Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Kindness to Animals
Surely the most tired of all criticisms is that they must care more about animals than about people, as if for every dolphin spared from the net a homeless person must go unfed, or as if the people who make such accusations are themselves to be found devoting every spare moment to the uplift of their fellow man.The criticism is at least a couple of millennia old. Plutarch's Life of Pericles starts out with this anecdote (tr. Bernadotte Perrin):
On seeing certain wealthy foreigners in Rome carrying puppies and young monkeys about in their bosoms and fondling them, Caesar asked, we are told, if the women in their country did not bear children, thus in right princely fashion rebuking those who squander on animals that proneness to love and loving affection which is ours by nature, and which is due only to our fellow-men.Kindness to animals and sympathy for one's fellow humans are not always incompatible. The one sometimes reinforces the other.
I recently read a charming story about an ancient animal lover in Aelian's Varia Historia (13.31, tr. N.G. Wilson):
Xenocrates of Chalcedon, the friend of Plato, was compassionate and not only kind to men but showed pity for many brute animals. One day when he was sitting out of doors a sparrow pursued hotly by a hawk flew into his lap. He welcomed the bird and hid it in order to protect it until its pursuer went away. When he had calmed its fear he opened his cloak and let the bird go with the comment that he had not betrayed the suppliant.