Vegder's Blog

November 18, 2010

Not quite the Zodiac – Part Three: The goat – yagi – やぎ

Right off, as usual, I have declare myself miserably ignorant on this topic. Ignorance, in general, keeps me up at night worrying about all of the mistakes I am making like “Is the Japanese zodiacal sign the goat or the sheep?” Or, “Is it the sheep or the goat?” Often I bound off of my futon – well, not exactly bound, but more usually creak – to seek an answer. I hate to rely on the Internet when it comes to such disputes because what if… what if someone has a grudge against goats? What if someone is mired in greater ignorance than my own? What if? What if? What if? Besides, there are a few of you out there more ignorant than I am and now our much vaunted internet egalitarianism has given you just as much access to posting things on the web as I have. Fortunately, for you, your cluelessness keeps you from knowing how clueless you really are or how bad your situation really is and how much muddier you have made everything – for all us. So much for egalitarianism.

Minoan goat pendant from ca. 1700 – 1550 B.C. Isn’t it gorgeous?! (That is not a question. It’s a statement. If you don’t agree with me I don’t give a damn.) © Trustees of the British Museum

So, what is it? A goat or a sheep in the Japanese zodiac? Well, that depends on who you are reading – I tend to prefer books and ‘truly scholarly’ papers – to resolve such arguments. And, as best I can tell at this early hour, it is a question of either/or, or, both/and. Perhaps by the time I have done enough research for this post I will have a better idea and might just get a little more sleep. (Not really. By the time this goat/sheep thingee gets worked out there will be ten plus more problems keeping me awake. Hundreds even. But as Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. taught me years ago, the Tralfamadorians have a saying about death – in my case it is ignorance – “So it goes.” If that sounds too resigned then try “Whatchagonnado?” That works just as well.

This goat’s image was captured on Crete by Chin tin tin and posted at I chose to add it here not only because it is a handsome photo and creature, but also because the pendant from the British Museum shown at the top of this post may well have been modeled one of this goats ancestors.

A linguistic conundrum: Which is it? Hitsuji or yagi?

Hitsuji () is generally translated as ‘sheep’, but can sometimes be used to mean goat. Yagi (山羊) is always translated as goat. 山羊 is the same as the Chinese for goat, but could be translated literally as ‘mountain sheep’. All of the modern Japanese-English dictionaries I have looked at give hitsuji as sheep or ram. However, if you look up ‘goat’ in Hepburn’s Japanese-English Dictionary… from 1881 you get HITSUJI, n. A goat; one of the 12 horary signs…” (Hepburn gives sheep as ‘men-yō’ and ram as ‘O-hitsuji’.

T. Volker in his book The Animal in Far Eastern Art… refers to the goat as hitsuji, too.  He noted that “The goat… plays only a minor role in Japanese art.” Volker cites Kaempfer for the possible reason for this: “Sheep and Goats…. might be bred in the Country [sic] to great advantage, if the natives were permitted to eat the flesh, or knew how to manage and manufacture the Wool.” Volker went on: “In other words the goat was not authochthonous [what a word!], which is partly the reason for this lack of interest. One may wonder that an animal so devoid of humour as the goat did not appeal more to the Japanese vis comica. Still the goat is represented in Japanese art and it has been substituted for the sheep in Japanese versions of Chinese tales. In China itself, in illustrations of one and the same story, one may find either a goat or a sheep, which depends on the origin of the image. For in North China only sheep were herded and in the warm South only goats. In Japan sheep were totally unknown.”

In 1881 the Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan it states that yagi was the “Old word for goat. Hitsuji is now more common.” What happened between then and now?

Kurt Meissner once noted that of the Zodiac signs used by the Chinese tigers and sheep were not indigenous to Japan. There were tigers in Korea, but… “…sheep were unknown in Japan until Europeans and Americans introduced them after Japan opened its ports. The Japanese must have taken over the sign of the sheep from the Chinese zodiac.” (This quote was added on February 7, 2017.)

Henri Joly in his monumental (but outdated) Legend in Japanese Art from 1908 lists the signs of the Zodiac in which #8 is “HITSUJI 羊, the Goat.”

An 1888 Japanese grammar by Aston refers to hitsuji as a goat. Another grammar, by a different author,  published in 1918 does the same.

So when did the hitsuji/yagi split take place? I haven’t the slightest. I ran across another Japanese grammar in English from 1883 and in it yagi is the term for goat.This is a problem which will take a bona fide linguist to answer. For now it is way beyond my pay grade.

There is a comical print by Kuniyoshi from 1855 of anthropomorphized goats in the collection of the British Museum. It works on many different levels including the theme of the 24 paragons, but the point I want to focus on is the Japanese title: Gedo juni-shi – hitsuji. Hitsuji clearly here refers to goats. See below –

© Trustees of the British Museum

Here is another example of the quotidian activities of the average Japanese goat as imagined by Kuniyoshi.

Where is Gertrude Stein when you need her? You know, “A rose is a rose is a rose”. Or, Will Shakespeare and his “rose by any other name …” What about a goat?

Morphologically speaking –

It would seem I am not the only one confused about the sheep/goat problem. Not only is there a linguist issue, but there is a scientific one too. For example, there is an article about the differences found between ovicaprids*: Distinguishing between archaeological sheep and goat bones using a single collagen peptide. In the paper’s abstract it notes that collagen peptides are better markers for determining whether the bones are those of a goat of a sheep. It notes that there are 33 amino acid peptides in both animals, but they differ at two points. Then it adds that “The collagen-peptide method has advantages over other non-morphological methods of sheep/goat distinction because of the long-term survival of collagen over other biomolecules such as ancient DNA. The results also highlighted the problems in relying upon one morphological criterion, in this case on the distal radius, to distinguish between sheep and goat bones.” The point: A group of archaeologists are looking at the bones of domesticated animals found at an ancient site. Prior to modern scientific testing techniques they knew they were looking at the bones of either sheep or goats, but couldn’t tell which. Now they can. (Do you care?)

