. Kevan tell him that he should stop “pontificating.”

Many of his associates despaired in attempting to decipher his handwriting. At times he gave the stenographers a hard time as his mind raced much faster than his hand and he could not slow down. I finally managed to decipher what he wrote and more than once he brought to me something he had written but which he could not read.

He was a true collector, very efficient in collecting insects in the field, and was also a collector of ‘Orthopterological Artifacts’. He amassed a truly remarkable collection of artifacts, part of which was displayed for a year at the Montreal Insectorium, following the official opening of that institution.

In later years he worked extensively in systematics of the Neuroptera and in “Ethnoentomology” and “Cultural Entomology”. At one time he held grants from both the National Research Council (science) and the Canada Council (humanities) simultaneously. He investigated early historical and literary areas of entomology, particularly poetry and verse of all ages and regions in any language that referred to orthopteriod insects (and cicadas, as they were in olden days often confused with grasshoppers as both produced sound).

He had written verses as a schoolboy and the urge to “versify” was always close to the surface. For example, “Ware the Weta” was written on a souvenir menu at the 21st Anniversary Dinner of the Entomological Society of New Zealand in 1972. “Wetas” are “cricket- types” known only in New Zealand and they have powerful jaws – they can bite! Keith was an excellent linguist, fluent in both French and German, to a lesser extent in Russian, and could read a number of other languages. Many of his verses are included in “The Land of the Locust series. Others appear in various scientific bulletins and newsletters. Much of his “poetry” tended to be more versifying than poetical. He tended usually to produce something humorous, rather than “deep” or “erudite” poetry. “Levity of Lacewings – The Mantispid” (left column) that he wrote during a break at a Colloquium on Neuropteroid insects at the Annual Meeting of the Entomological Society of America, December, 1988, is another example.

He did not confine his ethnoentomological works to poetry. In the Proceedings of the 2nd Triennial Meeting of the Pan American Acridological Society (now The Orthopterists’ Society), he published a major paper on “The Place of Grasshoppers and Crickets in Ameridian Cultures”, pages 8 to 74c. This work includes 31 illustrations and 154 references. Some Navajo stories about grasshoppers and crickets are included in the as yet unpublished Part 4 of “The Land of the Locusts”.

In 1974, he published the first of his books on orthopteroid insects in verse “The Land of the Grasshoppers,” Memoir, Lyman Entomological Museum and Research Laboratory 2: x + 326 pp. This contained many items covering the entire time span of human written expression. Almost immediately, he realized that there were a great many more such references. He accepted the challenge and four years later, in 1978, he published “The Land of the Locusts”, Part 1, Memoir, Lyman Entomological Museum and Research Laboratory 6: x + 530 pp. This covered the time period from the beginning of the written word to 450 A.D. This was followed in 1983, by Part 2, published by the Museum as Memoir 10: viii + 554 pp., covering the period between 450 A.D. and 1500 A.D. Part 3 was published in 1983, Memoir 15: xiv + 466 pp., covering the 16th to 18th Centuries inclusive*.

These volumes contain verses and translations of poems, verses and limericks on orthopteroid insects. Each is divided into sections, each section covering a systematic group (e.g., cockroaches, crickets, etc.), with items presented in chronological order within sections. Explanatory introductions, usually about the authors, lead to each item. Many items contain “starred” words, phrases or numbers. These indicate that explanations can be found in the “Notes” section bearing the same number as the item. Footnotes are used to explain certain words or phrases, or to point out derivation of a term. Wherever possible, an item is given in the original language of publication, together with a translation (and transliteration for some languages). The translations are, for the most part by Kevan himself, but he included translations by others if these were available. For Chinese poems his translations were based upon transliterations by Dr. C.-C. (George) Hsiung.

Before he died, Keith Kevan had accumulated a great deal of material for Part 4 of “The Land of the Locusts”, the 19th Century, as well as a smaller number for Part 5, the 20th Century. Part 4 is so large that it will be necessary to publish it in two volumes. The sections in the first volume will cover cicadas (these are not orthopteroids but often are confused with them as both groups produce sound), katydids, bush-crickets and acridid grasshoppers. Dr. Kevan had prepared much of this part before he died. I have added the necessary items to complete this volume and have worked from his handwritten notes to put together the second volume. This includes the crickets, mole-crickets, earwigs, etc. Both volumes should be published together during 1995.

Keith had heart by-pass surgery late in 1976 and afterward made excellent recovery. The heart problem recurred in 1991 when he had to return to Scotland for the funeral of his 97 year old mother after he had visited her only a few weeks before. He was hospitalized, then released but ordered to remain in Scotland to await another examination before flying home to Canada. He passed away very suddenly a short time later. A funeral was held in Edinburgh and later a Memorial Service was held in his adopted home town of Beaconsfield, Quebec. A eulogy was given by his son Martin at this service. Martin entitled his eulogy “He lies in the Land of the Grasshoppers”. He is survived by his wife, Kathleen, and sons Peter (Sherrene), Martin, Simon (Brenda) and four grandchildren, Colin, Katie, Jordan and Andrea.

He was a good friend. We shared many a meeting and discussed many a problem and, after an association lasting more than thirty years, I certainly miss him. His absence is and will be felt by former colleagues all over the world.

Keith Kevan produced more than 650 publications and the list is not yet complete. There are a number of incomplete projects that will have his name as co-author when they are published. There is also the unfinished “Land of the Locusts”, part 4, the text of which is complete but which is not in publishable form at this time.

* … The Lyman Museum still has a few copies of some of these Memoirs. The next couple of verses are from the Memoirs.

The “Little Jong Mountain” poem (left column) by Yueh Fei, 1103-1141 A.D., again uses the general word “chong” (grig) to mean a cricket, as indicated by the cold and melancholy mood. The poem seems to have no true title, the one used presumably being that of tonal form or tune only. Translated by D. K. McE, Kevan (1982, original), from the text of HSIUNG CHIA-CHI.
N.B. a ch`yng or ch`in is a long fretted zither-like instrument with 5-7 strings

Cicada in Chinese Folklore

by Garland Riegel, (bibliography)
Reproduced with permission from the Melsheimer Entomological Series
(a publication of the Entomological Society of Pennsylvania.)

Cicada NetsukeAkihide Cicada Netsuke
Jade Girde-Pendant
Chinese Jade Girde-Pendant
Han Dynasty, 206-220 B.C.

Chinese Tongue AmuletChinese Tongue Amulet
brown jade
Han Dynasty, 206-220 B.C

Japanese Cicada NetsukeRen? Lalique
Japanese Cicada Netsuke

Some anthropologists and archaeologists have known for years that the ancient Chinese regarded cicadas as symbols of rebirth or immortality (4, 12, 16) in much the same way as the early Egyptians thought of the sacred scarab. Unlike the latter case, however, few western entomologists are aware of cicada symbolism used by the early Chinese. It is not mentioned in any English language entomology textbook of which I am aware. It is noted in Lucy Clausen’s remarkable little book, Insect Fact and Folklore (10).

Writing in Japan, the colorful and prolific Lafcadio Hearn in his charming essay on cicadas (“S?mi”), reported: “In view of many complaints of Japanese poets about the noisiness of s?mi, the reader may be surprised to learn that out of s?mi-skins there used to be made in both China and Japan-perhaps upon homeopathic principles-a medicine for the cure of ear-ache!” (15)

While on the subject of medicine, Clausen (10) reports that “One of the most interesting and remarkable species of cicada in the Orient is Huechys sanguinea. There it is called `chu-ki,’ and also “The red medicinal cicada.” It has brilliant red and black markings and is the only known cicada used as a blistering agent.” Chou (9) says that “Some of them [insects in Chinese pharmacy] have been used up to the present day, e.g. the exuviae of cicadas as an anti-febrile…”

Needham (21) in speaking of alchemy and chemistry in ancient China says: “Several alchemists are mentioned in official historiography of the time. The Chin Shu (History of the Chin Dynasty)” stated “Then there was Shan Tao-Khai, a contemporary of the Central Asian missionary monk and thaumaturgist Fo-Thu-Teng (fl. +310); he achieved a cicada-like metamorphosis by ingesting pills.” Needham (19) in discussing scientific thought in ancient China, tells of Ko Hung (fl. +325), the great alchemist in Chinese history.” It was reported that “Someone said to Ko Hung:… How is it possible for us human beings to find a method which will give constant youth to those who must grow old, or to revive those who must die? And yet you say that (by the power of alchemy) you can cause a cicada to live for a year. …Don’t you think you are wrong?”

Returning to Lafcadio Hearn (15), in a serious vein he says, “As the metamorphosis of the butterfly supplied to old Greek thought an emblem of the soul’s ascension, so the natural history of the cicada has furnished Buddhism with similitudes and parables for the teaching of doctrine. Man sheds his body only as the s?mi sheds its skin. But each reincarnation obscures the memory of the previous one: we remember our former existence no more than the s?mi remembers the shell from which it has emerged… This cast-off skin… in Buddhist poetry… becomes a symbol of early pomp, -the hollow show of human greatness.”

Hearn was writing of Buddhist thought as he knew it in Japan just before 1900. It is probable that the cicada as a symbol of rebirth predated Buddhism in China by 500 to a thousand years, as these insects are found on ritual bronze vessels of the Shang dynasty (1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 9, 13, 14, 17, 22, 23, 24, 25) and carved bone spatulas (17) dating from about 1500 to 1030 B.C. The Buddha was born about 500 years before Christ. Silcock (23) reports cicadas among the carvings on the antler of an extinct species of deer found in the excavations at An-Yang, which he dates as “?1766 B.C.”

