For today's blog, I'm turning back to Michael Powell's book CURIOUS EVENTS IN HISTORY, which I've talked about before. It's a small book, but it's chockful of interesting historical events. "The Trial of the Pig," page 40, is about more than just one event. It's about several that took place during The Middle Ages, the prosecution of animals for, well, acting like animals. Powell explains that "Humans were trying to work out their place in God's scheme and were uncertain about the roles of animal," pg. 42. They would put the animals on trails to help "exert control over the uncertainties of life and symbolically restore order to their chaotic world," pg. 42.
Animals and insects were often brought before ecclesiastical and secular courts, with their lawyers, on charges ranging from criminal damage to murder.
Examples of such trials are:
* In 1494 a pig was charged with attacking a child and killing it. Jehan Levoisier, the judge, found the pig guilty and sentenced it to be "hanged and strangled on a gibbet of wood."
* In 1750 a she-ass was charged with coition with her human owner. She was acquitted because of her previous good conduct.
* In the 1500's "some rats" were charged with "feloniously and wantonly" eating and destroying a barley crop.
Powell says that Edward Paysons Evans's 1906 book THE CRIMINAL PROSECUTION AND CAPITAL PUNISHMENT OF ANIMALS is the "definitive book about this phenomenon." In it, Evans gives accounts of cases brought against dolphins, cows and goats.
When found guilty, the animals were often dressed as humans and then executed.
Have you come across an unusual trial during your research or in a book?
Anna Kathryn Lanier
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