How A Man Differs From A Dog

Erica Fudge considers what it meant to be described as an animal in the 16th and 17th centuries, and what divided humans from the rest of creation.

In 1621, writing under the pseudonym ‘Democritus Junior’, the Oxford clergyman and author Robert Burton (1577-1640) produced what is perhaps the most famous early modern exploration of self, The Anatomy of Melancholy. At the centre of Burton’s discourse is a Renaissance commonplace: ‘Nosce teipsum’ – know thyself. But Burton’s call for self-knowledge comes in a particular form. Men, he writes,

... are sufficiently informed in all other worldly businesses as to make a good bargain, buy, and sell, to keep & make choice of good Hawk, Hound, Horse, etc. but for such matters as concern the knowledge of themselves, they are wholly ignorant and careless, they know not what this Body and Soul are, how combined, of what parts and faculties they consist, or how a Man differs from a Dog.

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