Man and Beast

When Anthony the Great, in the final stage of his long life, retired to the Inner Mountain, he was bothered by beasts that dug up his vegetable patch. He addressed them graciously (χαριέντως), saying, ‘Why are you doing me harm, since I do no harm to you?’ From then on, he and they lived together in peace. The restoration of harmony with the animal kingdom is a Leitmotif in ascetic literature, a sign of return to graced innocence, an indication of holiness. We are, as a generation, at the opposite end of the spectrum. A review of recent literature provides statistics that show how far our exploitation of animals has gone: ‘Spain’s porkers, nearly as numerous as its people, provide enough manure annually to fill the Barcelona football stadium 23 times over’; ‘We raise 66 billion chickens a year, eight for every human, almost all of them in terrible conditions’. The cinema is mobilised to open our eyes. I have been touched by Gunda and Cow. Both are beautiful. Neither is sentimental. Effectively these films reveal the otherness of animals, reminding us that the antiseptic, plastic-wrapped meat in supermarket fridges was once alive – and that all life deserves to be regarded with reverence.