Most authors are agreed that the cicada was used by the Chinese as a symbol of rebirth, although a few suggest additional (17, 18) or alternative meanings (3) such as “harvest time,” “autumn,” “fertility and abundance,” or “life giving principle.”

The depictions of cicadas on the early bronzes vary from quite realistic (6) to highly stylized (13, 16, 17, 22, 24) and almost leaflike (16). In some cases they are associated with another beast. Munsterberg (17) says that “in several instances the tiger is shown spitting out a cicada.” Later he says that “the t’ao t’ieh daemon is also frequently shown with a cicada on his outstretched tongue.” Bachhofer (2) refers to dragons in moderate relief, “their bodies… covered with a diminutive cicada pattern.” Speaking of bronze vessels he states that the heads of serpents are identical with the heads of cicadas. Certainly the “snake-head” with a “tongue” that rattles, terminating handle of a ritual bronze sword shown on page 39 in Fontein and Wu (13), looks more like a cicada than a snake head. Could the rattle have even been an imitation of a cicada’s call? Even a rattlesnake does not rattle with its head, and in this case there is apparently no snake body, only the “head.” The rattle mechanism looks like a wing, not a snake’s tongue.

In addition to bronzes, cicadas have been found decorating Shang white pottery ware (2). Laufer (16) reproduces (from ancient manuscripts) cicadas on ceremonial jade axes, jade cups, and a jade buckle which also includes a mantis.

These “sacred animal symbols” (17), cicadas, were used during the Han period (202 B.C. – 220 A.D.) or earlier as jade carvings (9), variously called “funeral jades,” “amulets of death,” “tongue amulets,” or “Han y?,” meaning “placed in the mouth,” according to Burling and Hart (3), who note that the term does not mean “made in the Han dynasty,” as some students assume, but that the items so designated “may date from many centuries earlier or later.”

Cicada-shaped funeral jades are illustrated by several authors (6, 8, 10, 16, 24, 26, 27, 29). These carvings were placed on the tongue of deceased persons apparently to induce resurrection by sympathetic magic (18). Some are rather flat and stylized; others are quite life-like and show much detail. Most are about life sized or slightly larger. Clausen (10) says that the color of the jade selected for carving was usually brown. Most of the ones I have seen are white, grayish or greenish.

One can imagine the ancient Chinese observing cicadas, seeing the full-grown nymphs emerging from the soil and attaching themselves to tree trunks for the quiescent period before the final molt to winged adulthood. It is surprising that they considered this “life form death” – the lively adult resurrected from the immobile last-stage nymph?

It should be noted that, although cicada amulets were usually made from jade, there are records of glass having been used (3, 25).

It is probable that Laufer (16) was wrong in calling specimens 5 and 6 of his plate 36 “tongue-amulets.” As they are drilled for a cord or wire they are probably girdle pendants as described below. I believe also that he was wrong in saying “the lines engraved on 1 and 2 explain themselves by serving the purpose on marking the parts of the tongue.” The lines shown merely delineate the edges of the front wings, the pronotum, and other morphological features. He shows a drawing of the underside of specimen 2 which he says is “laid out in a different design of lines.” The reason for the difference is that the sculptor, however crudely, attempted to show the clypeus , beak, legs, and ventral segments of the abdomen! It is not a “design.”

Needham (20), in discussing voyages and discoveries of the ancient Chinese, and Mayas as described by the Chinese, but even stranger that on both sides of the Pacific, jade beads or cicadas should have been placed in the mouth of the dead, and astonishment turned to conviction when one learned that in all these civilizations the jade corpse-amulet were sometimes painted with the life-giving color of red cinnabar or hematite.” He also says that the Amerindian peoples mostly place jade beads in the mouth, but they also carve jade cicadas to go alongside.” The Mexican author and artist Covarrubias (11) has essentially the same information. The Oraibi Indians of Arizona, according to Clausen (10), also thought that the cicada’s life cycle symbolized resurrection.

Speiser (25) and Thompson (28) are wrong in referring to jade cicadas as “crickets.” This mistake may be due to the fact that the ancient Chinese sometimes kept male cicadas in order to enjoy their “songs” 9, 10(), as they did with crickets. The amount of misinformation regarding the life histories of cicadas in various references is astounding. However, Needham (19) reports the following accurate observation by early Chinese as related in the “Records of Rites of the elder Tai” in the chapter entitled “The metamorphosis of Life,” written about the second century B.C.: “The habits of the various classes of animals are very different. Thus silkworms eat but do not drink, while cicadas drink but do not eat.” And Chou (9) reports that Liu An, writing 2000 years ago, made known that “cicadas were transformed from their larvae living in the soil.”

Chou (9) also says that “nymphs of cicada… served as delicious viands for the nobles, as indicated in books published before the twelfth century B.C.”

Cicada girdle pendants or toggles (chui-tzu) (5, 16, 29) are very similar in appearance to funeral jades and may have overlapped them in time. As Eberhard (12) points out, there is a whole literature devoted to Japanese girdle pendants (netsuke), but not so for the Chinese toggles. Writing about 1939 he remarked that they were frequently “seen in current use.” Like netsuke these pendants were carved in many forms, but a popular subject was the cicada. Eberhard notes that “The cicada is a very old symbol. It occurs as early as the old ritual texts as an animal symbolizing rebirth… Thus in ancient times it occurs as a small piece of sculpture which is placed on the tongue of the dead. The cicada as a toggle has the same meaning.”

The old Chinese robes had no pockets; therefore, toggles were attached by a cord to objects such as knives or burning-glasses and were used as counter-balances over a belt or girdle. Eberhard (12) gives an amusing account of all the equipment that might be suspended from the griddle on ceremonial occasions. Several writers (3, 6, 8, 25) mention that jade cicadas have been worn by the Chinese as “charms.” Cicadas of the toggle type are still being carved from jade of various colors and are available for such use today.

Cicadas are fascinating insects. They are large, conspicuous, and attract attention with their interesting “songs.” No wonder the ancient Chinese accorded them such a high position in their folklore and in their art. Watching cicadas can engender awe in the observer. One student remarked that he had always considered cicadas rather magical, and could easily see how they came to have spiritual significance in old China.

Cicadas in Ancient Greece. Ventures in Classical Tettigology

by by Rory B. Egan, (bibliography)
Department of Classics, University of Manitoba
Winnipeg, Manitoba R3T 2N2 CANADA

Lalique Cicada

As a student and teacher of the languages and literatures of the ancient Greeks and Romans I made my initial entry into the world of cultural entomology some years ago through a door that was left invitingly open by the large number of classical writers who have graced their works with references, allusions or even extended literary episodes involving the life and ethology of the cicada. It was some twenty years ago that a student of mine, well-versed in physics and a pioneer (at least so far as my experience allowed me to tell) in computer applications, who also had a strong avocational interest in ancient Greece, told me of her attempts to recover, with the aid of sound synthesizer and a computer, the sound of the cithara, an ancient Greek stringed musical instrument. My student was using whatever scraps of data she could glean from ancient illustrations and literary references. While the product that eventually issued from the synthesizer was anything but music to my ears, the project seemed most intriguing, particularly as I had just recently read one of the several surviving Greek accounts of a person named Eunomos (i.e. Mr. Goodtune), an accomplished cithara player and singer, who was singing and playing in a competition when one of the strings on his instrument snapped. At that crucial juncture he was miraculously assisted by a cicada which perched on his instrument and substituted its voice for the missing fifth string, enabling him to win a prestigious victory. It occurred to me that perhaps this story contained some data which might be applied to the project of my physicist student. Might the cicada’s song, which was specifically connected with the fifth and highest string on the instrument, tell us something about how an ancient cithara was pitched? I left the question with the student shortly before permanently losing touch with her. I do not know how or if she answered it or if it led her on a course of her own in cultural entomology, but the question has remained humming unanswered in the back of my own mind these past two decades during which I have spent part of my time as a scholar learning more and more about cicadas and their varied manifestations in Greek culture.

Metapontum Locust Coin

For me personally Eunomos and his cithara served as the stimulus to the curiosity, prompting me to seek out more information about the cicada, its natural history, its musical activity, its diet and its place in human culture, particularly in literature and folklore. In retrospect I must own to starting from a point of virtually complete ignorance about this creature despite the fact that he (and it is, for the most part he) so frequently and conspicuously punctuates the pages of Greek and Latin literature on which I had some claim to expertise. My belated education on the cicada and other “singing” insects of classical literature has been assisted by my good fortune in establishing personal and friendly acquaintances with two of the leading lights in the world of Cultural Entomology: Charles Hogue, late of the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History and Keith Kevan, late of the Lyman Entomological Museum and Research Library of McGill University. As I enter upon a survey of some of my own work on the cicada in Greek culture I gratefully acknowledge the patience and generosity of those two entomological mentors.

Metapontum Locust Coin

My own initial ignorance was, as I can now say with condescension, something which I shared with many scholars who have written on relevant passages in Greek or Latin literature, or who have translated those passages into English and other modern languages. Having undergone a partial metamorphosis into a cultural entomologist I can now express annoyance at those fellow classicists who identify the Greek tettix, as a grasshopper, an error committed by, among others, the authors of the textbooks which I use for teaching elementary Greek and Classical Mythology. While I must not over generalize here (for there are scholars such as L. Bodson, Davies & Kathirathambey, Beavis with excellent competence in both tettigology and the relevant texts), this one error epitomizes the state of the knowledge about cicadas possessed by many a Greek and Latin scholar. The fact that translators and commentators on ancient texts operate from a base of false assumptions or misinformation has consequences even for the entomological historian who does know something about cicadas because, unless such an entomologist knows Latin or Greek, he/she is at the mercy of those who know the languages and through whom information or misinformation is filtered. I do believe that my own efforts at self education through reading entomological literature and consulting with entomologists has enabled to break into the vicious circle at a few points and to achieve new and improved readings of several passages of Greek literature. In what follows here I hope to set forth some examples of the hermeneutic consequences of wedding entomological facts to a knowledge of classical literature.

