The Mule – and his Friends – Put Man on Trial

The Brethren of Purity were a secret group of Islamic philosophers based in Basra, Iraq sometime during the eighth or tenth centuries. So secretive were they that very little is known about them, but some of their writing survives, including a letter known as The Case of the Animals Versus Man Before the King of the Jinn. This is part of an Oxford University Press series of translations and commentaries. The translation I’m quoting here is by Lenn E. Goodman and Richard McGregor.

In this epistle, animals, birds and insects (interesting inclusion for the time) put humanity on trial in the court of the King of the Jinn for “cruelty, ecological heedlessness and greed”*. In their defence, the counsel for the defence quote the Qur’an, in which the Prophet tells his followers that animals are there for them to use. Horses, mules, and donkeys are “for riding and for splendour, and much that you know not” – which is rather intriguing.

There is immediately a response from a mule, who points out that this usage was never intended to result in abuse, adding, “there is nothing in the passages this human cites to support his claim that they are masters and we slaves.” After all, the mule goes on, the Qu’ran also says that “the sun and moon, the wind and clouds” are also subject to man, but they are not exactly chattels or slaves to mankind. Animals, the mule says, should be under man’s protection, not his figurative yoke.

Before Adam, the mule states, animals lived peacably as they pleased, but as soon as man arrived on the scene they found themselves forced into “exhausting toil and drudgery of hauling, ploughing, drawing water, turning mills, and being ridden. They forced us to these tasks with beatings, bludgeonings, and every kind of duress, torture, and  chastisement throughout our lives.”

When the defence arrogantly counter that the animals should be able to tell by man’s bearing – upright, bipedal – that humanity is the master and the animal kingdom his subjects. Nonsense, say the animals. Their many forms are just as divinely given: “You should start from the recognition that all animals are the work of the wise Creator, who made them as He did with reason and purpose, to benefit them and protect them
from harm. But this is grasped only by Him and those who are well rooted in knowledge.”
Frankly, the animals tend to come out best as the arguments fly back and forth. If man claims that his mere ownership of animals is proof of his status as master, the mule points out that some men own other men – slaves. This is due to the “mere turns of human fortune” and not something ordained from on high. In any case, man only looks after us because he fears losing his investment, the mules says. Several witness for the prosecution speak out in detail about what they have suffered at the hands of the “Adamites”, including the Horse:

Your Majesty, had you seen us as their prisoners on the field of battle, bits in our mouths, saddles on our backs, plunging unprotected through clouds of dust, hungry and thirsty, swords in our faces, lances to our chests, and arrows in our throats,awash in blood, you would have had pity on us, O King.

The mule is saltier still as he talks about the indignities and brutalities he has experienced.

Your Majesty, if you consider how dense, vulgar, uncouth, and foul-mouthed humans are, you’ll be amazed at how little they discern their own odious ways, vicious traits, depraved characters, and vile actions, their manifold barbarities, corrupt notions, and conflicting dogmas.

Later a rabbit says that he is indignant to be hunted by men on horses – after all, he says, dogs are carnivores and therefore have a reason to pursue his kind, but horses do not. The horse, he says, should not participate in the chase.

The next day, a better orator stands up in defence of mankind, citing its piety and the heavenly promises of the afterlife, but the animals counter with hell and other punishments, claiming that this balance sets creatures equal with man. Mankind draws ahead again by speaking of holymen and saints, and the animals must concede that they, too, seek to learn from these people.

Finally, the very finest and most highly educated counsel for the prosecution is introduced, a man “Persian by breeding, Arabian by faith, a ḥanif by confession, Iraqi in culture, Hebrew in lore, Christian in manner, Damascene in devotion, Greek in science, Indian in discernment, Sufi in intimations, regal in character, masterful in thought, and divine in awareness.” And then the text abruptly ends.

 

 

* Quotation from Robert Irwin’s wonderful, wonderful, Camel, which taught me so much about the bodies of camels and Arabic poetry. and made me laugh too.

The Emininently Recyclable Horse

 

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From Internet Archive’s scan of The Anatomy and Physiology of the Horse (1863) via Wiki Commons

In The Age of the Horse I gave readers some idea of the ingenuity humans used to recycle the bodies of horses used in the nineteenth century west. Of course, this inventiveness was not restricted to the Victorian era nor to the more rapidly industrialised nations – and we’re still finding new uses for horses’ bodies. Here is a brief, morbid and often suprising list of them, from armour to face lifts.

