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Medieval animal trials

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Medieval animal trials

Post by annis » Fri March 8th, 2013, 6:16 pm

Who knew that in the Middle Ages animals could be tried and even executed for crimes against humans? I certainly didn't till I read Karen Maitland's intriguing post at the History Girls blog!

I Pronounced this Pig Guilty of Murder
http://the-history-girls.blogspot.co.nz ... urder.html

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Post by Lisa » Fri March 8th, 2013, 7:05 pm

I'm sure I saw a parody of that on The Simpsons or something similar once, but didn't consider that it actually happened!

On a serious note, I can't believe a horse was found guilty of rape, but today in certain cultures women raped by men still get blamed for it themselves. Not trying to start a debate or anything, but that strikes me as incredible.

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Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Fri March 8th, 2013, 7:21 pm

What a fascinating post! Of course this must have all been for the benefit of the human observers -- why would you need a trial to condemn a meat animal which could be slaughtered at will? In the case of the horse 'rape', the stallion's owner probably objected to his animal being neutered, and the legal shenannigans were to force his hand.

The Old Testament talks about an animal's soul, using the same hebrew word as for a human soul. But there is no indication in either the New or Old Testaments that an animal is capable of choosing to commit sin.

The Qur'an, however, states that animals will stand before judgement and account for their sins. Of course, Muhammad had to work with camels, those very clever and often extremely contrary beasties, so I'm sure it comforted him to imagine certain individuals frying in Hell. ;)

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Post by Margaret » Fri March 8th, 2013, 8:51 pm

So interesting! There may have been some usefulness to this, because the owner of an executed animal would lose the use of the animal, presumably including its meat (and who would want to ingest a murderous and condemned animal, anyway?); also, there might well have been a stigma for owners of animals who were demonically possessed or whatever. So there would have been an incentive for people to make sure their animals didn't run wild. But I doubt this "rational" justification for the process had anything whatsoever to do with why they executed animals. People just thought differently about a lot of things than we do today. Remember that animals could be witches' familiars. And people believed in werewolves, etc. (something Maitland has used in her fiction!)
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Post by DianeL » Sun March 10th, 2013, 5:04 pm

There's a film about this, called alternately "The Day of the Pig" or "The Advocate" - I've had this on DVD for years and was aware since I don't even know when that animal trials were very much a real thing. The film, by the way, is on Neflix streaming under the Advocate title, stars Colin Firth, and has some absolutely wonderful comedy and weirdness in it. Supporting actors include Ian Holm and Nicol Williamson, who has the best line in the whole film I think. I like it very much.

Here is the link - and by the way, this cover shot has NOTHING whatever to do with the film.
Last edited by DianeL on Sun March 10th, 2013, 5:11 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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