Animal Studies Bibliography

Hunting and Humanity in Western Thought
Matt Cartmill
Social Research 1995, v. 62, n. 3, pg. 773-786

This article examines the cultural attitude towards hunting as it is portrayed throughout Western literature. Hunting is defined as a “confrontation between the human world and the untamed wilderness, between culture and nature” (pg. 774). The author examines how this sttitued has changed to become conflicting and contradictory in nature.

The article begins by examining how hunting has been portrayed through the sixteenth century. The Greeks were fascinated by it while the Romans found no special cultural or mythical significance to it. This reflects more of a rural versus urban difference. The Roman literary expressions represent an early anti-hunting sentiment while the traditional Christian view represents another. Christian literature often portrayed forests as evil and the animals that live there a symbol of Satan. Greeks and Romans also sometimes portrayed the forests and wilderness as scary places to be feared.

The attitude change towards the wilderness reflects a social significance of such places. As hunting became an aristocratic sport, these forests were transformed into magical, enchanted places as is reflected in late medieval literature. A prime example of this is the stag hunt as a metaphor for the tragic fall of a noble victim as seen in Shakespeare's Caesar.

The Renaissance began to reflect an anti-hunting sentiment. Erasmus condemned it as “bestial amusement”. This reflection was further represented in the 16 th century hunting manuals. The author attributes this rise in a negative attitude towards hunting as a rise in doubt in the hierarchies/monarchies of the time since this sport was a symbol of aristocratic privilege.

The 18 th century came to question the morality of hunting. Animal suffering was portrayed as natural and moral evil. The “killer ape” theory of the 1960's and 70's also portrayed hunting as a moral sin. It began to separate humans from nature by means of our destructive technology. This theory described man as inherently vicious and violent killers. Many modern writers shared this view and hunting became an armed confrontation between inherently sinful humans and harmonious nature that is very disturbing to a lot of people. However, Native American remained immune to this portrayal. They were, and always have been, seen as a part of the natural landscape. This way, they are not in confrontation with the natural order of things, but are a part of it.

The article concludes by looking at the current portrayal of hunting in modern literature and writing. The three core perspectives are that hunting is either a foraging activity, it is population control, or that it is a temporary union with the natural world. According to the author, “this rationale is a product of the way we define hunting, in terms of a symbolic opposition between the wild kingdom of nature and the polluted domain of human culture and history” (pg. 784).



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