Click to Subscribe
▶  More from
Aesop to Androcles
Tales of Animal Empathy from Antiquity
I have often been compelled to wonder at the empathy for animals in Hellenic antiquity and even in its Roman extension. The bull leapers of Knossos risked their lives—men and women—performing acts of daring with aurochs as fearsome as the most dominant professional bull riding [PBR] animals. In fact, the modern iteration, the PBR, an overtly Aryan sport that spans only America, Canada, Australian, Mexico and Brazil [as far as I know] rates the bulls as athletes. This bull was also sacred to Zeus, Herakles, ancient boxing and ancient warfare, with 7-layers of bull’s hide the standard dressing for a boxer’s fist or a hoplite’s shield cover.
The fabulist of Hellenic antiquity, Aesop, was a slave [coincidental] who related morality in tales of animal interaction in a fashion that still reaches children easily,
[WC, please examine one of his fables most pertinent to our inquiry.]
In the Roman arena we are treated to the degeneracy of late-stage civilization. Yet, with the massive slaughter of animals in the arena, conducted largely to demonstrate power over nature, there was a certain empathy. [1]
The most astonishing tale was of one emperor assigning 400 of his Praetorian Guards to fight 400 tigers!
A fable of antiquity which the author [I cannot recall] insisted was true, was the story of Androcles [manly-honor] and the lion. Androcles had escaped slavery and hid in a cave where he found a lion wounded from a thorn in his paw. Having removed the thorn, man and beast went their separate ways and both ended up pitted against one another in the arena, and when Andocles confronted the lion it declined to harm him and they were both freed.
I regard the story as myth, an ancient tale reformed over the ages about the honorable qualities of a man being demonstrable in his handling of animals, beings which have the ability to see through our social masks which we construct for one another. Also, since beast wrangling is so often done in such a way that a physically inferior man must impose his will or make common cause with an animal capable of tearing him apart, such acts demonstrate the internal character of an autonomous and unilateral actionist, in contrast to the system of control oppressing beasts in its Roman guise to impress the mob, all of whom know themselves to be inferior to the beasts being abused and used.
-1. In The Sorrows of the Ancient Romans, it is observed that men and beasts often combated one another on equal terms and that people were as likely to be fed to beasts as beasts were to people and that a major attraction of the arena [the sands] was the provision of meat for the grain-eating populace. A gladiator who did not belong to a funeral fund would be fed to the beasts.
prev:  ‘Fiercely Contested by Experts’     ‹  histories  ›     next:  ‘All Alike Being Swept Away’

Add a new comment below: