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Zoologian Jurisprudence

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This essay examines the iconography and role of animals in medieval and early modern bestiaries. In being without original sin “God’s creatures” were deemed proximate to divine perfection and to salvation. Animals, whether symbolic or actual, both instructed man’s moral behaviour and ushered man towards salvation. Bestiaries, it will be argued, are keys to understanding how modern law would eventually co-ordinate itself in relation to the concept of a future salvic moment.

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    “And he never shuts his eyes however often he sleeps”, ‘De Leone’, in Theobaldi 1972: 27.

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    A full range of animals, along with their primary sources and their allegorical messages is to be found at http://www.bestiary.ca.

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    One such example might be the short-lived punishment under Roman law known as the Poena Culleo. Here the crime of patricide, conceived of as a crime against nature (even the crime against nature), was punished by placing the perpetrator in a leather sack with a cock, and a monkey. The sack was then hurled into the sea.

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    Job 12:7.

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    Omnis mundi creatura

    Quasi liber et pictura:

    Nobis est et speculum

    Cited in the Latin in Curtius, 1953, pp. 319–326. My translation.

  6. 6.

    The word pedigree from pied du gru is already loaded with animal symbolism and refers to the idea that the forked branches on a genealogical chart resembled the foot of a crane.


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School of Law, Birkbeck College, University of London. Peter Goodrich, Valerie Kelley, Paul Raffield and Anton Schütz all provided comments. A second note of gratitude to Valerie Kelley who edited the drafts of this article. Portions of the research used in this paper have been published in the context of a different argument. See Haldar, 2009.

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Correspondence to Piyel Haldar.

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Haldar, P. Zoologian Jurisprudence. Int J Semiot Law 24, 291–306 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11196-010-9182-9

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  • Legal iconography
  • Emblems
  • Bestiary
  • Salvation
  • Ressentiment