*Ovacaprids – sheep AND goats: It’s a real word, but you won’t find in any of the standard dictionaries. Yet it definitely exists in the scientific world. Look it up for yourself.

Is this Kasamatsu Shiro (笠松紫浪: 1898-1992) ) print of goats meant for a zodiac year? Probably not because it is clearly dated 1958 – three years off the mark – but it sure is interesting and worth including here. Unlike anything else I have ever seen. (This part was added on Jan. 28, 2012.)

   Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College

China and the goat –

A tradition in the “…Warring States and Han China regarding the origin of law and punishments assigned their creation to Gao Yao [Ch: 臯陶], a minister of Shun [Ch: 舜]. The Han dynasty scholar Wang Chong preserved the story that Gao Yao passed judgments with the aid of a magic one-horned goat that could distinguish the innocent from the guilty and would butt only the latter.” Wang Chong went on to suggest that the use of the goat was a ruse to get the guilty to confess. However, “…there is a considerable body of evidence linking butting and goats to the origins of legal procedure in China. Gao Yao was said to be the ancestor of the rulers of several states all surnamed Jiang. “The graph of this surname represents a goat and a woman.” A variant graph combined goat with man and “…was the generic name of a group of tribes that lived to the west and northwest of the Chinese heartland.” These were referred to as the western barbarians and the “people of the goat race. This tradition of their animal ancestry was attested as early as the Shang oracle inscriptions…” Others were known to have been goat worshipers.

There is also evidence that wrestlers in Han times sometimes put on horns imitating either bulls or goats. (This information was taken from Sanctioned Violence in Early China by Mark Edward Lewis.)

The Tulou

There is a myth that Mt. Kunlun is the earthly home of the Supreme Deity Di. “The god Luwu administers it. His divine form resembles a tiger’s body with nine tails, a human face, and tiger’s claws. This god administers the nine regions of heaven as well as the cycle of four seasons in the Supreme God’s garden. There is an animal here with the form of a goat but with four horns called the Tulou [Ch: 土螻; J: どろう?] that devours men.” This is from Richard Strassberg’s A Chinese Bestiary: Strange Creatures from the Guideways through Mountains and Seas. (If I am using the correct Chinese characters the literal translation would be ‘earth cricket’. I have no idea why it somehow morphs into the Chinese concept of a four-horned man-eating goat.)

Other fantastical goat-like or related creatures –

These are also listed in A Chinese Bestiary.  “the Boshi [Ch: 猼訑], a goat with nine tails and four ears”. Its eyes are on its back and the wearing of a belt made from its skin is said to prevent fear; the Huan, “a goat without a mouth”; the Conglong, one of a number of creatures which look like goats but with red manes.  It lives on Mt. Fuyu. On the summit is a tree which produces fruit which can cure deafness. There is also a plant which grows on this mountain. Its fruit, shaped like a baby’s tongue, can cure mental confusion; near Eminent Mountain is the Yu-Ape River which is the only place you can find Bang-fish which look like turtles and sound like goats; there are mountains with gods which have the bodies of goats and the faces of humans; Dwelling-Birds live on Mt. Guo. They resemble rats with wings and have the power to repel weapons. They, too, sound like goats; the Paoxiao lives on Mt. Gouwu. Its “…form resembles a goat’s body with a human’s face. Its eyes are behind its armpits and it has tiger’s teeth and human hands. It makes a sound like a baby and…. is a man-eater; the Dongdong lived on Great Play Mountain where no plants or trees grew. It looked like a goat with one horn and one eye located behind its ears. It got its name from the onomatopoetic sound it made;  there is the Youyou of Mt. Zhen with the body of a horse, but the eyes of a goat, four horns and the tail of an ox. If you spot one it means you will be receiving deceitful guests. Oh, and it barks like a dog; there is a mountain range with gods with human bodies but with the horns of goats. [The bold-faced type is mine.]

Goat dreams –

In 1562 Chen Shiyuan published an encyclopedic interpretation of dreams. In a footnote in Wandering Spirits… by Richard Strassberg from 2008 the author gives an analysis of one of those famous dreams: “The Duke of Pei began as a neighborhood head. He dreamt that he had chased a goat and pulled out its horns and tail. The interpretation stated that the graph for ‘goat’ without its horns and tail is the graph for ‘king.’ According to another account, it was the future Emperor Guanwu of the Eastern Han who had this dream…” 羊 is ‘goat’, but sans its horns and tail it is 王 which equals ‘king’.

The 8th sign of the Chinese zodiac, 未  – The Ram, but in this case it is represented by a goat – go figure

Before we go to the Chinese symbolism let’s start with a Japanese calendar print by Torii Kiyomasu II from 1727. The heavy black outlines of the combating figures is actually made up of numbers: five appears in the upper right near where a hand is holding the swords scabbard; nine is in the lower left; four dominates the chest of the lower figure; two can be seen just to the right of that and so on. The top figure is riding on a ram. (This part was added on Jan. 28, 2012.)

   Ainsworth Bequest, Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College

The Ram is the animal standing for 1 to 3 P.M. from the traditional 12 hour day and the direction south to southwest. However, as in the case of the Kuniyoshi print below showing Guan Yu (關羽) and a goat the viewer is clearly meant to know that this represents one of the 12 signs. Even the title cartouche in yellow at the top makes this perfectly clear to anyone who can read it: 武勇見立十二支 (Brave Figures of the Zodiac – my loose translation). In red next to it is printed the character 未, the Ram. Please note than one way 未 can be read is as hitsuji standing for either goat or sheep.

© The Trustees of the British Museum – This too is a promised gift of Professor Arthur Miller.

What do we know about Guan Yu (160 – 219)? And is there a clue in there to his goat-relatedness?