Before turning to a description of some of my own labors in the field I would like to offer a brief, and far from comprehensive, survey of facts and beliefs about the cicada in Ancient Greece. As anyone who has spent any part of a summer in the Mediterranean countryside can attest, the cicada, mostly through its incessant singing during the hot daylight hours, is a constant and ubiquitous contributor to the ambiance. It has been so of course for millennia; certainly for as long as there have been people in that part of the world there have been cicadas insistently drumming their music into human ears. The aesthetic reception of that music on the part of humans has not been uniformly favorable. Many modern visitors do not share the widespread enthusiasm of the ancient Greeks for the beauty of the insect’s song and the ears of the Romans (de gustibus non disputandum), to judge from the words of the Latin poets, seem to have been more impressed with the stridency or raucousness of the sound than with its musicality. There are indeed some references in Greek literature, mostly in the comic poets, to the chattering garrulity of the cicada. Whether one liked the sound or not, it would be a very rare ancient Greek who could avoid the experience of it. It is not surprising, then, that the cicada should have so many and varied appearances in Greek culture – in literature, in the visual arts, in folklore, in scientific writing and, as I hope to demonstrate below, in philosophy and religion.

The song of the cicada is not the only thing that commends it to the attention of the ancient Greeks and many other human observers. The emergence of the nymph from the ground in which it has spent several months or years, the shedding of its integument and the deployment of its wings as it begins its adult phase is another process that stimulates the curiosity and often the admiration of the human observer. This whole sequence of events was briefly but accurately described in the fourth century B.C. by the great Greek polymath Aristotle in his work entitled Historia Animalium (i.e. Investigation of Living Things). There is nothing in the description offered by Aristotle that could not have been viewed by any unsophisticated observer in the preceding centuries, and it is observations of this sort that generated such widespread beliefs as the one that the cicada was “born from the earth,” or that it was capable of resurrection and therefore an appropriate symbol of immortality. A related belief is that by shedding its skin and sprouting wings on its fresh white body it could realize perpetual youth. Another popular belief, again based on observation, was that the cicada subsisted entirely on a diet of dew or on dew and air. The notion that they fed on air might have derived from examination of the large empty space in their abdomen. As for the dew in their diet; it is probably owing to observations, such as have been made by many moderns, of quantities of fluid in and around the trees which the insects infest. In reality the fluid has probably oozed from the holes bored through the bark by the xylem-feeding insects or some of it might be profuse quantities of liquid excrement that a tree-full of sap-imbibing insects can produce.

Perhaps the earliest cultural evidence of the cicada in Ancient Greece comes from the prehistoric, i.e. the pre-literary, period of the second millennium B.C. In the nineteenth century archaeologists working at the Bronze Age site of Mycenae, the storied home-town of Agamemnon who led the Greek forces at Troy, discovered among a rich array of tomb deposits a number of models of wingless insects. If they are correct in identifying them as representations of nymphal cicadas we are left to surmise that the prehistoric aristocracy of Mycenae, knowing something of the cicadine life cycle had seen the images as tokens of immortality or of a return from the world beneath the earth where indeed the cicada nymphs reside for periods of months or years. The archaeological record, being in itself mute, can not confirm this surmise but, as I hope to make clear below, such a belief appears implicit in a dialogue of the philosopher Plato who wrote almost a thousand years later. Plato lived and worked in Athens, a city whose traditions gave pride of place to the cicada whose image was emblazoned on some of the city’s coinage. One of the major Greek historians, Thucydides, who was himself an Athenian of the generation before Plato’s, tells us that in earlier times the people of Athens wore gold ornamental cicadas in their hair and later authorities report that the cicadas were emblematic of Athenian “autochthony,” a concept which asserted that the earliest ancestors of the Athenians were sprung from the local soil thus bequeathing to their posterity an inalienable right to the land. The literary evidence found in Plato and Thucydides, coupled with the Mycenaean archeological evidence, encourages the hypothesis that awareness of the subterranean phase of the cicada’s life cycle and observation of its eventual emergence from the earth contributed, over a long extent of time, to the cultural entomology of the Greeks which included a connection with their beliefs about birth, death and re-birth. The centuries between the date of the pre-historic tombs at Mycenae and the historian Thucydides do furnish us with at least one additional bit of evidence pointing to the cicada as a symbol of immortality. This is the myth of the cicada-man Tithonus who, as a handsome young man, became the lover of the goddess of the Dawn. She, in gratitude for his love, granted him the gift of immortality. As in all such stories this divine gift was not an unqualified blessing as his immortality was accompanied by the inexorable advance of old age. Poor Tithonus kept getting older and older, smaller and smaller, until there was nothing left of him but his shrill voice, or until he turned into a cicada (not a grasshopper as so many English versions have it). Now the earliest extant authority for this story, a hymn in honor of Aphrodite, the goddess of sexual love, dating from before 500 B.C., does not explicitly mention the cicada-metamorphosis as later accounts do, but it is a plausible conjecture that the poet, for whatever motive of poetical economy, simply left that detail implicit, exercising a license frequently used by Greek poets in their treatments of stories which they could assume were already well-known to their audiences. It might also have been implicit in the original story of Tithonus that becoming a cicada was in fact the same thing as becoming immortal, with the added benefit of renewable youth.

The earliest explicit reference to the cicada occurs in one of the first works in all of Western literature – the Iliad of Homer, a long epic narrative of events which are set within the framework of the Trojan war. At one point the elders of the besieged city are described standing and conversing on the great fortification wall. The poet likens the old men to cicadas, perched in their trees and singing with voices that are described by the Greek adjective leirios. Now every dictionary of the ancient Greek language tells us that this adjective means “lily-like.” From one perspective that seems entirely plausible, for the adjective is presumed to have been formed from the noun leirion which means “lily”. (At least it does sometimes, though most Greek botanical nomenclature is rife with redundancies and inconsistencies.) And so virtually every translation of the Iliad and every learned annotation on the passage tells us that the cicadas to whom the old men are compared have “lily-like voices.” But just what is “lily-like” about a cicada’s voice? That question has exercised many a reader of the line and great quantities of paper, ink and scholarly ingenuity have been expended in attempting to answer it, often in terms of synaesthetic imagery whereby a descriptor appropriate to one sensory realm is transferred to another, in this case from the visual to the auditory. As a cultural entomologist I have also expended a certain amount of time and effort in trying to answer the question, or rather in trying to solve the problem on different premises. My general dissatisfaction with all of the explanations of the “lilylikeness” of the cicadas’ voices, coupled with my increasing knowledge of the life and ways of the cicada, led me to ask a different question. What if leirios really means something other than “lily-like?” I rehearsed to myself everything that I had come to know about the cicada and his voice from a variety of sources, including numerous passages of Greek and Latin literature, with a view to postulating how a Greek poet might choose to describe the insect’s voice. I tested and rejected several hypotheses before focusing in on the widespread popular and poetic notion that the cicada subsisted on a diet of dew. With that tradition in mind I recollected that dew, like honey, was supposed by the ancients to lend sweetness and eloquence to the voice of one who imbibed it. Might the voices of the Homeric cicadas, therefore, be, not “lily-like,” but “dewy,” “moist,” “liquid” or “flowing?” The prima facie answer was affirmative but it remained to test the hypothesis by seeing if the proposed meaning could be supported, or at least tolerated, by other contexts of leirios. I examined all such contexts in surviving Greek literature (there being only about a half a dozen of them) and found not only that the meaning “lily-like” was problematic in each case but that in some instances the context virtually invited some such meaning as “moist,” “dewy,” “watery,” and every one of them at least makes good sense if that meaning is applied. As a consequence I concluded that leirion, as a floral term, might have been a back-formation from leirios because of some association of the plant with water or dew. All of these findings I duly published in the appropriate scholarly journal thus making, in collaboration with the dew-drinking cicadas, what I think is a contribution to ancient Greek lexicology.

The next venture in Greek cultural entomology to be described involves one of the colossal figures in the intellectual history of the world, the philosopher Plato (429-347 B.C.). Most of Plato’s writings are in the form of dialogues, philosophical conversations in which two or more interlocutors explore intellectual or moral issues. One such dialogue, the Phaedrus, is named after one of its two participants, a bright young Athenian who is almost addicted to the pursuit of rhetoric, the art of clever speech-making, which was one of the most important educational and professional pursuits of the time. The other participant is Socrates, by this time a person of some seniority who, in real life, had been the mentor of the author Plato. These two are the only flesh and blood human beings engaging in the dialogue, but that dialogue takes place in a rustic setting outside the city of Athens with Socrates and Phaedrus sitting on a cool, grassy river-bank in the shade of a tree which is occupied by a chorus of cicadas who provide a musical background to the conversation of Socrates and Phaedrus. It is the general thrust of my own view of the Platonic cicadas that a little bit of entomological knowledge helps us to see that the cicadas have much more than a supernumerary role in the thought and action of the dialogue.

