The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

13 November 2002

Corrida de toros

Apart from the usual Hollywood distortions, I know nothing about bullfighting. I've never been within five hundred kilometers of Pamplona; I skipped Hemingway's Death in the Afternoon; I haven't seen Almodóvar's Matador. I didn't even pick up Herb Alpert's "The Lonely Bull" until three years after its release. Repeat: I know nothing about bullfighting.

Your standard animal-rights types will be more than happy, I'm sure, to tell me that it's nasty and horrid and brutal and such. On the other hand, Jesus Gil, who has actually toiled in this particular vineyard, finds it eminently defensible:

There is very little that is predictable in a bullfight, and the "score" doesn't have to be "Matadors 6 Bulls 0" — there are times (admittedly few) when a bull performs so well in the ring that he is cured and sent to the farm to live the rest of his life as a seed bull. Actually, this is the dream of every aficionado — to see the bull go out alive.

If that's so, why are they almost always killed?

[T]he reason the bull is killed is actually the Vatican's fault. Even threatened with excommunication the Spaniards continued celebrating bullfights, where the bull was used over and over — and large amounts of people were killed. So the Vatican issued a Papal Bull (no pun intended) saying essentially, "one man, one bull."

I still don't think I want to see one of these things up close and in person, but it's always nice to hear the other side for a change.

Posted at 8:30 PM to Almost Yogurt


I've always wondered if the bullfighting ritual was a leftover of some sort of Mithras-worship ritual. (Mithras: Persian god that became a popular deity to the Romans especially the members of the legions -- he is often, or always, depicted as slaughtering a bull.) If it was an offshoot of some pagan ritual that might have given them extra impetus to restrict it. Though one would think that they'd ban it altogether... so maybe not.

Personal note: my parents went to Mexico on their honeymoon, and saw a bullfight there. I don't know how Mexican bullfights differ -- if they do -- from Spanish ones, but my parents almost got thrown out of the stadium when they started yelling "Toro! Toro!" like they'd seen in the movies. Ignorant gringos. ;)

Posted by: Andrea Harris at 11:04 PM on 13 November 2002

The Church borrowed/co-opted/adapted/ripped off nearly as many pagan rituals as it banned (cf. Attis, born of a virgin on 25 December); it wouldn't surprise me to find out that some strain of Mithradism informs the history of bullfighting.

Posted by: CGHill at 6:49 AM on 14 November 2002

Not too likely that bullfighting is a Mithraic remnant. Mithraism was a serious competitor with Christianity, and it is unlikely that the church would have tolerated something closely identified with a pagan competitor. If Christianity hadn't been so closely tied to the purple, we might all be attending services in the Mithraeum and giving thanks at the rising of the sun.

More likely bullfighting is a descendant of the Roman games - animal fights were as much a part of the games as gladitorial combat. With the collapse of the Empire, supplying the games with exotic animals (lions, rhinos, etc.) must have been extremely difficult so it's likely that the Don King's of the time turned to something homegrown.

Posted by: aelfheld at 12:15 PM on 19 November 2002

Emperor Constantine who stitched the Bible together was a worshipper of Mithras. Go to St Clemens in Rome next to the Forum and you will find a christian church built on top of a Mithraic temple. He pretended to adopt christianity but really continued his Mithraic worship below the church. However, certain parts of Mithraic culture had therefore to be consumed by force into christianity. Take for example worship on Sundays (day when Mithraic worshippers worship the Sun God Sol) when the christian sabbath day is the 7th day (Saturday) still held by the Jewish faith. Also consider Christmas Day itself - 25 December and the birthday of the God Mithra (not Jesus)

The Sunday worship thing was forced into Britain at the Synod of Whitby in 6th/7th century. The Welsh refused to accept this and were defeated by Aethelfryth at the Battle of Chester at which the watching Druids (monks) of Bangor on Dee were all slain.

So the British were forced to accept these Mithraic elements and to this day we still refer to rubbish as a load of old (papal) bull. So yes bull fighting is probably a spin off from the Mithraic bull religion which still dominates the world today (in a different name)

Paul

Posted by: Paul Davies at 4:23 AM on 14 September 2003