Guan Yu was deified in 1594 as Guandi, the Chinese God of War, after his death. Thousands of temple were built to honor him. He had been captured and killed in 219 A.D. But, before we go any further, let’s list some of the alternative names this man is known by – just in case you want to look him up yourself: Guandi – which can also be spelled as Kuan Ti; Guan Gong; and Wudi – and these are only the Chinese language variations. The Japanese have others.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica Guan Yu “…immense popularity with the common people rests on the firm belief that his control over evil spirits is so great that even actors who play his part in dramas share his power over demons.” Popular with everyone from soldiers to merchants, Guan Yu, the civilian, was said to have been “…a peddler of bean curd early in life.” (Elsewhere he is referred to as a horse merchant which makes a lot more sense than bean curd.) Because Guan Yu was also said to have memorized one of the Confucian classics some scholars viewed him as a god of literature, too. In China he was usually portrayed as wearing a green robe and having a red face.

Two interesting aspects of the martial side grew up: For a while, in some places, the swords of executioners were kept in the temples devoted to Guandi; and a cult devoted to this god in Korea was credited with saving that nation from Japanese domination in the 17th century.

In literature his role has been portrayed as heroic and similar to that of Robin Hood, according to one source. But mainly he is an example of loyalty and strength. He is an integral figure in both The Romance of the Three Kingdoms (J: 三國志) and the Three Brothers of the Peach Orchard. Zhu Weizheng noted in 1987 that by the end of the Qing dynasty (Ch: 清朝) that “…the status of Guan Yu, the God of the Military (wusheng), had outgrown that of Confucius, the Sage of Learning (wensheng).”

A couple of other zodiacal-goats in Japanese prints –

There is another print in the collection of the British Museum – also from the Miller collection – which carries the title “Selection of the 12 Signs” or Mitate junishi (美盾十二史). This one is again identified as hitsuji which they translate as the goat. However, here the connection is not so obvious to Western eyes at first glance. But look a bit closer at the bottom of the border of the title cartouche and all will become clear. In this case, instead of a famous general as a stand in for the sign of the zodiac it is a famous courtesan.

Both this one and the one below are shown courtesy of the British Museum. © The Trustees of the British Museum

The goat/hitsuji issue is better illustrated by a title second cartouche found on another Kuniyoshi print in the same museum and from the same bequest made by Professor Miller. This beautiful print from a series entitled Selections from the 12 Signs (Mitate junishi no uchi – 見立十二支之内) portrays an actor in a female role of a courtesan shown in the lower part of the sheet. ‘She’ is wearing a gorgeous kimono illustrated with the lion and peony motif, but that’s another story.

© The Trustees of the British Museum 

© The Trustees of the British Museum

For more about ‘Lions and Peonies’ please go to a page I devoted to this motif at my other web site:

A word before I continue: It should be obvious by now to anyone but the most philistine that Japanese woodblock prints are often stunningly beautiful, intriguing, mysterious, and often far more than meets the eye at first glance. That is one of the reasons this web log is a joy to work on. I hope you agree.

What is with goats and the Romance of the Three Kingdoms?

Below is a detail from the left panel from a Kuniyoshi triptych showing Guan Yu and two goats. It is a promised gift to the British Museum from the collection of Professor Arthur Miller. Below that is our doctored detail from one of the volumes of this popular story. This one is illustrated by Taito, an early name for Hokusai, and shows a man with two very stylized goats.

© The Trustees of the British Museum

It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack –

Sadahide (貞秀 : 1807 – 1879?) print of foreigners feeding a goat dating from the early 1860s. I added the red background. There is, at least, one other print by this artist using this same theme. If I ever get around to it I will post that one too.

Hypothesis: Suppose you collect Japanese woodblock prints and suppose you want to specialize by collecting one particular theme, say goat pictures, for example. Well, good luck. Try finding them. They exist, but you should live so long. Perhaps you will be able to acquire one or two of them. Or, if you are particularly lucky/persistent maybe you could ‘amass’ three, four or five and then you might be able to say that you are at the top of your field. Wow!

Why should this be so difficult? Well, I will tell you why. Goat images, and I am only guessing here, may not account for more than 1% of 1% of the total output of Japanese woodblock print makers. That is one of the reasons there are so few images on this page. Actually there are quite a few goats here, considering. However, even here there is one curious gap. There is a special category of Japanese woodblock prints called surimono. Many of you are familiar with them, but for those of you who are not let me give you a couple of the basics. Surimono were produced outside of the commercial market and therefore were not restricted by government oversight. They were often smaller and more delicately produced. They were often commissioned by members of poetry clubs and were given as gifts.  That is the first point. The second point is that these prints were almost exclusively made as New Year’s gifts and often had references to the zodiac signs of the upcoming year. In other words, if the next year was the year of the tiger or the rabbit or the whatever these prints would usually either have explicit references by picturing that year’s animal or there might be a more veiled reference by way of a visual pun or something hidden within the script of some of the applied poetry texts. (A visual puns are difficutlt enough, but figuring out the texts on these things takes a true scholar and is way beyond any humble abilities I might have.)  The third point: Since there are 12 signs/animals then one would expect that every 12th surimono would be devoted to a hitsuji year. If so, where are the sheep/goat images? I ask you. Maybe I will find them later. Maybe I will find them as soon as I have posted this, but for now I am at a loss. Where are they?

Below is a detail from a print from a series of surimonos designed by Toyokuni I for the year 1799, the Year of the Goat. The black background is something I added.

Miscellany: or, anything I can think of which has anything to do with goats in any way except those pertaining to Japan or the zodiac, but isn’t important enough to qualify for its own subsection and is almost totally irrelevant –

The ancient Greeks (and a few Romans) and some of their thoughts regarding goats –

It’s a tragedy – τραγῳδία

Of course I am not telling you anything you don’t already know, but just in case: our word ‘tragedy’ comes from the Greek for goat (tragos – τράγος) + song (ōidē – ᾠδή). Hence, a tragedy is a goat song! In Plato’s dialogue Cratylus Socrates says: “Is not the truth that is in him the smooth or sacred form which dwells above among the Gods, whereas falsehood dwells among men below, and is rough like the goat of tragedy; for tales and falsehoods have generally to do with the tragic or goatish life, and tragedy is the place of them.”

