Philo of Alexandria: animals as enemies

While reading through Philo last year, I was struck by how often he characterizes human-animal relationships as fraught with danger, at times reflecting no doubt on fatal encounters of which he had heard in Egypt. While Philo certainly has references to animals that are not subsumable under this narrative (e.g., QG 2.52; Contempl. 8-9; Dec. 76), one can reconstruct a story drawn from Scripture about the role of animals in this world that proceeds in stages:

Stage 1: Animals are created as allies to humans. Beasts were “made, not for their own sake, as wise men reason, but for the service and needs and honour of men” (QG 2.9).

Stage 2: Humanity becomes evil and the relationship is disturbed. “I believe that now, because evil is found in him, man has enemies and adversaries in terrestrial animals and fowl. But to the first man, who was altogether adorned with virtue, they were rather like military forces and allies, and a close friend naturally becomes tractable. And with this man alone they became familiar, as was fitting for servants with a master” (QG 1.18).

Stage 3: Animals now serve as instruments of punishment or contest. Cain “feared the attacks of beasts and reptiles, for nature produced these for the punishment of unjust men” (QG 1.75).  “The stronger kinds of wild animals were made in order to give us practice in warlike contests, for I feel bound to mention this point though you as a skilful advocate anticipated this defence and tried to discredit it” (Prov. 2.56). Venomous reptiles are not the result of a direct act of providence (Prov. 2.59). But rather, “these creatures [venomous animals] were prepared by God as instruments for the punishment of sinners just as generals and governors have their scourges or weapons of steel, and therefore while quiescent at all other times they are stirred up to do violence to the condemned whom Nature in her incorruptible assize has sentenced to death” (Prov. 2.61). Savage people can be described as ‘wild beasts in human shape’ (Mos 1.43).

Stage 4: In the last days, however, peace with animals will return (Praem. 89-92).



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