Bestial Sexual Morality. Or, How A Camel is Superior to Oedipus

Aelian, History of Animals 4.47

“For the sake of Zeus, allow me to interrogate the tragedians and the storytellers who came before them as to what they had in mind when they pour so great an ignorance on Laios’ son who joined that terrible journey with his mother and on Telephos who, although he did not pursue sex, also laid next to the one who bore him and would have done the same things if a serpent had not interrupted him by divine command. How can these things happen when nature even allows the mindless animals to recognize the nature of this union from simple touch—they do not need special signs or anything from the man who exposed Oedipus on Mt. Cithairon.

The camel, indeed, would certainly never have sex with its own mother. There was a herdsman, who tried to force this, and, by covering up a female as much as possible and hiding all of her except for her genitals, drove the child to its mother. The ignorant animal, thanks to its excitement for sex, did the deed and then understood it. While biting and trampling the man who was responsible for this unnatural union, it killed him terribly by kneeling on top of him. Then it threw him off a cliff.

In this, Oedipus was ignorant in failing to kill himself and just putting out is eyes: for, he did not know that it was possible to escape his troubles by getting rid of himself and not curing his home and family, and as such to try to cure evils which had passed with an incurable evil.”

47. Δότε μοι τοὺς τραγῳδοὺς πρὸς τοῦ πατρῴου Διὸς καὶ πρό γε ἐκείνων τοὺς μυθοποιοὺς ἐρέσθαι τί βουλόμενοι τοσαύτην ἄγνοιαν τοῦ παιδὸς τοῦ Λαΐου καταχέουσι τοῦ συνελθόντος τῇ μητρὶ τὴν δυστυχῆ σύνοδον, καὶ τοῦ Τηλέφου τοῦ μὴ πειραθέντος μὲν τῆς ὁμιλίας, συγκατακλινέντος δὲ τῇ γειναμένῃ καὶ πράξαντος ἂν τὰ αὐτά, εἰ μὴ θείᾳ πομπῇ διεῖρξεν ὁ δράκων· εἴ γε ἡ φύσις τοῖς ἀλόγοις ζῴοις τὴν τοιαύτην μίξιν καὶ ἐκ τοῦ χρωτὸς δίδωσι κατανοῆσαι, καὶ οὐ δεῖται γνωρισμάτων οὐδὲ τοῦ ἐκθέντος ἐς τὸν Κιθαιρῶνα. οὐκ ἂν γοῦν ποτε τῇ τεκούσῃ ὁμιλήσειε κάμηλος. ὁ δέ τοι νομεὺς τῆς ἀγέλης κατακαλύψας τὸν θῆλυν ὡς οἷόν τε ἦν καὶ ἀποκρύψας πάντα πλὴν τῶν ἄρθρων, τὸν παῖδα ἐπάγει τῇ μητρί, καὶ ἐκεῖνος λάθριος ὑπὸ ὁρμῆς τῆς πρὸς μίξιν ἔδρασε τὸ ἔργον καὶ συνῆκε. καὶ τὸν μὲν αἴτιον τῆς ὁμιλίας οἱ τῆς ἐκθέσμου δάκνων καὶ πατῶν καὶ τοῖς γόνασι παίων ἀπέκτεινεν ἀλγεινότατα, ἑαυτὸν δὲ κατεκρήμνισεν. ἀμαθὴς δὲ καὶ κατὰ τοῦτο Οἰδίπους, οὐκ ἀποκτείνας, ἀλλὰ πηρώσας τὴν ὄψιν, καὶ τὴν τῶν κακῶν λύσιν μὴ γνοὺς ἐξὸν ἀπηλλάχθαι καὶ μὴ τῷ οἴκῳ καὶ τῷ γένει καταρώμενον εἶτα μέντοι κακῷ ἀνηκέστῳ ἰᾶσθαι κακὰ τὰ ἤδη παρελθόντα.

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