The Phaedrus is a complex dialogue and notoriously difficult to summarize, so complex in fact that many critical readers have faulted it for its apparent lack of unity and coherence. What is certain is that two of the important matters that occupy the attention of Socrates and Phaedrus are Eros and the relative merits of rhetoric as opposed to dialectic. Now we must be aware that in Platonic terms Eros is not just a biological or emotional appetite but an intellectual yearning, an appetite of the soul seeking knowledge beyond the sensual. Likewise in Plato’s view dialectic is a means to knowledge, and thus in a sense an instrument of Eros. The intricate connection between Eros and dialectic, then, in a Platonic context might almost be taken for granted. It is unlikely to be an accident that in the popular belief of the Greeks and in their poetic conceits the cicada has strong associations with both eloquence and with the erotic and that the cicada should also be so prominent a feature of this dialogue. The reason for the former association obviously has to do with their conspicuously strong and musical voices, while the association with Eros must stem from observation of their copulation (also described for us by Aristotle) and perhaps from deducing that their singing had a sexual function. This sort of eloquence and eros is of course strictly on the sensate, physical level, but the cicadas of the Phaedrus are not, I think, mere flesh and blood entities, a point on which I shall now spend a few sentences elaborating.

At a pivotal juncture in the dialogue, when Phaedrus and Socrates have settled down on the riverbank in the shade of the plane tree with the cicadas chattering overhead, Socrates admonishes Phaedrus that they must not do anything so doltish as to fall asleep in this pleasant spot, that they must rather engage in dialectic so that the cicadas who are observing them as agents of the Muses will carry back a good report of them to the Muses. Phaedrus owns to ignorance of what Socrates is talking about, and so Socrates informs him of a traditional belief about the cicadas to the effect that once long ago, before the birth of the Muses, the cicadas had been human beings. Once music was introduced to human experience, though, these men became so enthralled with the works of the Muses that they devoted themselves entirely to music and forgot to eat or drink with the result that their bodies wasted away. The Muses, to reward them for their devotion, transformed them into cicadas and charged them with reporting on how other humans honored the Muses. Many learned readers of the Phaedrus have seen this as nothing but a charming little story, appropriate to the setting perhaps, but basically serving as an interlude or intermezzo between more seriously philosophical parts of the dialogue. But to say that the cicadas are men whose bodies have permanently faded away under the influence of the Muses is tantamount to saying that they are disembodied souls who have achieved a higher level of knowledge than the needs of their physical bodies would normally allow for. Early commentators on Plato, in late antiquity and in the Renaissance, actually remark that the cicadas are meant to represent souls, but modem philosophical readers of the dialogue by and large find that unworthy of notice. The fact is, I believe, that the notion of the cicada-men as souls which have been freed from the constraints of the physical body is a conceit that is implicitly reinforced elsewhere in the dialogue, but it requires some knowledge of cicadine metamorphosis to appreciate this.

As a preliminary to showing its relevance to our Platonic dialogue I offer the following brief description of cicadine metamorphosis which I have put together as a sort of cento from the accounts of several modern observers. Although Aristotle’s description of the emergence and final moulting of the cicada is rather brief, it conforms quite closely to those of modern observers. This is enough to tell us at the very least, that some Greeks of Plato’s time could, as Aristotle or his informants did, observe the relevant phenomena as here described.

Within the span of a few minutes and the space of a few square yards hundreds or thousands of the insects, still wingless, dark-colored and muddy, have been observed emerging from the ground and crawling away to find objects such as tree trunks or branches to which they anchor themselves by the feet. The final molting or ecdysis then ensues. The insect executes a series of abdominal contractions accompanied by twitchings and palpitations and by the secretion of a molting fluid that flows under the hard exo-skeleton. As one entomologist puts it, the whole body becomes temporarily a large secreting gland. In a few minutes the exo-skeleton or cuticle splits at the center and top of the thorax and part of the moist white body bulges through the opening in the dark cuticle. Gradually the insect forces the rest of its body out and leaves the cuticle behind, dry and lifeless but still anchored to its place on the tree. The objects that are eventually to be the insect’s wings are already discernible beneath the cuticle before the molting process begins where they appear as two small pads on the back at the top of the thorax. As the molting continues these pulpy little masses gradually unfold, once freed from the constraining integument, and become engorged with fluid. The deployment of the wings is not complete until some time after the insect has become completely detached from the cuticle. At this time it is still almost completely pallid in coloring with its most conspicuous and anomalous feature being its dark and protruding eyes. The wings take on their final form amid further palpitations and twitching. Some observers have seen drops of fluid remaining on the tips of the wings after full deployment. At this point, when the insect is ready for the short span of its adult life which it devotes to eros and eloquence, the wings, when at rest, cover virtually the entire body from the head back.

As souls, and souls with wings at that, the Platonic cicadas have much in common with certain winged souls described in the Phaedrus, though not in the passage about the cicada-men. It must, in any case, be difficult for anyone with a knowledge of the emergence, ecdysis, and wing deployment of cicadas to read a dialogue with repeated and prominent explicit references to cicadas and not to see allusions to the same insects in other parts of the dialogue as well. What I see as some of Plato’s references to the life-cycle of the cicada-soul are presented in a diffuse, lyrical and almost mystical manner in a long speech of Eros and the soul of the lover-philosopher-dialectician. Socrates has just finished delivering this speech before the “interlude” on the cicada-men.

At one point, in particular, the wings of the soul are described when a newly initiated individual gazes on the countenance of a beautiful person. He begins to palpitate and perspire and an effluence of moisture from the beloved enters through his eyes, flows over him, moistens the buds of his wings, softens the hard parts that confined the wings and prevented them from growing before, so that now the stalks of the wings grow from their roots until they cover the whole form of the soul. In the process, which is likened to the cutting of teeth, the entire soul, Socrates repeats, undergoes throbbing and palpitations until the softening moisture that flows from the beloved one provides relief and allows the wings to grow. Much the same imagery is repeated a little later when the fluid emanating from the beloved flows in profusion onto the lover and into him, overflows out of him and back through the eyes of the beloved, revitalizes the veins of his wings and, even as it causes the wings of the soul to grow, fills it with love. The imagery of the winged souls of lovers recurs once again, with variation, when Socrates says that those lovers in whom the tendency toward the well-ordered life and philosophy has prevailed will be fully winged at the time of death, whereas those friends who have had a less exemplary and respectable existence will have souls that are still wingless when they leave the body even though their souls are on the way to becoming winged and, once having begun the upward journey, shall never again have to pass into the darkness under the earth. It is precisely from the darkness under the earth that the cicada, a model of the human soul as I am arguing, emerges on its way to becoming winged.

Those are what I consider the more striking examples of entomological imagery in the speech inspired by the cicadas, but there are additional places where such imagery is discernible. In his discussion of the immortality of the soul, for instance, Socrates says that when the soul has lost its wings it is carried along until it settles on something solid whereupon it assumes a terrestrial body which has the appearance of moving by its own power even though it is really the soul within the body that causes it to move. This leaves us to infer, with the aid of Socrates’ own words later on, that the soul, having served a long period in the places of correction beneath the earth will re-emerge (just as the wingless cicada does), free itself from its mortal and inert body (just as the cicada emerges from its integument), and grow its wings again. Then too, Socrates visionary description of the gods making their way, along with the soul of the philosopher, beyond the vault of heaven to contemplate the supracelestial realities, would also elicit reflections of the cicada emerging from beneath the surface of the earth onto another plane of experience on which it is transformed from a wingless to a winged state.

For the reader of the Phaedrus who has become familiar with the details of the cicadas’ emergence, ecdysis and wing deployment it is very difficult to suppose that Plato’s richly figurative description of the lover’s soul is not founded on observation of the cicada’s emergence from the subterranean world to a new and brighter existence as a winged creature on a different plane of reality. This is particularly so given the conspicuous presence of the insects in the setting of the dialogue and Socrates’ little story about the cicadas being men who have lost their bodies as a consequence of the eagerness for knowledge and then undergone a metamorphosis into a higher form of being. We can suppose that at least some of Plato’s readers in antiquity or at later periods where sufficiently knowledgeable to recognize the link between the cicadas devoted to the Muses and the souls of Plato’s philosophical lovers. If so, none of them has left anything in writing that would alert the reader who is unacquainted with the entomological facts. As far as I know that link is broached for the first time in print here in the pages of CED although I do hope to present the same arguments in a different and fuller format later for the consumption of specialists in Greek philosophical literature.

The next exploration in Greek cultural entomology will require, I am afraid, some preliminary information on the literary background. There are two poetic genres in which the cicada is presented with particular frequency by the ancient Greeks. One of these is pastoral poetry, a genre in which intellectual and artistic issues of some considerable sophistication were presented artificially in poetic contexts that featured idyllic rural landscapes populated by herdsman, milkmaids and their charges – goats, sheep and cattle. Such idealized rustic settings inevitably involve cicadas and their singing as features of the countryside in summertime and also, as in Plato’s Phaedrus, as symbols of the erotic or the amatory. The second poetic form is the epigram, a miniature poem, sometimes as short as two lines and rarely longer than twelve. The brevity of the form imposed considerable discipline and demands on the poet so that the results are often exquisitely crafted creations, finely detailed with poetic conceits and devices which sometimes include special auditory effects. The epigram might be regarded as the literary counterpart of the cameo or other engraved gems, another miniature art from which was used as widely and for as long a time as the epigram was in antiquity. Not accidentally, cicadas and other musical insects often provided themes for lapidary artists as well as epigrammatists. It was frequently part of the epigrammatists’ art and discipline to re-work themes that other epigrammatists had exploited and to improve, innovate or offer creative variations on the work of predecessors. We still possess many thousands of Greek epigrams written over a period of almost a millennium and a half and dealing with a great variety of themes and subjects including political, religious, artistic, amatory, satirical and funereal. Some of the poems have been preserved as inscriptions on stone (the original physical medium for epigrams), but the greatest number have survived in a vast collection known as the Greek Anthology which is the end product of the work of a succession of anthologizing editors some of whom contributed poems of their own to the collection. One of the poet-anthologists was a Greek-speaking native of ancient Syria by the name of Meleager. Sometime shortly after 100 B.C. Meleager compiled what he called his Garland, a collection of epigrams by dozens of his predecessors and contemporaries. In this metaphorical bouquet he plaited together hundreds of thematically arranged poems including several new creations of his own. Although Meleager’s anthology did not reach the modern world in its original form, parts of it have survived as components of the Greek Anthology that we now have, a work that dates from more than a thousand years later than the death of Meleager.

