Nature on Trial: The Case of the Rooster that Laid an Egg

Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 84)


In 1474 a chicken passing for a rooster laid an egg, and was prosecuted by law in the city of Basel. Now, we are inclined to dismiss the event as fowl play, but in those days lusus naturae was no joke. The animal was sentenced in a solemn judicial proceeding and condemned to be burned alive “for the heinous and unnatural crime of laying an egg.” The execution took place “with as great solemnity as would have been observed in consigning a heretic to the flames, and was witnessed by an immense crowd of townsmen and peasants” (Evans [1906], p. 162; Needham [1969a], p. 574). The same kind of prosecution took place in Switzerland again as late as 1730.


Evil Spirit Animal Trial Male Plumage Personal Force Criminal Lawyer 
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Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dept. of SociologyBoston University College of Liberal ArtsBostonUSA

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