The Virtual Stoa is unusual among websites in not being chiefly a repository for images of animal porn. But things are now going to change, bringing this page into line with the rest of the worldwide internetweb.
This discussion below got onto the subject of Gerald of Wales’s History and Topography of Ireland (composed around 1185), and this provides me with ample excuse to reproduce two of the classic mediaeval illustrations that accompany §56, on “A goat that had intercourse with a woman”, and §57, on “A lion that loved a woman”.
Here’s Gerald on the Irish goat:
“How unworthy and unspeakable! How reason succumbs so outrageously to sensuality! That the lord of the brutes, losing the privileges of his high estate should descend to the level of the brutes, when the rational submits itself to such shameful commerce with a brute animal!”
Gerald then sagely observes that
“Although the matter was detestable on both sides and abominable, yet it was less so by far on the side of the brute who is subject to rational beings in all things, and because he was a brute and prepared to obey by very nature. He was, nevertheless, created not for abuse but for proper use…”
And here’s Gerald on the French lion:
“Sometimes when he escaped from his cage and was in such fierce anger that no one would dare to go near him, they would send for Johanna who would calm his anger and great rage immediately. Soothing him with a woman’s tricks, she led him wherever she wanted and changed all his fury immediately into love.”O Beasts! Both! Worthy of a shameful death! But such crimes have been attempted not only in modern times but also in antiquity, which is praised for its greater innocence and simplicity. The ancients also were stained with such unspeakable deeds. And so it is written in Leviticus: “If a woman approaches any beast to have intercourse with him, ye shall kill the woman, and let the beast die the death”. The beast is ordered to be killed, not for the guilt, from which he is excused as being a beast, but to make the remembrance of the act a deterrent, calling to mind the terrible deed.”
Is this sound reasoning from our Gerald? Six hundred years later, this argument was apparently still being made, calling forth Jeremy Bentham’s dissent in his classic essay (and longstanding Virtual Stoa favourite) “Of Offences Against One’s Self“. There he considered the problem of human-animal sex (“Accidents of this sort will sometimes happen; for distress will force a man upon strange expedients”), but expressed the thought that laws against this kind of things were probably a bad idea. He then wrote this:
“Some persons have been for burning the poor animal with great ceremony under the notion of burning the remembrance of the affair. (See Puffendorf, Bks. 2, Ch. 3, 5. 3. Bacon’s Abridg. Title Sodomy. J.B.) A more simple and as it should seem a more effectual course to take would be not to meddle or make smoke about the matter.”
Bentham then turned his attention to the “most incontestably pernicious” of “all irregularities of the venereal appetite”, which was masturbation, though while he judged that this was Very Bad Indeed, he didn’t really think it should be banned, either, for “no punishment could ever have any effect” as “it can always be committed without any danger or at least without any apparent danger of a discovery”. So there we are. (Which reminds me that I haven’t yet read Thomas Lacqueur’s Solitary Sex, though I’m looking forward to very much indeed. No time, no time.)
[Gerald of Wales snippets from the Penguin ed., translated by John O’Meara, pp.75-6.]