The cicada, as I have said, frequents our vast collection of Greek epigrams, and just as the poems are of varied theme and content, so is the cicada’s role, for the insect is sometimes part of a pastoral melange, sometimes a token of poetic or musical virtuosity, sometimes an amatory symbol and sometimes perhaps a symbol of resurrection, rebirth or immortality. Of special concern here, though is the fact that among the hundreds of sepulchral or funerary epigrams in the Greek Anthology there are several dozen for dead animals – dogs, hares, birds, horses, snakes and even cicadas and crickets. There are many puzzling questions about these poems. No doubt some people really did compose, or commission, poems for dead poets, but some of the animal epitaphs also show the characteristic marks of the epigrammatists’ poetic game of “capping” the efforts of their predecessors by a superior variation on the theme. Some of the deceased individuals addressed or commemorated in the animal epitaphs are, I believe, probably figurative representations of deceased humans; possibly poets or musicians for whom melodious birds or insects are appropriate figures. In any case we are now approaching the point of this whole disquisition. The following two poems by Meleager appear together, one after the other, in the Greek Anthology in the midst of a sequence of animal epitaphs having to do, for the most part, with cicadas and crickets who have departed this world only to be poetically immortalized by various of Meleager’s predecessors. My own investigations, partly based on the data of cultural entomology, of Meleager’s poems, have led to what I consider a new and improved, certainly a different, reading of the two poems which is reflected (imperfectly) in the following translation of mine:

The Cicada to the Cricket

O cricket, you who soothe my passion and provide the consolation of sleep;
O cricket, shrill-winged rustic Muse;
You natural imitator of the lyre, sing for me some poignant song
As you tap with your charming feet and strum your loquacious wings,
So as to relieve me from toilsome worry that completely deprives me of sleep
As, o cricket, you spin out a song that dispatches Eros.
Then I shall give you as gifts, first thing in the morning, an evergreen leek
Along with dewy droplets that I separate with my mouth.

The Cricket to the Cicada

O resonant cicada, drunk on dewy droplets.
You sing your rustic song that sounds in lonely places.
Perched with your saw-like limbs, high up among the leaves
You shrill forth the lyre’s tune with your sun-darkened body.
But, dear friend, sound forth something new for the woodland nymphs,
A divertissement, chirping a tune for Pan as the song which you sing in your turn,
So that I, escaping from Eros, can catch some noon-time sleep
While reclining there under the shady plane tree.

I have argued that Meleager, in capping the efforts of his predecessors with which he surrounds his own poems in the Garland, mines those poems for vocabulary which he redeploys in the cicada and cricket poems. This, unfortunately, does not come through in a translation even though it is apparent when the whole sequence of epigrams is read in Greek. Another feature that I must despair of rendering in translation is the peculiar phonetic qualities which mark the end of the first poem and the beginning of the second poem. Here the poet, while writing intelligible and metrically correct Greek, achieves sound effects approximated by the following phonetic:

kai droseras stomasee skhitzomenos psakades
akhayeis tettiks droserais stagonessi methystheis

The marked sibilance of these lines, exaggerated and very unusual for Greek poetry, is unlikely to be accidental and it has led me to suppose that the poet is deliberately imitating the insects’ sounds at the point where the two poems conjoin one another. This in turn led to the further supposition that the sounds were meant to be uttered by the insects themselves (in contrast to other readings which assume that the speaker is in each case a human being, perhaps speaking to a pet insect). In effect this all means that the two poems are parts of a single poetic entity, a sort of antiphonal exchange between two singing insects. In the first poem the diurnal singer and lover, as he is about to take some respite from his activities, asks the nocturnal singer to take over where he is leaving off. In the second poem the roles are reversed.

Other scholars who have examined these poems have remarked that, unlike all of the other epigrams in this part of the Anthology, these two are not really sepulchral. My answer to this is that Meleager’s poems owe their presence here to the fact that they are the capping poet’s response to the sepulchral poems of others. In his virtuoso reworking of their several efforts he not only imitates them verbally as he imitates the insects phonetically, but he also brings in many of the rustic and amatory motifs that these insects have in pastoral poetry. In a way, then, the poetic exchange between Meleager’s insects, combining elements from the epigrammatic animal epitaph and pastoral poetry, amounts to a sort of epitome of most earlier poetry on the cicada or the cricket.

To this point I have described ventures in cultural entomology that span Greek literature from its beginnings with Homer (8th century B.C. probably) down to Meleager in the last century before the advent of Christianity. The final venture in Greek cultural entomology which I shall summarize involves two works from the early centuries of Christianity. It will be apparent here, as in so many other areas of thought and culture, that early Christianity was not only a rival to traditional Hellenic paganism, but also a borrower from it. I begin here with a translation of a short poem which has been translated many times before, often by modern poets of some eminence such as Goethe, Cowper and Thomas Moore.

We know that you are royally blest
Cicada when, among the tree-tops,
You sip some dew and sing your song;
For every single thing is yours
That you survey among the fields
And all the things the woods produce.
The farmers’ constant company,
You damage nothing that is theirs;
Esteemed you are by every human
As the summer’s sweet-voiced prophet.
Muses love you, and Apollo too,
Who’s gifted you with high pitched song.
Old age does nothing that can wear you,
Earth’s sage and song-enamored son;
You suffer not, being flesh-and-blood-less–
A god-like creature, virtually.

This poem has become a sort of locus classicus for the attributes of the cicada in the literary imagination of ancient Greece since in its brief compass it presents or alludes to so many of the attributes that we find individually in other contexts. It belongs to a collection of poems known as the Anacreontea, that is poems after the manner of, or in the tradition of Anacreon, a much earlier Greek poet who was particularly given to the poetic celebrations of drinking and amorous activity. The several dozen poems of the Anacreontea are the work of an indeterminate number of anonymous poets representing a time period that extends into the early centuries of Christianity. This particular cicada poem has been dated on linguistic and metrical grounds as late as the fifth century. This would place the poem into chronological proximity with another work which, as I shall argue (briefly here, in greater detail in a future publication elsewhere), has a good deal in common with it.

I refer to an early Christian sermon written for Eastertide by a man named Asterios who wrote and preached in Syria in the fifth century. To date his Greek sermons remain untranslated into any modern language. The one sermon with which we are concerned deals with the subject of the newly baptized Christian, a timely topic for the particular juncture on the liturgical calendar. It is no exaggeration to say that the sermon is built around a framework which is an elaborate and multi-faceted comparison of the newly-baptized Christian to the cicada. The sermon is, ostensibly, based upon the Eighth Psalm, but it has very little to do with the content of the Psalm itself. It does, however, refer several times to a “vintage song.” The only clear connection between the Psalm and a vintage song occurs in a note that precedes the Psalm and is taken to be direction to the choirmaster regarding the musical performance of the Psalm. That is to say that the note advises that the Psalm is to be sung to the tune of a “vintage song” or a song “concerning the wine-presses.” In any case our homilist Asterios does contrive to intersperse references to the vintage song among other parts of his sermon. Does this, though, have anything to do with the newly-baptized Christians and/or the cicadas? I think that it probably does.

In the course of the sermon Asterios manages to compare the chanting cicadas to the men who tramp the vintage and collect the grapes (we presume to the accompaniment of their own singing). But the cicadas are also the newly baptized Christians who, eloquent and white-winged, are soaked with the dew of baptismal water and feed on the Word of heaven even as the cicadas feed on dew. Like the cicadas of the Anacreontic poem, those of Asterios’ sermon “do no harm” to heaven which sends the nourishing dew whereas the newly-baptized do no harm to those who teach them about the nourishing Word of heaven. Just as the cicadas sing when the sun has risen, the newly-baptized exult in the dew of the Spirit and bask in the sun that is Christ (who would correspond to the Anacreontic Apollo). As Christians the newly baptized are figuratively crucified, and this enables Asterios to compare them to the cicadas in their trees. Not only the Christians but Christ himself who is likened to the cicada because “having been born from the earth like a cicada [he has] taught us to be brought to birth like the cicadas.” The notion of the cicada’s being born from the earth leads Asterios to contrive another analogy between the insect and Christ “for just as the cicada is a son born without insemination and knows the earth as his mother while he knows no father, so Christ knows a virgin as his mother and no inseminating father.” Asterios’ cicada, like that of the Anacreontic poem, is thus virtually god-like.

My tentative conclusion from all of this is that Asterios, far from taking the Psalm as the principal text from which to preach, was using a well-known “vintage song” as his text. This song was very much like, if not identical with, the Anacreontic cicada poem. Besides telling us something about Asterios and his homiletic technique this raises the possibility that the cicada poem belonged to a category of song traditionally sung by happy grape harvesters or winemakers. This would be perfectly consistent with the Anacreontic stamp of the poem since, as I have noted, the celebration of drinking was characteristic of such poetry. This conclusion, too, I hope to justify with more detailed arguments in a future publication.