Half-a-goat is better than no goat at all! Wouldn’t you say?

No post dealing with goats – Japanese or non – would be complete without some references to satyrs, Silenus and Dionysus. I would be completely remiss in not mentioning them. Besides, a whole web site could be devoted to these three and probably has been or should have been by now.

In The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem van Loon from 1921 there is a curious passage: “The Greeks had always been fond of parades. Every year they held solemn processions in honor of Dionysos the God of the wine. As everybody in Greece drank wine (the Greeks thought water only useful for the purpose of swimming and sailing) this particular Divinity was as popular as a God of the Soda- Fountain would be in our own land. ¶ And because the Wine-God was supposed to live in the vineyards, amidst a merry mob of Satyrs (strange creatures who were half man and half goat), the crowd that joined the procession used to wear goat-skins and to hee-haw like real billy-goats.”

This image of an engraving by Giorgio Ghisi (ca. 1520 – 1582) is shown courtesy of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It shows a drunken Silenus, a satyr (サテュロス) and a standing goat. (For more standing goats see further down this page.)

As I understand it, サテュロス can also stand for Silenus. That makes sense, sort of.

Hippocrates (ヒポクラテス: ca. 460 B.C. – ca. 370s) wrote that epileptics received a lot of advice from what he considered charlatans and hucksters. Among the many foods the afflicted were told to avoid goat meat because it might upset their bowels. They should also avoid sleeping on or wearing goat skins. Oh, and they should quit bathing, too. Hippocrates reasoned that if such methods were true then all Libyans would have epilepsy “…since they all sleep on goats’ skins, and live upon goats’ flesh; neither have they couch, robe, nor shoe that is not made of goat’s skin, for they have no other herds but goats and oxen.”

Hippocrates also suggested the use of goat grease to help healing caused by fires.

Aristotle (アリストテレス: 384 B.C. – 322) said that you would be warmer on a cold night if you slept with goats instead of sheep “…because the goats will be quieter and will creep up towards you for the goat is more impatient of cold than the sheep.”

In The History of Animals Aristotle likened the cracking of the voice by a pubescent boy to that of the noise made by a he-goat. “When twice seven years old, in the most of cases, the male begins to engender seed; and at the same time hair appears upon the pubes, in like manner, so Alcmaeon of Croton remarks, as plants first blossom and then seed. About the same time, the voice begins to alter, getting harsher and more uneven, neither shrill as formerly nor deep as afterward, nor yet of any even tone, but like an instrument whose strings are frayed and out of tune; and it is called, by way of by-word, the bleat of the billy-goat. Now this breaking of the voice is the more apparent in those who are making trial of their sexual powers; for in those who are prone to lustfulness the voice turns into the voice of a man…”

Ladanum, aka labdanum, is a resinous source for perfumes. Herodotus (ヘロドトス: ca. 484 B.C. to ca. 430 B.C.) wrote: “Ledanum, which the Arabs call ladanum, is procured in a yet stranger fashion. Found in a most inodorous place, it is the sweetest-scented of all substances. It is gathered from the beards of he-goats, where it is found sticking like gum, having come from the bushes on which they browse. It is used in many sorts of unguents, and is what the Arabs burn chiefly as incense.” Below is a picture of the Cistus ladanifer. “Its leaves yield a fragrant oleoresin known as labdanum, used in perfumes.” The picture and this information was provided by Shu Suehiro at

Herodotus also describes a group of Libyans which he says are the healthiest people he knows. He describes a practice of putting burning fleece on the heads of their children when they are four years old. This was meant to be a preventative against later health issues. If, however, the child goes into convulsions a sure cure “…is to sprinkle goat’s water upon the child, who thus treated, is sure to recover.”

Aristophanes (アリストファネス:  ca. 450 B.C. – ca. 388 B.C.) in his play Peace mocks the poet Carcinus and his sons by referring to them as “…but gelded birds, stork-necked dancers, manikins about as tall as a goat’s turd, in fact machine-made poets.” Later in Peace Aristophanes mocks two other poets, Morsimus and Melanthius. Here his venom is directed toward the latter: “Oh! what a bitter discordancy grated upon my ears that day when the tragic chorus was directed by this same Melanthius and his brother, these two Gorgons, these two Harpies, the plague of the seas, whose gluttonous bellies devour the entire race of fishes, these followers of old women, these goats with their stinking arm-pits. Oh! Muse, spit upon them abundantly…”

Clearly Aristophanes liked using the stench of goats as an arm-pit allusion because he uses it again in his play The Acharnians.

Virgil (バージル?: 70 B.C. – 19 B.C.)  in his Ecologues wrote: “The grim−eyed lioness pursues the wolf, The wolf the she−goat, the she−goat herself in wanton sport the flowering cytisus…”

Both of these images of cytisus are shown courtesy of Shu Suehiro.

Plutarch (プルーターク: 46 – ca. 120) in his life of Sylla dealt with goat omens: “…a satyr, such as statuaries and painters represent, was caught asleep, and brought before Sylla, where he was asked by several interpreters who he was, and, after much trouble, at last uttered nothing intelligible, but a harsh noise, something between the neighing of a horse and crying of a goat. Sylla, in dismay, and deprecating such an omen, bade it be removed.” Later was an even more ominous event: “…a little while before his arrival in Campania, near the mountain Hephaeus, two stately goats were seen in the daytime, fighting together, and performing all the motions of men in battle. It proved to be an apparition, and rising up gradually from the ground, dispersed in the air, like fancied representations in the clouds, and so vanished out of sight.”