Hide

As shelters in the eighteenth century by the Puelche and Pehuenche of Argentina and Chile. (Horse Nations: The worldwide impact of the horse on indigenous societies post-1492, by Peter Mitchell, 2015, p281)

The skin from colts’ and mares’ lower legs were used to make gauchos’ “bota de potro” footwear. (Mitchell, 2015, p282)

Drumheads; Blackfoot Indians, (The Role of the Horse in Man’s Culture, by Harold B Barclay, 1980, p177)

Leather for covering large boardroom and office tables (Waste Products and Undeveloped Substances: Or, Hints for Enterprise in Neglected Fields by Peter Lund Simmonds, 1862, p364)

“Leather guards on [German] cavalry trousers”, carriage roofs or whip lashes. (The Horse-World of London by W J Gordon, 1893, p187)

Shoe leather or “porpoise hide”  (“Horse Meat for Food” by Frank G Carpenter, The National Tribune, 19 January 1893, p9)

Saddles and boot tops (twentieth century America)

For making braided reins, bridles, girths, cruppers and whips in Kazakhstan. (Barclay, 1980, p319)

Bags and shoe soles in Mongolia (Barclay, 1980, p302)

Cordovan leather, shield and buckler parts, coat worn under armour, harness (Barclay, 1980, p133)

Fat

Distilled for use in lamps, etc. (Waste Products and Undeveloped Substances: Or, Hints for Enterprise in Neglected Fields by Peter Lund Simmonds, 1862, p364)

Intestines

Sausage skins, gut strings (Simmonds, 1862, p364)

Bones

Grease and bones burned for fuel on the Pampas in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. (Barclay, 1980, p187)

“Lucifer matches” (Simmonds, 1862, p340)

Knife handles, phosphorus, super-phosphate of lime (Simmonds, 1862, p364)

Oil for candlemaking, leather dressing and lubricating. (Gordon, 1893, p186)

Ground and mixed with sulphuric acid for fertiliser, or simply ground into bone meal for manure making. (Gordon, 1893, p186)

Button-making (Gordon, 1893, p186)

Ribs and scapulae for smoothing clay pots, cannon bones for spear heads, jawbones to scrape leather thongs, pastern bones to make ornaments. (Copper Age Botai culture, Kazakhstan)

Teeth

As necklaces by some Native American groups, (Barclay, 1980, p177)

Tendons

Glue and gelatine (Simmonds, 1862, p364)

“Nithya” – a botox-like cosmetic treatment that stimulates the cells that produce collagen.

Hair of Mane, Tail

Tapestry making, girths, ropes, fetters, collars for horses and cattle, shoe covers, rain hats and fishing nets in Buryatia, Siberia.

Hair-cloth, mattress stuffing, woven into bags for crushing seed in oil mills (Simmonds, 1862, p364)

Furniture stuffing, fishing lines. (Gordon, 1893, p187)

Plaited to make ropes, nets, lassoes and fly whisks by the Yakut of Siberia, who also use it for decorative work and stuffing saddles. (Barclay, 1980, p327)

Tipi decorations among some Native American groups (Barclay, 1980, p177)

Clothing or harness decoration by some Native American groups, (Barclay, 1980, p177)

The shirts of penitents (Barclay, 1980, p133)

Mixed with rubber to create “hairloch”, which was used as padding for the equipment dropped into Occupied France for use by the Special Operations Executive in World War Two (The Women who Lived for Danger, Marcus Binney, 2002, p26)

As crests for helmets (Ancient Greece, Persia) and on war standards carried by the Mongolian Army.

For bows for violins, cellos, double basses, violas and other stringed instruments (fascinating facts to be found here) including the Mongolian morin khuur or horse-head fiddle.

Callouses/Chestnuts (?)

