Humans as Animals, Animals as Humans in Seventeenth-Century Russia

Charles J Halperin, Ann M Kleimola


The boundary between human and animal in seventeenth-century Russia was more porous than has been realized. In several witchcraft cases supposedly-bewitched humans were described as speaking like animals. Muscovite hagiography and miracle stories also portrayed the demon-possessed as speaking and acting like animals. This dehumanization of humans as animals constitutes the polar opposite of the anthropomorphizing of animals as humans in bestiaries, which depicted animals as possessing human characteristics. Visual evidence corroborates these connections between the bewitched and demon-possessed on the one hand, and animals on the other, by picturing demons and humans turning to sin with animal characteristics. Early demonic representations featured the eidalon, a Greek-based figure with animal features. This textual and visual material from seventeenth-century Muscovy zoomorphized the bewitched and demon-possessed by categorizing their behavior as beastly, as that of wild animals, and by projecting the attributes and emotions of animals onto human beings. Attributing human traits to an animal might be a compliment but ascribing traits to a human could only be a criticism, thus demonstrating and confirming the Muscovite premise of human superiority over animals.


Animals, Muscovy, witchcraft, miracles, bestiaries, demonic possession, eidalon, animal-human hybrids

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ISSN: 2333-1658