Finally, an astrological reference – by Porphyry (ポルフュリ?: ca. 232 – ca. 305): “At the city Elephantine there is an image worshipped, which in other respects is fashioned in the likeness of a man and sitting; it is of a blue colour, and has a ram’s head, and a diadem bearing the horns of a goat, above which is a quoit-shaped circle. He sits with a vessel of clay beside him, on which he is molding the figure of a man. And from having the face of a ram and the horns of a goat he indicates the conjunction of sun and moon in the sign of the Ram, while the colour of blue indicates that the moon in that conjunction brings rain.”

Amalthea, her milk, her skin –

There is an interesting passage in Rabelais (ラブレー: ca. 1494 – 1553) : “It is said that Jupiter writes whatever is transacted in the world, on the dipthera or skin of the Amalthaean goat that suckled him in Crete, which pelt served him instead of a shield against the Titans…” Who was this Amalthea? Goat or nymph or a nymph’s goat? That depends on your source because each of these interpretations are offered at one time or another. Below is an photo of Amalthea and her goat sculpted by Pierre Julien (1731-1804). It stands in a courtyard at the Louvre and was posted at by Jastrow. Below that is a detail from a Jacob Jordaens drawing in the Hermitage showing the infant Jupiter at the teat of the nanny-goat. The nymph to the right must be Amalthea. A satyr is holding the right leg of the goat aloft giving the young god easier access.

Jupiter, aka Zeus, was born of Rhea and Cronus. The mother hid this child from his father who was known to devour his own children because he had been told that he would be undone by one of them. “It is of great significance that Hesiod places the birth of Zeus on the island of Crete…. Variations and additions occur in later writers who state that after Rhea brought forth Zeus in a cave on Mt. Dicte, he was fed by bees and nursed by nymphs on the milk of a goat name Amalthea.” Young men protected the infant by striking their spears together to make such a racket that it would drown out the sounds of Jupiter crying.

The reference in Rabelais led me to an equally interesting book on Galileo and his Medici patrons. In a description of the decor of Palazzo Vecchio one floor is divided into rooms dedicated to Greek gods while on the floor below that are rooms the same size with devoted to their corresponding members of the Medici clan. The Jupiter room lies directly above that of Cosimo I, the founder of the grand duchy of Tuscany. “The correspondence between the room of Jupiter and Cosimo I is the pivot for the mythological narratives developed throughout the paintings of the two apartments. The painting in the Room of Jupiter, which present his childhood, are in fact tied to Cosimo as well. Born of Ops and Saturn, the child Jupiter was saved from his father’s cruelty (Saturn tended to eat his offspring) by his mother, who hid him in a cave in Crete. There the infant was reared by two nymphs. One of them, Amalthea, was represented as a goat and was allegorically associated with diving providence…” And here is the good part: “In memory of Amalthea, Jupiter added the sign of Capricorn to the zodiac. The seven stars of Capricorn became emblems of the seven virtues, three theological and four moral.”

One of the most horrific, but powerful images every conceived is Goya’s version of Saturn, aka Cronus, devouring one of his children. The photo below of this painting was posted at commons.wikimedia by Escarlati. The original hangs in the Prado in Madrid.

Are goats kosher?

Yes, but it says in Deuteronomy 14: 21 “You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.” In Leviticus 11 God tells Aaron and Moses to tell the people that they may eat any animal with a cloven hoof and which chews the cud. They have to do both. Otherwise they just aren’t kosher.

The GREATEST non-Japanese goat image ever! (Well, one of them at least.)

This image from the British Museum was posted as a photo at commons.wikimedia by Jack1956. I altered the background so you can focus on the piece better.

The first thing I ever really wanted to be was an archeologist. I think it was an aunt of mine who gave me a book on ancient sites when I was four or five years old. I was fascinated in the extreme and particularly so by ziggurats and the discoveries unearthed at Ur. The so-called “Ram in a thicket” seen above was illustrated in that book and has been with me ever since. The only other non-Japanese goat that comes to mind as quickly is a sculpture by Picasso from 1950. Approximately 4,300 years plus separate the two images. That is quite a run.

Despite its name the British Museum site says it represents a goat standing on its hind legs to reach leaves on a tree. The title of this piece was bestowed by Leonard Woolley as a reference to Genesis 22:13 when Abraham was on the verge of sacrificing his son Isaac when he noticed a ram entangled in a bramble nearby. He took it as a sign to spare his own child. It probably had absolutely nothing to do with the abrahamic tradition even though Ur, according to tradition, may have been the birthplace of Abraham.

Note: To be honest I think this funerary piece is the greatest goat ever – from anywhere and from any age. If you disagree that is fine. Everyone to their own tastes.

The image of a ‘goat rampant‘ has reappeared again and again over the centuries. There is one picture which I found originally at commons.wikimedia, but was originally posted at Flick by Sami Sieranoja. It is such a beautiful photo which makes the point clear that what appealed to the sculptor in ancient Mesopotamia is still an attention grabber to modern man even in the snow of Finland. (I reversed the original image to stand in contrast to the image shown above. Also, I trimmed it a bit, but not by much.)

The persistence of memory –

After a short nap I just remembered two more spectacular goat images which have never failed to blow me away. A little background: I have an absolute fascination with the production of porcelain – or, used to. For centuries the secrets of porcelain making was one of the world’s greatest mysteries. In fact, in Europe, once discovered, knowledge of the its secrets was referred to as the arcanum. To reveal the arcanum could mean arrest and life in solitaire at the least or even a death penalty. It was under these conditions that European, hard paste porcelains were developed first at Meissen in the late 17th. It took decades of experimental failures before there was any kind of success. Yet, by ca. 1720 the basics of production had been resolved and ‘true’ porcelains like those made in China and Japan were now possible. But not all of the kinks had been worked out yet. This was especially evident when the Elector of Saxony ordered life-sized figures and animals. Below is one of the early successes – a porcelain goat from ca. 1732, modeled by Johann Joachim Kaendler, a genius of his craft. As a sculptor he rivaled any of his peers working in any other material.

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Notice the cracks in this piece. Why not? Producing such a large porcelain goat was almost as difficult as figuring out the formulas necessary for the creation of the porcelain itself. In fact, the Elector had also ordered a set of life-sized figures of the Apostles, but it was impossible to make these until late in the 20th century, more than 250 years after the order was placed. One other thing: Above is the he-goat. At the Metropolitan Museum of Art is its mate, a she-goat which is suckling its kid. I wish I had access to a photo of it to show to you. It is brilliant! and is perhaps an even more remarkable work of art than the example shown above. Together these Meissen figures may rival, in my mind, both the standing goat from ancient Ur and equal or surpass the power of the Picasso I mentioned earlier. Like I said, it is a matter of taste.

O frabjous day!

Perseverance has paid off. I finally found an image of the mate to the one shown above and can use it. As noted it is from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and it too is by Kändler – here we use the umlaut. It dates from ca. 1732 and is brilliant. Look at that tongue! Amazing.

It can be found at

What may be the greatest Chinese goat image can be found at the Freer Sackler collection in D. C. It dates from ca. 1300 and is by Chao Meng Fu (Ch. 趙孟頫: 1254-1322). The artist was asked to paint this image of a goat and a sheep. He said: “I have painted horses, but have never painted sheep. So when Zhongxin requested a painting, I playfully drew these for him from life. Though I cannot approach the ancient masters, I have somewhat captured the essential spirit [of the animals].”  I failed to put it in this post earlier, but better late than never, eh? (This part was added on Jan. 28, 2012.)

   © The Smithsonian – Freer Sackler Galleries

The Goat of Mendes as recounted by E. A. Wallis Budge –

This is some adult stuff here so don’t read this section unless you are of age and prepared to take it for what it is worth – okay? You have been warned. If skittish skip lower down to the part on Hobbes.

Budge was a great Egyptologist so don’t blame me for quoting him here. “At several places in the Delta [like] Mendes, the god Pan and a goat were worshipped; Strabo quoting Pindar, says that in these places goats had intercourse with women, and Herodotus instances a case which was said to have taken place in the open day. The Mendesians… paid reverence to all goats, and more to the males than the females, and particularly to one he-goat, on the death of which public mourning is observed throughout the whole Mendesian district.” Pan and goats were considered gods of generation and fecundity. Budge says Diodorus compared this cult to that of Priapus in Greece. To add to all of my own confusion over the specific use of words is that other authors referred to the Ram of Mendes meaning a he-goat. However, if you look up ‘ram’ in any dictionary it will tell you that it is a male sheep. Sheep not goat.

Herodotus, the Greek, said: “I mentioned above that some of the Egyptians abstain from sacrificing goats, either male or female. The reason is the following: These Egyptians, who are the Mendesians, consider Pan to be one of the eight gods who existed before the twelve, and Pan is represented in Egypt by the painters and the sculptors, just as he is in Greece, with the face and legs of a goat. They do not, however, believe this to be his shape, or consider him in any respect unlike the other gods; but they represent him thus for a reason which I prefer not to relate.” [The bold type is my choice. Budge, citing Strabo through Pindar, dealt with the reason above. Clearly Herodotus thought the subject a bit indelicate – at least in this case.] Herodotus went on to say “In Egyptian, the goat and Pan are both called Mendes.”

In Ulysses by James Joyce the evangelist Alexander Dowie denounces Leopold Bloom as being “this stinking goat of Mendes”.

Hobbes and the scapegoat –

On pages 512-3 of my copy of Leviathan Hobbes likens the Office of a Redeemer to the one who “payeth the Ransome of Sin”. Thus Jesus redeemed the sins of man – somewhat akin to “the Mercy of God, that ordained such Sacrifices for  sin…” Hobbes wrote: “In the Old Law (as we may read, Leviticus the 16.) the Lord required, that there should every year once, bee made an Atonement for the Sins of all Israel, both Priests, and others…. Aaron…was to receive from [the people] two young Goates, of which he was to sacrifice one; but as for the other, which was the Scape Goat, he was to lay his hands on the head thereof, and by confession ofthe iniquities of the people, to lay them all on that head, and then by some opportune man, to cause the Goat to be led into the wildernesse, and there to escape, and carry away with him the iniquities of the people.” Hobbes goes on to say that Christ is both the sacrificed goat and the scape goat all wrapped up into one.

James Tissot’s painting of a man leading the scapegoat into the wilderness. This painting is shown courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum.

Goats and the Evil Arts –

Sir Walter Scott (サーウォルターー・スコット: 1771-1832) in his Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft talks about the Celtic origin of a satyr-like creature of the woods. “The Scottish Gael have… a goblin called Ourisk, whose form is like that of Pan, and his attendants something between a man and a goat, the nether extremities being in the latter form.” Scott asked if this was an independent invention of the people who lived in the northern parts of Europe, including Scandinavia, or was it somehow borrowed from the Greco-Roman cultures. He also notes that St. Anthony Abbot (セントアンソニーアボット)  conversed with a satyr in the desert, a point previously touched upon by St. Jerome and Voltaire. Scott also tells us that for many Europeans “the Author of Evil” was portrayed as having “…a goat’s visage and form, the horns, hooves and tail…” However, Scott takes pains to make sure that his readers understand that the Ourisk, a solitary and melancholic creature which could be irksome, was no demon. On the other hand, Scott says that “…the celebrated freebooter, Rob Roy, once gained a victory by disguising a part of his men, with goat-skins, so as to resemble the ourisk…”

