In today's English the word "animal" can include or exclude humans, depending on context. How about the word animal in classical Latin? Does it include humans? If not, is there a term that would cover human and other animals? If animal means "something with anima", then humans should be included, but this argument feels insufficient.

1 Answer 1


Animal is certainly applicable to men, both in classical literary usage and in prevalent philosophical discourse.

Classical Literary Usage

  1. Referring to man

    First, a few examples of animal being used to refer to men, all taken from the Lewis & Short entry for animal:

    animal hoc prouidum, sagax, multiplex, acutum, memor, plenum rationis et consilii, quem uocamus hominem, praeclara quadam condicione generatum esse a supremo deo. (Cic. Leg. 1.22)


    Sanctius his animal mentisque capacius altae
    deerat adhuc et quod dominari in cetera posset.
    Natus homo est... (Ov. M. 1.76-78)

  2. Distinguishing from man

    Animal can also be used to distinguish from men. In other words, it can be used just as the English word animal. One example:

    Sed ea non ab hominibus modo petitur verum etiam ab animalibus... (Quint. 6, 3, 57)

Philosophical Usage

A strong philosophical current defined man as belong to the genus animal and having the specific difference of being rationale. This goes back to Aristotle's definition of man as a "zoon logikon."

Thus, Quintillian:

Itaque a genere perveniendum ad ultimam species: ut homo est animal non est satis, id enim genus est; mortale, etiamsi est species, cum aliis tamen communis finitio; rationale, nihil supererit ad demonstrandum id quod velis. (Quint. Inst. 5 10.56)

The medieval scholastics took and ran with this Aristotelian current. Aquinas provides a good example:

Unde etiam in rebus humanis, si quaeratur, quis est iste? Respondetur, Socrates, quod nomen est suppositi, si autem quaeratur, quid est iste? Respondetur, animal rationale et mortale. (Summa Theologiae I Q. 31 a. 2 ad 4)

  • I had trouble quickly finding where Aristotle uses the term "zoon logikon." If anyone has that, I can add the reference.
    – brianpck
    Jul 29, 2016 at 21:05
  • 3
    This is an excellent answer! And I'm not just saying that because of the beer. Good quotations, too! I believe Aristotle mentioned the zoon logicon in his Metaphysica, but I don't know the exact place.
    – Cerberus
    Jul 30, 2016 at 0:30
  • @Cerberus A bit late, but it turns out Aristotle doesn't really say it explicitly: philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/42206/…
    – brianpck
    Dec 12, 2017 at 20:20
  • Ah, excellent! So it is a common misconception, although it's not extremely far from the truth.
    – Cerberus
    Dec 12, 2017 at 23:35

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