Anthropomorphism is the attribution of uniquely human characteristics to non-human creatures and beings, natural and supernatural phenomena, material states and objects or abstract concepts. Subjects for anthropomorphism commonly include animals and plants depicted as creatures with human motivation able to reason and converse, forces of nature such as winds or the sun, components in games, unseen or unknown sources of chance, etc. Almost anything can be subject to anthropomorphism. The term derives from a combination of Greek ἄνθρωπος (anthrōpos), human and μορφή (morphē), shape or form.
Humans seem to have an innate capacity to project human characteristics in this way. Evidence from art and artifacts suggests it is a long-held propensity that can be dated back to earliest times. It is strongly associated with the art of storytelling where it also appears to have ancient roots. Most cultures possess a long-standing fable tradition with anthropomorphised animals as characters that can stand as commonly recognised types of human behaviour. The use of such literature to draw moral conclusions can be highly complex.
Within these terms, humans have more recently been identified as having an equivalent opposite propensity to deny common traits with other species - most particularly apes - as part of a feeling that humans are unique and special. This tendency has been referred to as Anthropodenial by primatologist Frans de Waal.
From the perspective of adherents of religions in which the deity or deities have human characteristics, it may be more accurate to describe the phenomenon as theomorphism, or the giving of divine qualities to humans, rather than anthropomorphism, the giving of human qualities to the divine. According to their beliefs, the deity or deities usually existed before humans, therefore humans were created in the form of the divine. However, for those who do not believe in the doctrine of the religion, the phenomenon can be considered anthropomorphism. In his book Faces in the Clouds: A New Theory of Religion (1993), Stewart Elliott Guthrie theorizes that all religions are anthropomorphisms that originate due to the brain's tendency to detect the presence or vestiges of other humans in natural phenomena.
On rare occasions the literary use of anthropomorphism has been opposed on non-religious or political grounds. Lewis Carroll's novel Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was banned in China's Hunan province in 1931 because "animals should not use human language" and it "put animals and human beings on the same level. Later in the twentieth century George Orwell's novella Animal Farm used anthropomorphism to satirize Communism, as voiced by a pig in the famous passage "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others".
Anthropomorphism is a well-established device in literature from early times. Aesop's Fables, a collection of short tales written or recorded by the ancient Greek citizen Aesop, make extensive use of anthropomorphism, in which animals and weather illustrate simple moral lessons. One poet who made high art of the literary device was the northern renaissance poet Robert Henryson in his Morall Fabillis, where the blend of human and animal characteristics is especially subtle and ambiguous. The Indian books Panchatantra (The Five principles) and The Jataka tales employ anthropomorphized animals to illustrate various principles of life.