Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Roman Menagerie

By Kelli Stanley

Miranda Corbie lives on Mason Street in 1940 San Francisco, right at the foot of Nob Hill and around the corner from the Club Moderne on 555 Sutter. She's a city girl ... and has a difficult enough time taking care of herself, even if her landlord allowed pets (they don't) and even if Miranda could face the risk (and inevitability) of losing something else dear to her. In short, she couldn't have a pet and wouldn't have a pet, though she cares about and empathizes with animals (there's a scene in CITY OF SECRETS in which she defends a chimpanzee on display in the Gayway).

Arcturus, on the other hand--from my Roman Britain set series--is a shameless savior of beasts. His career as a doctor began when he attempted to heal the hoof of the family's goat, taking her across the field to a small wood. From this safety point, he sees raiders from the Boudiccan army murder his mother and burn down their house.

He's been trying to heal beasts of all sorts--and himself--ever since.

His family includes a dog (Pyxis, who had several puppies and was injured in NOX DORMIENDA but is fine now), a cat (Fera, who also had a litter of kittens and is an excellent mouser), several chickens, and a beloved horse (Nimbus) whom he first encounters in NOX DORMIENDA on a memorable trip to Camulodunum.

In THE CURSE-MAKER, Arcturus finds an abused donkey at a supposedly abandoned (and haunted) silver mine, and carts her back to Londinium. He'll probably wind up with another goat in his next adventure.

Now, given all this affection for animals--and defense of the poor donkey--I am sometimes asked if this is an anachronistic attitude on the part of Arcturus. After all, the reasoning goes, Roman culture is infamous for its arena slaughters of beasts both human and four legged, and animal sacrifice was in intrinsic element of the culture.

Arcturus is not anachronistic. Uncommon, yes .. but of his own time. Plutarch, in a famous essay, advocates that slaves and work animals be treated with kindness, not turned out to the street or sent to the slaughterhouse with old and useless. Cicero descried the murder of elephants in the Roman Colosseum. Catullus wrote of Lesbia's pet sparrow, and grave citations have mentioned precious pets.

How the Greeks and Romans were able to justify animal sacrifice with animal kindness is not all that different from donating to the ASPCA ... and eating a hamburger.

Arcturus isn't a vegetarian ... but he sometimes wishes he were!

No comments: