Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Aleteia
Wednesday 21 April |
Saint of the Day: St. Anselm of Canterbury
home iconSpirituality
line break icon

You beast! Animal symbols for human vices

Wikipedia

Philip Kosloski - published on 09/22/17

When looking for symbols, artists saw vices come alive in the natural habits of these 5 animals.

In classical and Christian art, animals often stand for or symbolize certain qualities. While many animals, such as the lion, or lamb, are used to represent heavenly realities, artists have also chosen different beasts of the world to embody human qualities — for good or for ill.

It turns out that the natural habits of many creatures became easy metaphors for fallen human nature. Here are five animals that are commonly used in art and symbolism to represent those bad habits we are all tempted to engage in.

Bear – The sometimes ferocious nature of the bear made it a perfect symbol of wrath. Because female bears are often enraged by threats to their cubs, the animal symbol for anger is often a she-bear.

Fox – The fox is cunning and deceitful, an expert at trapping its prey. It was easily attached to the vice of lust, a sin that is extremely tempting and often catches people off guard. The fox’s reddish coat also reflects a common artistic practice of depicting the lustful as having red hair.

Hog – Not surprisingly, the eating habits of a hog or pig being fattened for slaughter make it a perfect symbol for gluttony. Even today, children are repeatedly asked to not eat “like a pig.”

Peacock – While the peacock was an ancient symbol of eternal life, its colorful plumage spread out for all to see also made it a sign of human vanity or pride.

Snail – The snail, well known for its slowness, was naturally a symbol of sloth. Interestingly, during the Renaissance, snails were also included in art of the Annunciation, as a sign of Mary’s virginal conception — at that time, no one knew how the heavily armored snail could reproduce.

Tags:
Art
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read Aleteia.org every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...




Top 10
1
KIDS,WATERMELON,BEACH
Cerith Gardiner
New study shows that these 2 childhood habits make you a happier ...
2
EUCHARIST
Philip Kosloski
5 Fascinating facts about Jesus in the Eucharist
3
SPANISH FLU
Bret Thoman, OFS
What Padre Pio saw in the Spanish Flu of 1918
4
MASS
Philip Kosloski
5 Essential things used at Mass and their symbolism
5
PADRE PIO
Philip Kosloski
Padre Pio’s favorite prayer of petition
6
PRINCE PHILIP
Cerith Gardiner
The lasting lesson from the late Prince Philip
7
Eric Clapton, Luciano Pavarotti, East London Gospel Choir
J-P Mauro
Hear Clapton and Pavarotti sing a prayer to the “Holy Mothe...
See More
Newsletter
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.