The Hedgehog Review

The Hedgehog Review: Vol. 20 No. 1 (Spring 2018)

For the Love of Goats

The Hedgehog Review

The Hedgehog Review: Spring 2018

(Volume 20 | Issue 1)

The world is divided, as we all know, between lovers of dogs and lovers of cats. Most of us prefer one or the other’s company; we lap up the canine’s devotion or take keen pleasure in the feline’s detached elegance. Dog lovers like parceling out rewards of affection and treats as they see fit. They love knowing better and knowing more, and what they often desire most in a dog is a sidekick. Cat lovers, by contrast, love being around an animal they never truly own, one they can’t quite control or manipulate or even really understand. Cat lovers are comfortable with the mysteries of nature in a way most dog lovers aren’t.

So, where do you fall on a spectrum from crazy cat person to domineering German shepherd trainer? For the sake of self-knowledge, it’s a question we all might profitably ask ourselves.

And to all who answer, like me, by saying they like both, I suggest there might be another, possibly more revealing, answer: “Goats. Our kind likes goats even more.”


A goat possesses attributes of both cat and dog. That is, goats engage the two parts of us that long—in conflictingly equal measure—to dominate and be dominated, to know everything and to bask in mystery. In the Old Testament, the domesticated goat is a symbol of man’s dominion over the animals, and also—by its use as a sacrificial animal—of man’s subservience to God. In Buddhist and Confucian texts, most notably in the essential Confucian work the Lunyu, goats are the center of a debate about ritual and compassion. And though their blood makes a particularly fit offering to one’s ancestors, there’s grave risk in showing anything but kindness to a goat, Chuan Cheng relates in Ethical Treatment of Animals in Early Chinese Buddhism: Beliefs and Practices. In the Divyavadana, writes Andy Rotman in Divine Stories: Divyāvadāna, Buddhists are counseled that a man who sacrifices a goat is reincarnated over and over as that goat, to be sacrificed hundreds of times. (Goats were domesticated by Homo sapiens perhaps as long as 11,000 years ago—around the same time as cats.) It is unclear if the Greek word for tragedy, tragōidia, which literally means “goat-song,” derives from the practice of goats being offered as rewards at performances, as Horace suggests, or from the fact that the Greeks saw the animal as embodying the tragic ethos, as Aristotle claims. Perhaps it derives from both.

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Reprinted from The Hedgehog Review 20.1 (Spring 2018). This essay may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior written permission. Please contact The Hedgehog Review for further details.

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