Ancient Greek Animal Trials

While we know quite a lot about medieval animal trials, in contrast, ancient Greek animal trials are still a mystery. Indeed, there is doubt whether they existed at all. Only Aristotle makes mention of actual prosecutions of animals although references to animal proceedings can be found in the works of other classical writers. In The Laws, Plato writes:

"If a beast of draught or other animal cause homicide, except in the case when the deed is done by a beast competing in one of the public sports, the kinsmen shall institute proceedings for homicide against the slayer..."

These proceedings, secular in nature, were likely first held in the Athenian public hall, the Prytaneum. In fact, two other types of murder trials, also unusual in nature, were held here. One was in the case of an unknown assailant or one that could not be found. Another was where an inanimate object had caused the death of a person. If an inanimate object had caused someone's death and had thus "contaminated the community," then it had to be cast out.

An animal found guilty by the tribunal would likely be excuted and its body cast out beyond the city limits. Such punishment was likely handed out to appease the erinys, the dead person's spirit who was believed to be able to cause droughts and plagues.

Medieval Animal Trials

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