The dog, the cat and the mouse: animals and legal history

Monkeys playing slaves - sculpture in wood - source: Kommissio für das Deutsche Rechtswörterbuch, Heidelberg

Man and animals live together since the domestication of a number of animals many thousand years ago. Through the ages they often got along quite well, but sometimes man needed the law to deal with the unexpected behaviour of animals. The company and companionship between women, men and animals is not completely harmless or effortless. Relationships ranged and range today from animal worship and sometimes almost human care for pets at one end to harsh treatment as mere objects and outright systematic cruelty, serving mankind in the end as food, provider of skins, cruel entertainment and other goals.

In a conference on Das Tier in der Rechtsgeschichte [Animals in legal history] at Heidelberg from April 2 to 4, 2014, legal historians and other scholars will discuss several aspects of animal and human life and the interaction between them. The program of the conference at Heidelberg has been created in cooperation with the commission for the Deutsches Rechtswörterbuch. In this post I will look at some aspects of the interaction between animal history and legal history. This is an occasion, too, to look at the Deutsches Rechtswörterbuch, one of the typical German dictionary projects.

Of man and beasts

Animals are no aliens in legal history. Especially in German legal history animals come into view already early. I invite you to look for example at images from medieval bestiaries in Bestiaire du Moyen Âge, a virtual exhibition of the Bibliothèque nationale de France (interface French, English and Spanish), They are portrayed in various ways in the famous illuminated manuscripts of Eike von Repgow’s Sachsenspiegel. In April Dietlinde Munzel-Everling will discuss the animals in the Sachsenspiegel. Jacob Grimm, one of the pioneers of German academic legal history did not only study and publish versions of the medieval animal epic about the fox Renard in his Reinhart Fuchs (Berlin 1834). In an earlier post here I looked in more depth at the various versions of this much liked medieval story. His explanation of German words in his Deutsche Grammatik (first edition Göttingen 1819) often included historical explanations. The word vogelfrei, meaning literally and originally “free as a bird”, was in the context of exiled people and victims of execution who were denied a funeral narrowed to “delivered to the birds”. No doubt Grimm will figure in the contribution of Michael Frosser-Schell on animals in his edition of the Weisthümer (6 vol., Göttingen 1840-1878).

At the conference in Heidelberg a physician and a theologian will help looking at animals and legal history from different academic disciplines. Wolfgang Eckhart will look at relations between humans and animals from a cultural and medieval perspective. Martin Jung will look at animals in early French protestant theology. Apart from a section on animals in some selected legal sources the conference has sections on animals in public and private law, both in towns and rural areas, animals and their roles in criminal law, animals and law in art and language, and finally a section looking at animals in Spanish law (Marita Giménes-Candela) and animals in the German and French Enlightenment (Ulrich Kronauer). In this last contribution the change in views about the maltreatment of animals will be discussed.

Legal procedure is a subject in the contribution of Inge Kroppenberg about the damnatio ad bestias in Roman law. Peter Dinzelbacher, too, will look at Tierprozesse, criminal procedures against animals. The hanging of dogs is the theme of Stephan Meder’s contribution. Hopefully they pay due respect to the classic study The criminal prosecution and capital punishment of animals by Edward Payson Evans (London 1906; reprint London 1987), but follow also the example of historians such as Esther Cohen to look beyond cases to their context and to patterns of argumentation. For studies about animal behavior and views about animals it is worth looking at the Animal Studies Bibliography created at Michigan State University. The College of Law at this university is home to the Animal Legal & Historical Center where you can conveniently search for specific historical cases and subjects, broader themes and jurisdictions.

Animals, law, history and the German language

Logo Deutsches Rechtswörterbuch

In the second part of this post the Deutsches Rechtswörterbuch (DRW) takes pride of place. German scholars have a fine tradition of creating and editing dictionaries, with without any doubt the Deutsches Wörterbuch started by Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm as one of its major feats. The long time it takes to create such dictionaries is almost proverbial for the tenacity of German scholarship. A second association with these enterprises are the efforts of the various German learned academies. Not only academies with a budget for these projects, but also scholarly teams have the courage to start them, for example the team of 400 scholars behind the second edition of the Handwörterbuch zur deutschen Rechtsgeschichte (HRG). The online version of the HRG gives you free access to the list of entries and keywords, some examples and to excerpts of the other articles. Paid subscription is necessary for full access to the complete online version, but you can buy PDF’s of separate articles.