To the left is Dürer’s  engraving of the Satyr Family from 1505. It is shown courtesy of the British Museum. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Elsewhere, Scott described the Scottish trials held for witchcraft in which the defendants claimed to have visited Satan’s Domdaniel. (A Domdaniel is a cavernous gathering place used by the Devil.) Some of those described “…the fiend who presided there. All spoke of a sort of gilded throne; but some saw a hideous wild he-goat seated there, some a man disfigured and twisted, as suffering torture – some, with better taste, beheld a huge indistinct form…”

By the way, the word Domdaniel does not appear in any on-line dictionaries I could find. It does show up at Wikipedia, but that isn’t always the best source. Although from what I have been able to find out whoever made that posting did a fairly decent, even admirable,  job. That said, I was still questioning why it didn’t appear in any of the ‘legitimate’ dictionaries so I called a friend long-distance and asked him to look it up in the full Oxford English Dicitonary. And… sure enough… it is in there. An editorial thought: That is what is wrong with the Internet, or, at least, one of the things wrong with it. And… that is what is wrong with the Internet I am so enamoured of. Alas. Sigh. Nothing is perfect.

In Faust (ファウスト) by Goethe (ゲーテ: 1749-1832) Mephistopheles (メフィストーフェレス) says that he wishes, at one point, he had a broomstick or a goat to ride. But long before Goethe composed his greatest work Dürer gaves us an image of a naked witch riding backwards atop a goat. And centuries before Dürer’s brilliant print Germans believed in Walpurgisnacht or the Witches’ Sabbath.

Below is a detail of Dürer’s engraving from the collection of the British Museum.

© The Trustees of the British Museum

Just to drive the point home, here is a detail from a chiaroscuro woodcut made after a print by Hans Baldung Grien who was inspired by Dürer.

© The Trustees of the British Museum

“I’m deaf, you know” or, at least, terribly forgetful

In The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo the beautiful, gorgeous, vivacious heroine Esmerelda, the gypsy girl, drives this story of good vs. evil. When she dances every man with a pulse – be he ugly or handsome, rich or poor – is overwhelmed with lust. Her beauty, like that of the Jewess Rebecca in Ivanhoe, is the cause of all of her problems and it forms a mortal threat to her very existence.

Bouguereau painting of a young Esmerelda with her goat on the left above. The Danish goats shown to the right of that is from a photo taken by Jacob Bafod. Who could not love these creatures? Both images were posted at

When she danced “All around her, all glances were riveted, all mouths open…” When she finished she called Djali, her pet goat, to her. Djali was “”…a pretty little white goat, alert, wide-awake, glossy, with gilded horns, gilded hoofs, and gilded collar, which he had not hitherto perceived, and which had remained lying curled up on one corner of the carpet watching his mistress dance.” Now it was the goat’s turn to perform. Esmerelda held out her Basque tambourine and asked: “Djali… what month is this?” The goat struck the tambourine once and indeed it was January. The same was done for the hour, seven, and the day of the month, the sixth. The crowd was awed. One man called it sorcery, but Esmerelda and her pet continued getting great laughs at the expense of important figures who were being mocked.

Esmerelda and her goat by Antonio Rosetti (1819-70).  This sculpture is from the collection of Drexel University in Philadelphia and was posted at by Daderot.

In time charges were brought against Esmerelda and her sweet and devoted pet. One accuser said: “She hath a demoniac goat with horns of the devil, which reads, which writes, which knows mathematics…” Djali was even called to testify before the court. The trial did not go well for either of the accused. Read the book if you want to find out how it came out. I won’t tell you.

Not just imaginary goats, but imaginary, delusional, fictional goats

In Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain the main character, Hans Castorp, has been living in a sanatorium in the Alps when he is caught in a blizzard. Exhausted and probably hallucinating he imagines that he is suddenly transported to a warm, idyllic and ancient Mediterranean setting. “Shaggy-haired goats leaped from ledge to ledge of the rocks, while the young goatherd, wearing perched on his brown curls a little hat with the brim turned up behind, stood watching them from a height, one hand on his hip, the other holding the long staff on which he leaned. ¶ ‘Oh, lovely, lovely,’ Hans Castorp breathed. ‘How joyous and winning they are, how fresh and healthy, happy and clever they look!’ ”

Also on the wholesome side there is always Snowflake (せっぺん) –

For those of you who have read Heidi (ヘイディ),  a reminder, and for those of you who haven’t, a glimpse. Heidi, an orphan, goes to live with her misanthropic, but kindly grandfather. While there she makes the acquaintance of Peter, the young goatherd. Peter knows the names and personalities of each of his wards. He introduces Heidi to each of the goats by name and “…it was not long before she could herself distinguish the goats from one another and could call each by name, for every goat had its own peculiarities which could not easily be mistaken…” Among them was Snowflake which bleated plaintively. When Heidi asked Peter why he said that Snowflake’s mother had just been sold and she had no grandmother or grandfather to look after her. So… you guessed it, Snowflake and Heidi bonded and from this we all get a warm and fuzzy feeling. (The rest of the plot is irrelevant here. Read it yourself if you want to – or if you can stand it.)

Giles Goat-Boy by John Barth: In 1966 Webster Schott wrote a review of this book for Life Magazine. The critic pulled no punches. He started out by saying that “John Barth is more than a novelist. At 36 he’s a cult.” That was Schott’s into. The first Schott if you like, but the second one slams the author full on. Speaking of this book Schott said: “It’s a gluey mass of serio-comic belligerence that hardens into epoxy. Long, boring, frustrating, Giles Goat-Boy cultivates tedium.” Barth’s anti-hero is “…an innocent cripple who lusts and wear foul goatskin.” Born of a virgin, conceived immaculately (by a university computer) and raised on a university goat farm. And… it goes downhill from there to insanity and a cultish following. Sound familiar?

