Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Trials and Punishments of Pigs

In The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals (1906), E.P. Evans listed 37 prosecutions of swine between the ninth and nineteenth centuries. A few examples: In 1266, at Fontenay-aux-Roses, near Paris, a pig convicted of having eaten a child was publicly burned by order of the monks of Sainte Genevieve. In 1394, a pig was found guilty of "having killed and murdered a child in the parish of Roumaygne, in the county of Mortaing, for which deed the said pig was condemned to be haled and hanged by Jehan Petit, lieutenant of the bailiff." Finally, in 1379, three sows from a communal herd at Saint-Marcel-le-Jeussey rushed upon Perrinot Muet, the son of the swine-keeper, throwing him to the ground, fatally injuring him. The entire herd was arrested as accomplices and sentenced by the court to death. But the prior, Friar Humbert de Poutiers, not wanting to endure the loss of the swine, sent a petition to the Duke of Burgundy asking that all of the pigs, save for the three sows, be pardoned. The others were set free, "notwithstanding that they had been present at the death of the said swineherd."

Writing a hundred years earlier, E.P. Evans could only attribute these prosecutions to "an extremely crude, obtuse, and barbaric sense of justice," but as Nicholas Humphrey has suggested in his 1987 foreword to Evans' book, these trials may have helped "to domesticate chaos, to impose order on a world of accidents--and specifically to make sense of certain seemingly inexplicable events by redefining them as crimes." A similar argument is made in Darren Oldridge's Strange Histories (2005). As he concludes, "For us, the treatment of these animals may have the character of farce, but it was much nearer to tragedy for the men and women involved."


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