While I have other projects in cultural entomology (some completed, some in progress) which I have not reported on here, my primary professional function remains as a teacher and interpreter of the culture of ancient Greece and Rome. I hope that the preceding summaries of some of my work has served to demonstrate that entomological information can have a valuable ancillary role for the student of our cultural past.

Insects in Chinese Pictographs

by Prof. Ju, Huang
Shijiazhaug Pomological Research Institute
Hobei Province, People’s Republic of China

Within the Yunnan Province of China exists the autonomous country of NaXi. This nation possesses the only existing pictograph of the creation of the world according to Dong Ba Scriptures. The Dong Ba culture relies on an oral transmission of beliefs and is regarded as one of the few living fossils of ancient culture left in the modern world. Dong Ba culture has uncertain origins although it probably formed before the Sui Dynasty in 600 A.D.

Dong Ba Scriptures are actually a kind of religious charactery written down manually by the Dong Ba wizard. The wizard was an individual highly respected in the NaXi nationality whose role was a binding, non-transferable obligation.

The Dong Ba’s role was to convey the deity’s decree upon man of which much dealt with the genesis of the world and religious philosophy. Insects such as a butterfly, ant, bee, fly and silkworm cocoon are found within the Scriptures (Figure A-D ). Sometimes they are used to elucidate a metaphor or illustrate a religious standpoint. Other times they are used as portents of calamity or good omen. There are also legends about their origins.

The following legend suggests the origins of the shape of ants: Chaozheng Lien, the founder of the NaXi nation, survived the great cataclysm and fell in love with Chenhong Baobai, the princess of the deity. Lien asked the deity for his daughter’s hand in marriage. The deity didn’t like the idea and asked Chaozheng Lien to solve numerous difficult problems he felt were difficult enough to deter his effort. But, with the help of the princess, Lien overcame all of the problems and married Baobai. One of the challenges had been to consecrate nine types of cereal seed. With the help of a white butterfly and a black ant, Lien managed to gather them although when he counted them he found that three and a half of the seeds were missing. It turned out that a turtledove had eaten three and the ant had eaten the other half. Lien shot down the turtledove to retrieved the three seeds. He then found the ant under a stone and tied a horse-hair around it so he could follow the ant to the half seed. Lien did not remove the hair and to this day, ants can been seen with a knot in their waist (Figure E-F).

The ancient and mysterious ways of the Dong Ba nation is famous for its peculiar beliefs and legends of cultural customs. Unfortunately fewer and fewer individuals are able to translate Dong Ba pictographs which inevitably contain many more gems of mystical interpretations of the world.

Chinese Cricket Culture

Jin, Xing-Bao, (bibliography)
Shanghai Institute of Entomology, Academia Sinica
225 Chongqing Road (S.), Shanghai, China 200025
Tel. 8621-3282039 Fax 8621-3284924

The elderly, brain-washed Emperor walked into the Forbidden City (now the palace Museum in Beijing), took out a dust-covered cricket pot from under his chair and passed it to a boy who watched him with intense curiosity. People who have seen the film will remember this as one of the closing scenes to “The Last Emperor.” The scene vividly paints the picture of Chinese Cricket Culture. The tradition of favoring singing insects and fighting crickets has ancient roots and has been handed down throughout the generations to the present day. This persistent tradition has deep cultural roots and I have often found myself unexpectedly immersed in ancient Chinese literature during my cultural entomology exploration and I am happy to be able to share my findings with you.

Jin, Xing-Bao’s article is divided into the following sections:

  1. Stinging Insects
  2. An Elegant Hobby
  3. Paraphernalia including:Pots , Cages , Cases ,Tubes , and Gourds
  4. Cricket Fighting
  5. List of common signing and fighting crickets in China
  6. Acknowledgments

Illustration from Er-Ya
(ca. 500-200 B.C.),
copied from Meng, 1993

Cicada and Cricket Glyphs
Cicada (top three and
crickets (bottom two)
glyphs from Zhow, 1980

Listen to the Cricket
by Bei Ju-Yi, Tang dynasty
Listen to the Cricket

The Singing cricket chirps throughout the long night, tolling in the cloudy autumn with its rain. Intent on disturbing the gloomy sleepless soul, the cricket moves towards the bed chirp by chirp.

by Yi ? Ming dynasty
What’s the matter with the crickets? Their sad melodies fill the night. So few they are, yet so loud their song. It cuts through the breeze and coagulates in the drizzle. No sleep in sight for the anxious lady within her home.

Poem of Luo Wei
by Zhang Shi, Ming dynasty (Luo Wei is also called “Fang Zhi Niang,” meaning weaving lady.)
Poem of Luo Wei
From Dawn to dusk the weaving lady sings without break. Never yielding a single thread there is nothing to its name. The spider, in silence spins and weaves without break. The woven net catches the fly and provides food. The fruits of effort rather than sound cause me to heave a sigh.

Cricket Club
Shanghai Cricket Club in 1885 copied from Ho et al, 1989

Cricket Play
Children playing crickets from “Pictures of 100 Children”, from Ho et al, 1989.

Cricket Culture in China encompasses a 2000 year history of both singing insects and fighting crickets. Two millennium of tradition may be divided into three eras (Laufer, 1927). From times prior to the Tang dynasty (500 B.C. – 618 A.D.), people only appreciated the cricket’s powerful tunes. During the Tang dynasty (618 – 906 A.D.), people started to keep crickets in cages and enjoy their songs while in captivity. Under the Song dynasty (960 – 1278 A.D.), cricket fighting flourished as a popular sport. It is beyond the scope of this paper to produce a complete historic or chronological overview but I would like to expose some of the interesting snippets I have unearthed from the rich garden of cultural entomology in China along with a list of the involved orthopteran species.

Singing Insects: Phenology and Emotions

Throughout history, humans have enjoyed their abilities to perceive the natural world through the senses of sight, sound, touch and smell. As agrarian societies developed, these perceptions started to expose the dynamic interrelationships between plants, animals, and climate. Referred to as phenology, these relationships were understood and utilized in the management of ancient Chinese agricultural practices. Insects played a crucial role in these understandings as they were often the best indicators of climactic change. One such understanding is called “Jing-Zhe,” meaning “waking of the insects.” At this time, the farmers knew it was time to start Spring ploughing. (The traditional Chinese calendar is divided into 24 solar terms, the third of which has been named “Jing-Zhe.”)

Among the thousands of visible insects, the songs from singing insects make them the most obvious and noticeable. The primitive Chinese words of Summer ,”Xia” in “Jia-Gu-Wen” take on the form of a cicada. Autumn “Qiu” words are in the shape of crickets. These glyphs, pictured left, are illustrated from inscriptions on bones or tortoise shells. The book “Er-Ya” (500-200 B.C.) clearly depicts a pair of crickets, shown top left. This book represents the first biological and taxonomic work in China that divided organisms into seven groups: Grass, wood, insects, fish, birds, wild animals, and livestock.

A study of the diverse field of ancient Chinese literature reveals a great number of farmer’s proverbs or popular songs relating to insects. The earliest collection of popular Chinese poems and songs are found in the book of “Shi Jing” (1100-600 B.C.). One poem says the following: “In May, the “Shi Zhong” (a kind of katydid) moves its legs; In June, the “Sha Ji” (another kind of katydid) moves its wings; In July, the katydid is in the field; In August, the katydid is in the yard; In September it is at the door; In October, the crickets enter and crawl under our beds.” Another clear example of people listening to singing insects is found in ancient literature. When the cricket, “Cu Zhi” (meaning encourage weaving) is found singing indoors it is October and the ladies expedite their weaving efforts to ensure sufficient cloth for the coming Winter.

The Chinese appreciation of singing insects extends beyond the appeal of their beautiful tunes to include their powerful vitality and interesting life-cycles. The fact that both katydids and crickets are able to lay hundreds of eggs was in line with Chinese beliefs that the most important ingredient to success in life was to have as many children as possible. The katydid was thus elevated with the symbolism of thriving prosperity; People blessed their friends to have as many children as the katydids.(Meng, 1993). Another belief stemming from the belief of katydid vitality can be found in an Encyclopedia of Chinese Medicine called “Ben Cao Gang Mo” by Li Shi-Zheng 1578, where the katydid was used as a kind of aphrodisiac.

In the field, most singing insects sing in the autumn and die with Winter. As a symbol of autumn, they are become associated with loneliness, sadness, pity for the fate of mankind and are thus used prolifically in Chinese poems. Although the translations is problematic, the left column contains a few of these poems to illustrate the deep rooted symbolism these singing insects hold within Chinese culture.return

An Elegant Hobby

Although katydids were kept for symbols of luck and auspicious virtue from the Chun Qui period (770-476 B.C.) (Meng, 1993), it was not until the beginning of the Tang dynasty that they were kept purely for the enjoyment of their song. We find a record of this kind of captivity in the book of “Kai Yuan Tian Boa Yi Shi” (Affairs of the Period of Tian Bao, 742-759 A.D.):

“Whenever the autumn arrives, the ladies of the palace catch crickets and keep them in small golden cages, which were placed near their pillows so as to hear their songs during the night. This custom was also mirrored by common people.”

Most of the ladies of the palace were concubines to the Emperor. With emperors typically having three thousand concubines, their life was typified by a rich material life but starved emotional and cultural experience. A similarity can be drawn between the concubines and their captive crickets in their golden cages. Rather than enjoying the sweet chirps of the crickets, the concubines heard a reflection of their own sadness and loneliness in the cricket’s chirp. This noble hobby influenced future emperors and ministers.

