Smithfield Market, London in 1855
Public DomainSmithfield Market, London in 1855

“Genesis” refers to the Book of Genesis, the first section of the Jewish and Christian holy books. An account of the creation of the world and origins of life on the planet, it also contains some of the most famous Bible stories, including the murder of Abel by Cain, the Tower of Babel, Noah’s Ark and the Flood, and Joseph and his brothers.

As a segue from Tomas and Tereza’s life on the collective farm to a discussion of the relationship between man and animals (and how the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia abused that relationship as part of its program of control), the narrator of Unbearable Lightness focuses on an early passage of Genesis -- Chapter 1, verse 26 -- which in the King James translation reads:

“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”

As the narrator drily comments, “Of course, Genesis was written by a man, not a horse,” which anticipates his commentary a few pages later about Nietzsche’s “apology” to a horse, just as he was going insane, for Descartes’ denial of a soul to animals.

The first known prosecution for cruelty to animals was brought in 1822 against two men who had been witnessed beating horses in London's Smithfield Market, where livestock had been sold since the 10th century. The illustration of Smithfield Market, above, is from an 1855 issue of the Illustrated London News.