The project for the DRW was started in 1897 by the Prussian Academy of Sciences. Since 1959 the Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften leads and finances the project. This academy supports also the Dictionnaire Étymologique de l’Ancien Français. The idea for a dictionary of the German legal language comes from the philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. On the website of the DRW you can view the original printed version, a digital version and a summary of each article. The DRW has now reached the word Schulbuch. The website of the DRW contains an introduction in English and French to facilitate its use. For the DRW a great number of sources from Germany and elsewhere for example from the Netherlands, has been digitized on a separate website, where you can search in specific sources; you can check this overview with a list of the digitized titles. A list with externally digitized relevant sources counts some 1,300 titles. The DRW has a special text archive for full text searches. Thanks to scholars such as Grimm the scope of the DRW is not just the legal language of Germany, the former Holy Roman Empire. Grimm wanted it to cover all languages of the Western Germanic language family. Thus Old English, Anglo-Saxon, Old and Middle Dutch, Old Frisian and even Lombardic, and the several medieval phases of the German language are included.

As with any dictionary created over a long time span the early parts of the DRW are not as rich as later volumes. The first volume appeared in 1914. The presence of digitized resources helps you to extend the examples adduced for early and later articles of the DRW. Let’s look for example at the cat (Katze) (DRW VII, col. 563-564). The cat figures gruesomely in a punishment dating from the Early Modern period in which someone was to be put into a sack with some living animals, among them a cat. The Katze was also the nickname of a punishment or a prison. The DRW links directly to other general German dictionaries, and indicated further textual sources, where you can even exclude certain word forms. Interestingly the ten additional textual examples from digitized sources for the cat stem all from Old Frisian law, mainly from the Westerlauwersches Recht, W.J. Buma (ed.) (Góttingen 1977). Here the cat is one of the animals which when they cause damages oblige their owner to pay only a part of the normal sum of money to be paid as a fine. The cat gave its name also to a number of following entries in the DRW which you might look up yourself.

I owe you here information about the other animals figuring in the title of my post. The mouse (Maus) is only very rarely mentioned in a legal context (DRW IX, col. 380). In fact the evidence from a trial according to canon law Tirol around 1520 given by the DRW has already been printed by Evans (p. 259-260) in Appendix A of his study from a German almanac for 1843. As a Dutchman I can dream of a case of mice invading a room with Dutch cheese! Combining cats and dogs in the title of this post was seducing, but I could have guessed easily that a dog (Hund) would only for its literal sense take very much space in the DRW (VII, col. 53-61). However, the hunting dog (Jagdhund) has an entry for itself (DRW VI, col. 356-357), with additional entries for such subjects as the servant dealing with hunting dogs. I could not help smiling at the wonderful long compound German word for the very brief separate entry concerning the costs of the care for a hunting dog, Jagdhundverpflegungskosten.

Mistaking the scope of dictionaries

Even if you can detect limits to the range and quality of the Deutsches Rechtswörterbuch you should remember that most languages do not have any kind of legal-historical dictionary worthy of a comparison with the DRW. Many people in my country complain about the largest dictionary – nicknamed the Dikke Van Dale [The Fat Dictionary] – it does not explain everything like an encyclopedia. They would be baffled by the Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal (WNT) which looks very much like an encyclopedia of the Dutch language from 1500 to roughly 1925. Its sheer size makes it the largest existing dictionary of any language. You will forgive me this paragraph when I tell you on this website you can even find words from the Lex Salica using the combined search mode of the WNT with dictionaries for Old Dutch and Middle Dutch. A dictionary of the Frisian language is also present on this website. Verily the DRW is not an encyclopedia, and also not a lexicon of juridical constructions and concepts, for which you can turn to the HRG.

I would have liked to comment on the image with the chained apes, presumably a wooden sculpture somewhere in Germany, but I have not yet found more information about it. At the end of this post I would like to turn from history to the present, For a dictionary of current legal German you can consult online for example the Rechtswörterbuch, which brings you also to current German laws and legal study books. Animals in contemporary German law are the subject on the website of the foundation Tier im Recht. When I looked at this website with a poodle staring at you Germans will remember Goethe’s words in Faust about the heart of the matter, des Pudels Kern. In my opinion the various ways we looked and look at, dealt and deal with animals can say much about our attitude towards people, life and nature. The story of animals and animal law is not to be detached from human history, because it tells us about both the bright and darker sides of human life, our views of culture and society, its order and limits.

 

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