Another opinion suggests that the hobby of keeping insects may have started among the folk and was introduced into the palace at a later date. Many people including famous poets, painters, musicians and Buddhist monks were enthusiastic about keeping singing pets. Although it is difficult to determine which is historically correct, with so many high officers and noble lords being among the fans of singing insects, there is no doubt that the keeping of singing insects was regarded as an elegant hobby. Literature reveals that every summer there are people to sell katydids, crickets and cicadas in Chang An (the capital) during the Tang dynasty. The availability of these insects persists to this day. Photographs (left clolumn) depict a thriving market for singing insects taken recently from the insect market in Shanghai. From the end of May through the end of July, peddlers, found in food markets and along streets, sell hundreds of “Jiao Ge-Ge” (singing brothers) and “Jie-Er” (singing sisters), each of which is woven into bamboo cages (Pemberton, 1990). Three species of katydids are being sold in the market, although there are many other singing insects to be found in the special flower, bird, fish, and insect markets held year round. See a species list including scientific and the common Chinese names, at the end of this article.

An old local chronicle, “Shun Tian Fu Zhi,” recorded that katydids were treated with a mixture of brass powder and rosin. This mixture was applied to the stridulatory mirror of the front fore wing with a needle. The application was supposed to refine and heighten the volume of the insect’s “voice.” This practice is much harder to find in contemporary times.

With the growth of adoration towards singing insects, people became more aware of their short life-spans ending with the onset of winter. According to Liu Tong’s “Cu Zhi Zhi” (c.a. 1700 A.D.), towards the end of the Ming dynasty, people started to rear crickets:

“…placing soil in a pot, let the insect lay its eggs inside. In the winter, put the pot on a Kang (a heated brick bed,) water it every day and cover it with a cloth. At the beginning of the summer, the soil will start to stir, and one week later, the nymphs will emerge as white maggots. In addition to watering and covering, feed these nymphs with vegetables. After the legs and wings become mature, their color will darken. One month later, the crickets will start to sing their song, although it is softer that in the autumn and they will die with the coming of the spring.”

During the Qing dynasty, the palace had professionals to take care of the singing insects in order to present these musicians whenever the Emperor or other high officers had some special occasions. (Meng, 1993). A very special Chinese art of handicrafting containers of varying characteristics was born with the requirements of keeping the singing insect pets in captivity. Of special interest to Western societies, good collections of various kinds of cricket cages and other utensils, especially those made from gourds and portieres, can be found in the Field Museum of Natural History and the Buffalo Museum of Science. Detailed information on these collections can be found within the articles of Laufer (1927), Solomon (1984) and Ho et al (1989).

Shanghai Market, China
Shanghai market, China

Shanghai Market, China
Shanghai Market, China

Shanghai Market, China

Gourd Containers
Gourd Containers

Gourd Containers
Gourd Containers

Cricket Pots
Cricket Pots

Cricket Fighting Equipment
Cricket Fighting Equipment

Insect paraphernalia manifests numerous verities for specific insects, seasons, and functions. Materials used range from gold, jade, ivory, buffalo horn, animal bone and brass, to sandalwood, coconut shell, gourd, bamboo, reed, clay, pottery, porcelain and plastics. According to their shape and pattern, these cages may be divided into the following five groups: pots, cages, cases, tubes, and gourds.


Pot containers are made from clay similar to the process used for creating bricks and tiles. Famous ones are made from a specially treated clay called “Chen Ni.” This clay is put in a silk bag and soaked in water for several years. Pots made with this refined clay have a smooth look resembling jade. Newly made pots need to be placed into a well or soaked in tea water for several days to remove the kiln smell. Large pots are about 12cm in diameter and have a flat cover. They are typically used for fighting cricket rearing containers or fighting arenas. Some of the smaller pots are used for singing insects and are made with hollow covers for better sound transmission. These pots are often embellished with low relief carvings of dragons, phoenix, bats and lotus, all of which carry auspicious symbolism.


Case construction also varies greatly with the intended captive and material used. The simplest design is made to size from cardboard with a glass top and a small feeder inside; this case is usually sold with the insect. Small cages are made for small crickets such as “Huang Ling” (Golden bell, Anaxipha pallidula) and “Mo Ling” (Inky bell, Homeoxipha lycoides). Larger cages are made for the larger katydids and cricket such as “Hua Jing” (Painted bell, Gryllus bimaculatus). Cages may be made from bamboo with a sliding glass top and sliding bamboo bottom. One side will have a breathing window covered with gauze and the other side will have a feeder. These cases can be easily cleaned by removing the top and bottom. Cases made from brass are usually curve shaped and conducive for keeping in the pocket during winter. The more elaborate cases are made from sandalwood inlayed with ivory and mother-of-pearl, or made entirely from buffalo horn or ivory, seem to be of more interest as collectibles rather than the insect cases they were designed for. Contemporary cases are less expensive and are utilize plastics or Plexiglas in similar fashion to the older designs.


Tubes are specifically constructed for keeping small singing crickets in a pocket. Common designs utilize bamboo and reed with a breathing cover and feeder at the bottom. The older precious examples were made from ivory or sandalwood with beautifully carved ivory tops.


The most popular of all materials used to construct singing insect containers has to be the gourd. Although this material may not be as exotic as gold or ivory, the natural look and feel of the resulting containers align well with the reasons why the Chinese keep singing insects. The gourd is an auspicious material and was linked to the Taoist search for paradise. Many other stories and legends surrounding the gourd can be found in Solomon, 1984, Wang 1993, and Meng, 1993. The material is excellent for keeping live crickets because of its moisture and resilience to the cold. Special care is given to the gourd plants as the grow and the fruit forms after the flowers fall. Maturing gourds have to be turned regularly to receive even sunlight. A popular painting technique associated with gourds is called “Huo Hui” (fire painting). This technique involves a painting scorch lines on the gourd surface with the use of a metal needle heated with a burning incense stick. The lid for these gourd containers are fashioned from a wide variety of materials including sandalwood, jade, ivory, mother-of-pearl, turtle shell, and coconut shell that are carved with lattice designs to create breathing holes. These designs are so popular that gourd-shaped jars are made from wood, clay, brass, and paper.

Cricket Fighting: Good, Bad and Ugly

From the beginning of the Song dynasty (960 – 1278 A.D.), there are many historic references to the use of crickets within recreational fighting events. Good evidence for the age of this sport comes from three pieces of cricket transfers (special containers for moving fighting crickets between containers) were unearthed from the tomb of South Song in Zhen Jiang, Jiangsu province in 1964. (Meng, 1993)

With the same popularity that football enjoys today, cricket fighting became a popular game and sport for all people, from adults to children. China produced a famous Cricket Minister, Jia Shi-Dao (1213 – 1275), who was accused of dereliction of his duty due to his obsession with an all-absorbing passion for cricket fighting cult. China also yielded the Cricket Emperor, Ming Xuan-Zhong (ca. 1427-1464). Once the emperor favored cricket fighting, crickets became the primary tribute for the palace. Each year, thousands of carefully selected crickets were sent to capital where many people’s financial fate were placed in the mandibles of these insects. It is written in “Ming Chao Xiao Shi” (The minor history of the Ming dynasty): When he saw a good cricket, an officer of the local rice-granaries exchanged it for his best horse. While he was away, his wife opened the pot to peek at the special cricket which promptly jumped out and was instantly eaten by a cockerel outside. The lady was so scared that she committed suicide. Her husband, upon returning and seeing his dead wife along with the missing cricket, also took his life. This sad historic record apparently is the source material for the famous story of “Cu-Zhi” (Cricket) within the book of “Liao Zhai” (Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio) by Song Ling in Qing dynasty (1679) (cf. Laufer, 1927). There are numerous tragedies and comedies associated with cricket fighting.

Since the emperor’s actions had direct bearing on people’s lives, the emperor’s interest was largely responsible for stimulating this sport into the status of a nation wide game. The game became fashionable for the upper-class, for which cricket fighting became an activity to show off ones richness and demeanor. They were often content to watch while they hired experienced people to run all aspects of the sport. The lower classes placed emphasis on gambling. Most of them were experienced in the specifics of collecting, rearing, caring for, and fighting the crickets. A few of them got rich but many others destroyed the future for their families. Because of the frequent resulting social problems created through the misfortune of gambling on cricket fights, the sport quickly gained associations as an activity for people who had nothing better to do with their time. After the Qing dynasty the reputation grew to the point where the government officially prohibited cricket fighting; However, during certain periods of the Qing dynasty, cricket fighting was relegated to a national sport each autumn and was organized by the ministry of textiles. (Remember the name “Cu Zhi”, meant encouraging to weave Meng, 1992).

Despite a persistently ugly reputation, cricket fighting has survived to this day even throughout the Cultural Revolution when the sport went underground. My first exposure to cricket fighting was through a video I purchased at the Shanghai market. I was shocked and at the same time marveled at the effort performed by these little crickets. I now understand why this game has endured time and adverse public opinion after witnessing the true warrior-like, brave, valiant, and indomitable spirit displayed by these crickets. Many well written essays and poems account these vivid cricket battles and the exhilaration displayed by the witnessing audience.

