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Candidas and the Pets

* (Candidus - reference to the famous satirical story Candide by Voltaire (1694-1778).)

"These animals are being fattened for eating?" Candidus inquired as he looked around the hall.

"Certainly not."

"Then they are sacred animals?"

"All animals in this country are sacred."

Almighty and sleek, the animals reclined in glass cases, aloofly asleep or regarding, with a lofty gaze from their gembright eyes, the obsequious attendants, who tied ribbons round their necks and combed and preened their luxuriant coats of fur.

"This then is some kind of a temple?" asked Candidus. "No. It is the Horticultural Hall."

"Horticultural? Do you then worship flowers as well?" "Certainly. Last week it was chrysanthemums. You would have observed that their great petals were groomed and curled with an attention, just as reverent. This week is cats, as you see."

Candidus began to browse through the catalogue. "In addition to your native cults," he commented, "I note that you practise a number of foreign ones. Here are Siamese, Burmese, Abyssinian, Persian idols. Why" - he looked up sharply - "there are Russian ones too."

"Blue Russian," I reassured him.

"I note, by the way, that the idols may be purchased."

"Yes. They are our Lares and Penates.* Gods of the Hearth. To each man his own god. To each god his own man." "They have much power over the home?

* (Lares and Penates - in Roman mythology, private household or family gods whose images were kept on the hearth or in a special chapel; the cherished belongings of one's household.)

"Absolute. They occupy the place of honour in it - the largest armchair, by the hearth. Their every whim has to be obeyed. They monopolize conversation. They rule the movements of the household - whether, for example, the family goes on a journey or stays at home."

"And the gods reward this devotion?"

"Far from it. They are proud and remote, as gods should be, worship of them is its own reward."

"They are not then human-lovers?"

"Look at their eyes and judge."

Turning over the pages of the catalogue, Candidus continued: "A number of these Olympians, I notice, are neuters. You neutralize in this way all the beasts you revere?"

"Not our dogs, no."

"And why is that?"

"Because men revere dogs in their own image, not as a separate species, as they revere cats. They would not do anything to a dog that they wouldn't do to themselves."

"Dogs then are not gods?"

"Certainly they are. But it is a mutual godliness. The man is a god to the dog as the dog is to the man. He invests the dog with all his own attributes. He teaches the dog to love him, as he loves himself. Theirs is a harmonious relationship, in which both parties aspire to please."

"Like marriage."

"Unlike marriage."

"The man then gives his love to the dog?"

"Well, more than to any human. He has infinite societies for the dog's welfare and protection, such as he does not have for humans."

"As I understand the nature of your bestiary, then, the cat is the power-god and the dog is the love-god. What then is the horse?"

"He is the friend. The Friend of Man."

"He performs all the obligations of friendship?"

"Certainly. He carries the man on his back. He bears his burdens for him. He engages in sports and other such antics for his amusement."

"You do not then eat your horses, any more than you eat your cats and dogs?"

"Only a little more."

"But you eat the foxes which you kill with your dogs?"

"No. The dogs eat them."

"And what of those other, wilder beasts that you keep in cages in the Zoo? You revere them too?"

"Certainly."

"That is why you keep them in cages."

"Of course. Out of consideration for them. Do not humans keep themselves in cages?"

"It would be true then to say that, as a people, you revere all animals?"

"Perfectly true."

"Even the ones you fatten for eating?"

"Those above all."

(Punch)

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