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031-Pigs on Trial: Why did medieval courts prosecute cows, bulls, horses, and weevils for crimes ranging from criminal damage to murder?

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For 500 years of European history, animals were given criminal trials: Bulls, horses, dogs, and sheep were arrested, jailed, given lawyers, tried, and punished at community expense. In the latest Futility Closet podcast we'll explore this strange practice and try to understand its significance to the people of the time.
We'll also rediscover the source of Futility Closet's name and puzzle over how a ringing bell relates to a man's death.
Sources for our segment on animal trials:
Anila Srivastava, "'Mean, Dangerous, and Uncontrollable Beasts': Mediaeval Animal Trials," Mosaic, March 2007.
Jen Girgen, "The Historical and Contemporary Prosecution and Punishment of Animals," Animal Law Review, 2003.
Esther Cohen, "Law, Folklore, and Animal Lore," Past & Present, February 1986.
"Medieval Animal Trials," medievalists.net, Sept. 8, 2013 (accessed Oct. 20, 2014).
James E. McWilliams, "Beastly Justice," Slate, Feb. 21, 2013.
E.P. Evans, The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals, 1906.
The Hour of the Pig (released in the United States as The Advocate), BBC, 1993.
Here's the original UTILITY sign from American University's administration building that inspired our name:

(Thanks, Karl.)
This week's lateral thinking puzzles come from Paul Sloane and Des MacHale's 1994 book Great Lateral Thinking Puzzles and from listener Meaghan Gerard Walsh.
You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset.
Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.
If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

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