Cricket fighting is taken very seriously and knowledge about crickets was in high demand. The book of crickets, “Cu Zhi Jin”, was contributed by the notorious Cricket Minister, Jia Shi-Dao. This book gathered related philosophy, literature, and science into one volume that probably represents one of a very small number of books to treat any organism in such broad interest. The cricket has truly earned the attention it receives from Chinese people due to their sounds, intelligence, and competitiveness. The book makes morphological distinction between Velarificotrous micado and V. asperus as the real fighting crickets although naming them incorrectly. Criteria for good fighting crickets detailed ecological localities and specific characteristics of the body, head, pronotum, wings, legs, and color pattern, although some of these seem unreasonable. The book went on to diagnose various cricket diseases, cures, ways to use females, food, medicine, tickling brushes and addressed many other subjects in great detail. By default, this book became the classic cricket bible for cricket fans. Throughout the years, many other similar books have been published although most are similar to Jia’s original work. The latest work is “Xi Shuai Mi Pu,” written in 1992 by Meng, Zho-Liang, a specialist in ancient Chinese literature. His work cites several valuable and important sources and provides helpful notes to many confusing issues. In addition, a recently published book, “Xi Shuai Pu Ji Cheng” by Wang Shi-Xiang (1993) represents a collection of cricket literature and is apparently the best of its kind.

Cricket fighting is wide spread although mainly found in the large cities of Shanghai, Beijing, Tianjin, Guangzhou, and Hong Kong. There are cricket fighting clubs and societies that cater to members interest at all levels of intensity. With the migration of Chinese to other parts of the world, cricket fighting can be found in New York and Philadelphia, although the species used differ. Cricket fighting in Philadelphia apparently uses Gryllus pennsylvanicus.

In closing, I would like to present a list of common singing and fighting insects found and appreciated in Chinese markets as my contribution to this truly unique cricket culture within China. Hsu Yin-Chi (1929) was the first Chinese entomologist involved in identifying although he included no katydids. The following list is drawn from a book (in press) on “Singing Insects from the markets of China” with color photographs of all species.

A list of common singing and fighting crickets in China.


This work has been financed by a research grant from the National Science Foundation of China, No. 39370105. Special thanks to Mr. Feng, Guo-Rong for photography.

Introductory Notes

In Your Ear


Syntonic Music
10 second clip reproduced with kind permission of Syntonic Research Inc.

Sitting on my porch this evening, thinking about how to introduce the third issue of Cultural Entomology Digest, I can’t help but notice the calming serenade of chirping crickets and clicking katydids performing their quadraphonic concert for all who care to listen. Remembering a CD title I had acquired a couple of years ago, I go inside to rummage through my collection until I find “Environments #3: Dawn and Dusk at New Hope, PA.” The cover sports a minimalist sunset and the slogan, “the music of the future isn’t music.” Vaguely remembering the contents, I open up the CD insert and read about Syntonic Research Inc., N.Y. As recompense for leaving the concert outside, I slip in the CD and play the second track containing orthopteroid sounds of dusk in New Hope recorded some six years ago. Reading further, I come across what caused me to remember this recording in the first place. Syntonic Research Inc., comments about trends towards the scarcity of natural sounds and a reduction in the number of people privileged enough to witness them. Their goal is to record these “Environments” for easing exposure for those who hear value in them. They are in the business of promoting the appreciation of these insect sounds through stereo recordings; A fair trade for the “surround-sound” I just left outside.

Sitting on my porch this evening, thinking about how to introduce the third issue of Cultural Entomology Digest, I can’t help but notice the calming serenade of chirping crickets and clicking katydids performing their quadraphonic concert for all who care to listen. Remembering a CD title I had acquired a couple of years ago, I go inside to rummage through my collection until I find “Environments #3: Dawn and Dusk at New Hope, PA.” The cover sports a minimalist sunset and the slogan, “the music of the future isn’t music.” Vaguely remembering the contents, I open up the CD insert and read about Syntonic Research Inc., N.Y. As recompense for leaving the concert outside, I slip in the CD and play the second track containing orthopteroid sounds of dusk in New Hope recorded some six years ago. Reading further, I come across what caused me to remember this recording in the first place. Syntonic Research Inc., comments about trends towards the scarcity of natural sounds and a reduction in the number of people privileged enough to witness them. Their goal is to record these “Environments” for easing exposure for those who hear value in them. They are in the business of promoting the appreciation of these insect sounds through stereo recordings; A fair trade for the “surround-sound” I just left outside. I can’t help but wonder about the norms of public attitude held in Western Society towards insects that are “in your ears.” Unlike some groups of insects that intrude upon mankind in either sight or touch, resulting in the declaration of outright war, how does Western society feel about auditory intrusions?

In compiling this issue, I have been exposed to a profound volume of historic cultural entomology references to “singing insects” within values, beliefs and traditions of classical Greek and Oriental cultures. This enduring relationship is founded upon the human endearment of chirps and clicks as an integral part of life, symbolizing moods, seasons, and inspiring poetry and prose. Appreciation of these insect sounds is culturally ingrained and has resulted in a two and a half thousand year history of crickets held in human captivity for personalized, pre-CD concerts.

Garland Riegel’s Bibliography

Bibliography from Riegel’s “The Cicada in Chinese Folklore

1. Ashton, Leigh and Basil Gray. 1945. Chinese Art. Faber and Faber, London, 366 pp.

2. Bachhofer, Ludwig. 1946. A Short History of Chinese Art. Pantheon Books, New York. 139 pp. + 129 pls.

3. Burling, Judith and Arthur Hart. 1953. Chinese Art. The Studio Publications, Inc., in association with Thomas Y. Crowell Co., New York. 384pp.

4. Cammann, Schuyler. 1953. Types of Symbols in Chinese Art. in Arthur F. Wright, ed., Studies in Chinese Thought. Univ. Chicago Press. pp 195-231 & pls. II-IX.

5. Cammann, Schuyler. 1960. Toggles and Toggle-Wearing. Southwestern J. Anthropol. 16:463-75.

6. Carter, Dagny. 1948. Four Thousand Years of Chinese Art. The Ronald Press Co., New York. XIX + 358 pp.

7. Carter, Dagny. 1957. The Symbol of the Beast. The Animal-Style Art of Eurasia. The Ronald Press Co., New York. XI + 204 pp.

8. Carter, Dagny. 1972. Chinese Magnificence. Five Thousand Years of Chinese Art. (Reprint of 1935 ed.) Greenwood Press, Westport, Conn. XI + 255 pp.

9. Chou, Io. 1980. A History of Chinese Entomology. Printed by Entomotaxonomia, Wugong, Shaanxi, China. VI + 215 pp. (In Chinese with English and Esperanto summeries.)

10. Clausen, Lucy W. 1954. Insect Fact and Folklore. The Macmillan Co., New York. XIV + 194 pp.

11. Covarrubias, Miguel. 1954. Mexico South. The Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Alfred A. Knopf, New York. XXVII + 435 +VIII pp.

12. Eberhard, Wolfram. 1970. Studies in Chinese Folklore and Related Essays. (Publ. by Indiana Univ. Res. Center for the Lang. Sciences, Bloomington) Mouton & Co., The Hague. IX + 329 pp.

13. Fontein, Jan and Tung Wu. 1973. Unearthing China’s Past. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. 239pp.

14. Grousset, Rene. 1959. Chinese Art and Culture. (Trans. from French by Haakon Chevalier.) Grove Press, Ney York. XXII + 331 pp.

15. Hearn, Lafcadio. 1971. Shadowings. Charles E. Tuttle Co., Inc., Rutland and Tokyo. X + 268 pp. (First Ed. 1900 by Little, Browm & Co., Boston.)

16. Laufer, Berthold. 1974. Jade. A study in Chinese Archaeology and Religion. Dover Publs., New York. (First publ. in 1912 as Fieldiana: Anthropology, v. 10.) XIV + 370 pp. + 68 pls.

17. Munsterberg, Hugo. 1949. A Short History of Chinese Art. Mich. State Col. Press, East Lansing. (Philosophical Library, New York) XIV + 225 pp. + 50 pls.

18. Munsterberg, Hugo. 1972. The Art of China. Tuttle, Rutland and Tokyo. 234 pp.

19. Needham, Joseph. 1956. Science and Civilisation in China, vol. 2. History of Scientific Thought. Univ. Press, Cambridge. XIV + 697 pp.

20. Needham, Joseph, 1971. Science and Civilisation in China, vol. 4. Physics and Physical Technology. Univ. Press, Cambridge. LVII + 931 pp.

21. Needham, Joseph, 1976. Science and Civilisation in China, vol. 5. Chemistry and Chemical Technology. Univ. Press, Cambridge. XXXV + 481 pp.

22. O’Neill, John P. and Katherine Stoddert Gilbert, Eds. 1980. Treasures from the Bronze Age of China. An Exhibition from the People’s Republic of China. The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Ballantine Books), New York. 192 pp.

23. Silcock, Arnold. 1972. Introduction to Chinese Art and History. Greenwood Press, Westport, Conn. XVII + 258 pp.

24. Sir?n, Osvald. 1970. A History of Early Chinese Art: The Han Period. Reprinted by Hacker Books, New York. Vol. 2:XVI + 87 pp. + 120 pls.

25. Speiser, Werner. 1960. The Art of China. Spirit and Society. Crown Publications, New York. 257 pp.

26. Sullivan. Michael. 1967 (Rev. Ptg. 1970). A Short History of Chinese Art. Univ. Calif., Berkeley. 279 pp. + 72 pls.

27. Sullivan, Michael. 1977. The Arts of China, Rev. Ed. Univ. Calif. Press, Berkeley. 287 pp.

28. Thompson, Edward K,. Man. Ed. 1957. The World’s Great Religions. Time Inc., New York. VIII + 310 pp.

29. Visser, H.F.E. 1952. Asiatic Art in Private Collections of Holland and Belgium. Seven Arts Book Society, New York. 511 pp.