27 May 2008

Hampton L. Carson (1852-1929) on the Punishment of Animals

In the open square of the old Norman city of Falaise, in the year 1386, a vast and motley crowd had gathered to witness the execution of a criminal convicted of the crime of murder. Noblemen in armour, proud dames in velvet and feathers, priests in cassock and cowl, falconers with hawks upon their wrists, huntsmen with hounds in leash, aged men with their staves, withered hags with their baskets or reticules, children of all ages and even babes in arms were among the spectators. The prisoner was dressed in a new suit of man's clothes, and was attended by armed men on horseback, while the hangman before mounting the scaffold had provided himself with new gloves and a new rope. As the prisoner had caused the death of a child by mutilating the face and arms to such an extent as to cause a fatal hemorrhage, the town tribunal, or local court, had decreed that the head and legs of the prisoner should be mangled with a knife before the hanging. This was a mediƦval application of the lex talionis, or "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." To impress a recollection of the scene upon the memories of the bystanders an artist was employed to paint a frescoe on the west wall of the transept of the Church of the Holy Trinity in Falaise, and for more than four hundred years that picture could be seen and studied until destroyed in 1820 by the carelessness of a white washer. The criminal was not a human being, but a sow, which had indulged in the evil propensity of eating infants on the street.

(Hampton L. Carson, "The Trial of Animals and Insects: A Little Known Chapter of MediƦval Jurisprudence," Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 56 [1917]: 410-5, at 410)

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