October 9, 2009

The Friday Record - The Trial of the Pig

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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ddurance said...

I've come across strange books for sure, strangely enough they're not surfacing in my mind at the moment. This one sounds interesting though. I am a lover of obscure facts. lol


Obe said...

Oh, my lord. This is odd. I'm laughing but lordy its odd.

Karen Michelle Nutt said...

Great Topic. I've found quite of few interesting trials with animals.

At the Salem Witch Trials--One dog was hanged because it was believed to be able to transform into a witch.

Cats were burned and hanged in the medieval times because they were independent creatures. This violated what they were taught from the bible. Humans should have dominion over animals. Also, cats were very active at night and engaged in loud, raucous mating rituals. To the superstitious minds of the Middle Ages, cats were evil and practicing witchcraft.

Most accused witches were older peasant women who lived alone. If they had a cat for a pet, it made it worse for them. About a million or so cats were burned at the stake, along with their owners, on suspicion of being witches.

Pope Gregory IX (1145–1241) declared that a sect in southern France had been caught worshiping the devil. The devil supposedly appeared in the shape of a Black Cat. Cats then became the official symbol of heresy. Anyone who showed any compassion for a cat would then be under the church's suspicion.

Gwynlyn MacKenzie said...

I love obscure facts, and these were most interesting---since I write in that time period. Thanks for sharing.

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Thanks for all the comments. Karen, thanks also for the information on the cats. Poor critters! Well, the middle ages were just a hard time for a lot of people....the church was a little screwy in it's believes at the times and it seems advanced thinking took a break during those years as well.

Mary Ricksen said...

People have had some strange ideas haven't they?

robynl said...

oh yikes, what strange happenings and beliefs to say the least. I don't like seeing animals suffer.

Virginia said...

This is very strange. I have read some strange things before but I think you beat them with this.

Meljprincess said...

I haven't but I'll be looking for them now. Great post, Anna. I enjoyed reading it. :-)