Used in perfume making by the Blackfoot (Barclay, 1980, p177)

Flesh

Boiled for men, dogs and poultry (Simmonds, 1862, p364)

Cat and dog meat (Gordon, 1893, p187)

Fed to animals on fur farms (Horse meat for fur farms: its chemical composition by Sedgwick E Smith, Washington, Department of the Interior, 1940)

Fed to zoo animals in Central Park (The Daily Yellowstone Journal, 2nd December 1887, p1)

Fed to hunting hounds (UK)

Fed to pigs raised at knackers yards and sold for commercial pork-pie making in the UK (Among Horses in Russia by Captain M H Hayes, 1900)

Hoofs

Trimmings turned into funeral wreaths (Luc Sante’s The Other Paris); bright blue dye (Simmonds, 1862, p340)

Gelatine, prussiate, “fancy snuff boxes” (Simmonds, 1862, p364)

Glue, blue-maker manufacture (Gordon, 1893, p186)

As pendants by some Native American groups, (Barclay, 1980, p177)

Armour – “These mares [the Sarmatians use] not only use for war, but also sacrifice them to the local gods and eat them for food. Their hoofs they collect, clean, split, and make from them as it were python scales. . . . These pieces they bore and stitch together with the sinews of horses and oxen, and then use them as breastplates that are as handsome and strong as those of the Greeks. For they can withstand blows of missiles and those struck in close combat.” (Description of Greece, Pausanias, translated by W H S Jones)

Blood

Button manufacture; albumen extracted and used for making photographs  (Carpenter, 1893, p9)

Dung

For making cores/loose internal parts of casting moulds in foundries “in some foreign countries” (Simmonds, 1862, p368)

Collected, moulded into cakes for fuel and sold (China) (Simmonds, 1862, p369)

To insulate roofs (Copper Age Botai culture, Kazakhstan)

Urine

For making PreMarin, a hormone used to allay menopause symptoms and in feminizing hormone therapy for transwomen.

Boiled to preserve seeds, in a mythical Chinese pharmacopoeia.

Bezoar (a solid mass that forms in the digestive tract of some animals)

“It has the medicinal properties of settling fright and resolving phlegm, clearing heat and dispelling poisons. It is used to treat internal proliferation of phlegm-heat, manic depression (diankuang) and fright epilepsy (jingxian), malign poisons, ulcers and swellings, disturbances of consciousness, etc.” (Bencao gangmu, a Chinese Systematic Materia Medica by Li Shizhen, 1590)

Horse-shoes

Shipped to China, straightened and sharpened into razors (Carpenter, 1893, p9)

Horse-shoe Nails

“Horse-shoe nails, kicked about the world by horses innumerable, are not the useless fragments we might naturally deem them. Gun-makers tell us that no iron is so well fitted for their purpose as that which is derived from horse-shoe nails and similar worn fragments. The nails are, in the first instance, made of good sound iron, and the violent concussions they receive when a horse is walking over a stony road, give a peculiar annealing and toughnening to the metal, highly beneficial to its subsequent use for gun-barrels” (Simmonds, 1862, p418)

Body

If you’ve had your horse cremated, the cremains can be transformed into diamonds or glass jewellery as a keepsake.

Alternatively, the horse can be allowed to break down into compost.

Scandal! Did the Icelandic tölt come from England?

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William Blake’s take on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The Wife of Bath rides an ambler,

Researchers at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wild Animal Research (IZW) in Berlin have announced a fascinating discovery in the history of gaited horses. By studying the genomes of ninety horses that lived between the Copper Age and the eleventh century, they have traced the spread of the fifth equine gait or amble. This builds on the recent discovery (read about it here) that a mutation to gene DMRT3 causes horses to tölt or pace.

According to the scientists, ambling, tölting or pacing horses seem to have originated in England in the ninth century and were then taken to Iceland by the Vikings and on to the rest of Europe and Asia.

I’m curious about this as I’m pretty sure some Mongolian horses amble, and I didn’t know they were descended in any way, shape or form from Viking horses. Also, pre-horse hipparions were pacers.

Here’s the details of the paper: Wutke S, Andersson L, Benecke N, Sandoval-Castellanos E, Gonzalez J, Hallsson  JH, Lembi L,  Magnell O, Morales-Muniz A, Orlando L, Pálsdóttir AH, Reissmann M, Muñioz-Rodríguez MB, Ruttkay M, Trinks A, Hofreiter M, Ludwig A (2016): The Origin of Ambling Horses. CURR BIOL 26, 697-698. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2016.07.001.