Schott’s appraisal could stand right there, but it goes on and is too good to be missed: “Giles Goat-boy is the novel with something to offend everyone. Barth distributes his hostility and nihilism with cold impartiality. His psychiatrists encourage sodomy. His moralists preach immorality. His pacifists want blood. Humanity is totally perverted. Self-sacrifice is self-aggrandizement. Personal discovery is erotic fantasy. Genocide is ego-fulfillment of the murdered. Barth’s misanthropic outrage and novel fascination with ambiguity take priority over all those other things we prize in fiction. He develops no characters. He develops no drama. He finds no emotional ranges and searches no human depths. Barth bets everything on attack, and he loses.”

To be fair, I have to add, that from what I can tell Robert Scholes praised the novel ecstatically in the N.Y. Times, but I haven’t read that review. I would have to pay to get access to it and this post isn’t about Barth or fairness actually. It is about goats, the Japanese and the zodiac. Too bad I forget that at times.

Lusty and clear from the goatherd’s throat heard, Lay ee odl lay ee odl-oo

As you can tell I am semi-familiar with The Sound of Music. It was much played in our house when I was younger. However, I have to admit I have never watched an entire production of this musical. But, say the word ‘goatherd’ and I react somewhat like one of Pavlov’s dogs – but without the drooling or the wagging tail of course. And, unlike those canines,  don’t even get a treat. Enough said.

This fragment, shown courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum, is described by them as “Relief Representation of Goatherd with Goat and Trees” dating from the late XVIIIth Dynasty, ca. 1350 to 1333 B.C.E. I suppose that not much changed between the horridly hot days along the ancient Nile and the romanticized, cool Alpine settings of the 1930s. Only, I seriously doubt if the near-naked Egyptian stood around yodeling all of the time.

“Bless those people at”

I am not a great fan of Wikipedia. In fact, that is an understatement. It’s not that I am picking on them particularly.  I never really trust any sources. It is just I am a little more mistrustful of them and the accuracy of what they have posted. However, in overview, I do have to give them credit because they are the same people who give us and for that I will be eternally grateful. Case in point – the picture of the Turkish goat shown below. It was posted at the commons site by Nevit Dilmen and it is a beauty. How could not agree? What a distinguished looking goat! A truly wonderful portrait and what a way to end this post.

Will wonders never cease? This is another one of my purple cow moments –

This has absolutely nothing to do with the zodiac or Japan, but it is about goats, remarkable goats. Yesterday a fellow I know wrote to tell me about something called argan oil. I had never heard of it. I’ve never claimed to be a sophisticate. He cited a Wikipedia article and sent me the link, but I don’t trust Wikipedia. I want science, real science. I want meat! Real meat! Goat meat. So I started digging and within minutes my mind was officially blown. Scientifically blown, even.

Argan trees grow in Morocco. Moroccan goats climb those trees and eat the leaves and fruit. Then they poop out the seeds. Humans dig through the excrement, pull out these goat-digested seeds, process them and make a special cooking oil* which the sultans once refused to export. I guess they wanted it all for themselves.

These trees, the Argania spinosa, can only be found in the southwestern part of Morocco. In 1998 UNESCO named this ‘forest’ a biosphere reserve. Half the size it covered in the 19th century it is now spread over approximately a little less than 2,000,000 acres. That may sound like a lot but I think it comes out to a little more than 3,000 square miles. (Check my math. I am often mistaken.)

Traditionally only women, Berber women, gathered and processed the seeds. (When I was a kid there was a National Geographic article about Morocco. In it was a photo of a Berber woman who was so beautiful – early Sophia Loren beautiful – that she took my breath away. I can’t picture her digging through goat dung for argan seeds. I won’t picture it. Not her.) Non-goat-digested argan fruit are gathered between May and August. The fruits are sun-dried for a few days before the rinds are removed by hand. The nuts are ground between two stones and the white kernels are gathered together. These kernals have to be carefully roasted for only a few minutes – be careful not to overcook them – and then crushed by a millstone resulting in a viscous liquid which is then mixed with water. “This dough is hand-malaxed for several  minutes, slowly getting solid and releasing an emulsion from which argan oil is finally decanted.”

In a scientific paper entitled Effect of processing on the quality of edible argan oil it states in the abstract that “Oil from hand-pressed roasted kernels originating from goat-digested fruits was not suitable for human consumption because of the the unpleasant taste and odour.” Later it noted: “Fresh oil obtained from goat-digested fruit was characterised by a typical smell and taste for Roquefort cheese whose intensity increased with the storage time.” This was a trait found in poorly stored non-goat-digested argan oil, too.  Oil from non-roasted seeds produced a fusty or Roquefort cheese smell almost immediately. Also, for whatever reason goat-digested product was lower in vitamin E.

Malaxed? What a word. Try to find it in a normal dictionary. ‘To malaxate’ appears in the 1828 Webster’s and is defined as “To soften; to knead to softness.”

How does it taste – to most humans? The fruit is said to be bitter, the nuts very bitter, but the purified (non-goat related) oil is “as sweet as walnut oil.”

Since I can’t get enough of seeing goats in trees here is another photo. This one was posted by Rh69 at commons.wikimedia.ogr.


I suggest you do yourself a favor and go there. One of the videos shows 16 goats in a single tree. If this doesn’t humor you nothing will.

In case you want to try some of this goat-pooped extract** you should be able to find it at a place like Whole Foods. Last year I went into my first Whole Foods store***. It was in Seattle. I was awed. Not as awed as goats grazing in tree tops, but… The picture below is from one of their stores in New York. You get the idea.

Image by David Shankbone posted at

*Argan oil extract is also used in the making of soap and cosmetics.

**Note that not all argan oil is made from seeds salvaged from goat excrement. Some is from seeds gathered from the trees or lying on the ground – un’et.

***I did a quick search of the Whole Foods web site, but couldn’t find this product. Maybe your search will be a little more difficult. There are a ton of listings at

For more information about Japanese prints and culture please visit my other web site at

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