A curious word choice in Racine’s Esther

From one of the choral sections in Jean Racine’s Esther.

Quel carnage de toutes parts !
On égorge à la fois les enfants, les vieillards ;
Et la soeur, et le frère ;
Et la fille, et la mère ;
Le fils dans les bras de son père.
Que de corps entassés ! que de membres épars,
Privés de sépulture !
Grand Dieu ! tes saints sont la pâture
Des tigres et des léopards. (316-324)

What slaughter on all sides!
They cut the throats at the same time of infants and the elderly;
and the sister and the brother;
and the daughter and the mother;
children in the arms of their father.
What piles of bodies! what limbs strewn about,
deprived of burial!
Great God! Your saints have become the pâture
of tigers and leopards

Since I don’t have a better dictionary on hand, Larousse gives the following definitions for pâture

  • Nourriture des animaux, en particulier du bétail ; action de pâturer.
  • (food of animals, en particular of livestock; the action of grazing)
  • Synonyme de pâturage.
  • (synonym of the word for the physical pasture where grazing occurs)
  • Ce qui sert d’aliment à une activité, en particulier intellectuelle, à une passion : Les films noirs sont sa pâture préférée.
  • (irrelevant here)

My issue is that everywhere else here there’s an insistence on flesh and blood and the whole image ends with carnivores consuming the victims of this slaughter.  Pâture in this context feels terribly out of sync.  The seeming disconnect can be fudged in English by taking it as ‘fodder’ but I think that only works because of English idioms – like cannon-fodder – that don’t, in my experience (though I’m far from certain), exist in French.

Since my commentary gives no help – and I wish the Forestier edited Pleiade was more attentive to philological curiosities – the best I can make of it is that the image aims at depicting the end result of the slaughter – ‘the heaps of bodies and scattered limbs, unburied’ – as forming an unnatural grazing ground of flesh for beasts who, in the natural order of things, must hunt down their prey.

In this sense it seems a one step advancement in horror over the opening of the Iliad:

πολλὰς δ᾽ ἰφθίμους ψυχὰς Ἄϊδι προΐαψεν
ἡρώων, αὐτοὺς δὲ ἑλώρια τεῦχε κύνεσσιν
οἰωνοῖσί τε πᾶσι (1.3-5)

[Achilles’ wrath that] hurled to Hades many stout souls
of heroes, and made their bodies prey for dogs
and all birds…

Greek terror at desecration of the corpse aside, scavengers scavenging is at least in the natural order of things.

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