Around 1782, because of an epizootic which the veterinaries were unable to stop, all animals, whether healthy or sick, were taken to the doors of the churches. The priests, dressed in robes and stoles, gravely exorcised them, sprinkling them with holy water and hanging around their necks, as an amulet, a little packet of salt over which they had pronounced mystical words.
In isolated countrysides where superstition flourished, the clergy was still using the archaic arm of excommunication.
Besides these religious means, justice usually punished the murderer with the death penalty. We find these words of Moses in the Scriptures: “If a bullock has struck a man or a woman with its horns, and that person is dead, it must be stoned.” But it was a legitimate defence against a dangerous animal, that the Prophet was authorising.
Less understandable is Moses’ prescription not to eat the flesh of a bullock sacrificed in this way. Another surprise is his declaration that the master of the bullock is innocent. The law of the XII Tables edicts that, if an animal has caused damage, the master must give an estimated compensation for it; if not, he must give the thing which has caused the damage, that is to say the animal.
Burgund law is based on the same principles: “If among the animals, a horse has killed a horse, if a bullock has struck a bullock, or if a dog has bitten so that the wounded animal can no longer work, the first animal, or the dog which appears to have caused the damage, must be delivered to the person who has suffered it.”.
In almost all of the ancient laws, the animal is not placed outside common law. The Laws punish it, but they protect and venge it also, just like any other servant. Sometimes it is called as a witness, sometimes sued as guilty.
If a man who lives alone is attacked in his house and he kills the brigand, he pulls three strands from his thatched roof, takes his dog, or the cat, or the rooster, leads them before a judge, swears and is declared innocent. The animals are therefore invoked as witnesses.
We all know the story of the Montargis dog who, recognizing, at the court of Charles V, his master’s assassin, throws himself at him and causes such suspicion about the guilt of the knight Maurice, that the King decides on a Judgement of God. The man and the dog fight in an arena. The dog’s victory decides the guilty knight to confess his crime.
According to Gallic law, whoever finds geese in his crop must cut a stick, its length from his elbow to the end of his little finger and, with this stick, kill the geese. If the geese were eating grain which was not destined for them, a harrow is dropped on their necks, and they are left there to die.
Many laws found in judiciary annals, from the XIII Century on, attest to a constant jurisprudence, and for all countries, on this point: if the animal has committed a misdemeanor, it must expiate its misdeed. Justice not only attacks beasts which commit homicides, but also those which have eaten the victim’s flesh.
In the affair of the sow judged in Savigny, in 1457, the judge hesitated to condemn the pigs after the sow had killed Jehan Martin, because it had not been demonstrated that they had eaten his flesh, even though they had been found with their snouts covered in blood.
In India, no fine was asked for the damages caused by elephants and horses, nor by an animal with one eye, nor by a cow who had just calved. Bulls which were kept for breeding, beasts consecrated to the gods, accompanied or not by their guardians, were declared by Manu, the first hindu legislator, exempt from any fines.
On the other hand, anyone who had committed the crime of killing a cow had to shave his head completely, swallow barley seeds for a month, and install himself in a field with cows, covered with the skin of the one which he had killed. He followed the herd all day and, staying behind it, swallowed the dust which it raised. He also had to serve and bow to it.
Dogs and cats spitefully killed also obtained vengeance. They were placed upright and the murderer had to cover them from head to tail, not in gold, but in red seeds.
Seventh part tomorrow.