From Aesop’s fables to those of La Fontaine, talking animals—monkeys, wolves in sheep’s clothing, grasshoppers, ants—have exposed human foibles and vices and occasional virtues. In so doing, they challenge all rigid boundaries between humans and other species as well as the common view of human wrongdoing as “bestial” in nature—a term Erasmus declared deeply unfair to animals, given the scale of violence and deceit practiced by human beings. Charles Darwin’s words, near the end of The Descent of Man, might have echoed Erasmus: “I would as soon be descended from that heroic little monkey, who braved his dreaded enemy in order to save the life of his keeper . . . as from a savage who delights to torture his enemies, offers up bloody sacrifices, practices infanticide without remorse, treats his wives like slaves, knows no decency, and is haunted by the grossest superstitions.”
more from Sissela Bok at The American Scholar here.