Knatz.com / Teaching / Scholarship / Myth /
@ K. 1999 02 11
My poverty makes it’s difficult for me to do anything let alone take care of Catherine [d. 2004], launch a web business, maintain this home page, or do sophisticated research. Decades have passed without my being able to research the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf the way I’d like.
|The story as I was told it as a child runs:||The shepherd boy is responsible for watching the flock. Bored, he cries the alarm for wolves. The townsfolk come running. They find no wolf to chase. They return to their beds.
A wolf appears. The boy cries the alarm. The townsfolk roll back over to sleep. The wolf eats the boy.
Don’t give false alarms Or you’ll pay.
It wasn’t till I was a adult that I saw anything wrong with the story. I need to find old versions. And to compare other contemporary tellings. (My sister confirms via her memory the one we were told. If your version differs, please let me know.)
1) In “my” version, the boy loses his life. Are we to believe that the wolf, however puissant we may conceive it, would prefer to scrap with a human, even one immature, than to take his pick of the sheep? Humans, if you’ve the morals of a pirate, put other predators to shame. The sheep, in contrast, are not only witless, helpless: they’re also delicious.
2) If boys are endangered by wolves and wolves can appear by the flock, why have a shepherd who’s a boy?
3) No, the wolf would kill and devour the sheep, not the boy.
4) Who owns the flock? The boy?
5) No. The boy shepherd is neither attacked, nor devoured, nor economically injured apart from his membership in the group. If the boy was not a member of the group but a slave, the wolf’s damage to him is highly indirect: minimal.
No, it’s the community that’s damaged by false alarms: far more than the false alarm-giver. The story should be told as one of civic responsibility, not as one of personal survival or well-being.
1999 08 15 I’ve been thinking of the changes to the story I charge the culture with as still another example of cultural dishonesty. Something somewhat mitigating now occurs to me. The story is less likely to be an example of a culture modifying its own story for changed purposes than of a culture borrowing another culture’s story for its own purposes. Cultural borrowing needs its own module, but as often as not I grow such things from notes to other files.
I’m a WASP who lives here or there in parts of North America under US rule. So probably are you. Either of us will go to Lake Minnetonka or drive on the Tamiami Trail. Minnetonka and Tamiami are Pre-Columbian. I don’t mean the pavement was here or that that particular lake was called Minnetonka: I mean the words themselves, or at least the elements for the words — ta, miami … — were here as well as the lake and a trail along the Gulf Coast.
Athena and her Olympos occupied the Peloponesis before the Greeks arrived. The Greeks took over Pelops much the same way Spaniards and English took over Algonquin land. The former residents got killed or absorbed, wound up speaking Greek. Did the Greeks proceed to learn their religion from their slaves? No, they would have just kept the words and adopted them to their own purposes.
The Germans drink Coca-Cola. But there’s a limit to how much their own they can make it. The Cola-Cola company has power there. We borrow the French word “chauffeur”: but the French Academy has no power over what we do with it once it’s in our possession. And so forth.
The Boy Who Cried Wolf was clearly a story of a shepherding people. A rough modern translation of what I infer as its “original” moral is: don’t take the battery out of the smoke alarm just because false alarms may annoy you. But then we, an industrial, not pastoral, people, borrow it. Our interests are making chattel behave. So the story is transformed into a weapon for parents to use on their children, employers to use on their employees, governments to use on their citizens …
Jesus challenged the citizen judges of the woman taken in adultery to let only an innocent throw the first stone. I want to follow two branches from this example.
1) Notice that the accused subject to stoning was female. Did she commit adultery by herself? It’s never the pair that’s stoned; only the woman. Until recently adultery laws were designed to punish the chattel — not the master — for their mutual crime.
The court makes the witness swear to tell the truth. At no point must the court prove its own devotion to or competence with truth. Show me one judge, one lawyer, who’s ever contributed to our understanding of truth.
Oh. OK. Maybe. But who else? (don’t forget: Bacon was disbarred for his honesty.) (He accepted bribes as did all judges. Supposedly he differed in not letting the bribe dictate his decision!)
2) How many Christians are Semitic? Jeshu was a Jew. Possibly an Essene. An ascetic. A celibate. A radical Palestinian communist. How many “Christians” are ascetic? Celibate? Radical? Palestinian or communist?
No. The “Christians” are barbarian invaders, borrowing what they find for their own purposes. Those purposes need no resemblance to any “original” meaning.
Spring 1999: Current TV has a wolf I’ve been thinking about. May as well put it by this wolf: An ad shows an attractive oriental woman driving a nice sedan on a country road. Some sport vehicle is behind her. The film inter-cuts to a wolf with enhanced yellow eyes. The audio says that if you think you’re being followed, lock your doors, don’t go home, drive to a lit, public place, blow your horn, attract attention. The woman does so. Then the audio says something about predators. The mini-safety-doc was full of predators. One of them was a pretty oriental woman driving a nice sedan. Who and what do we think we are? Only the most “successful” remorseless predator this planet has ever seen!
There’s only one problem. The fossil record suggests that remorseless predators don’t do very well over the long haul. We certainly look to be about to make a fast exit. Leaving behind what no boy scout should tolerate.
originally written as a note to my Assault section.
Uh oh: twice told. I’ll merge and dedup. First I just duplicated:
K. had a section on Myth in K. / Teaching / Schlarship. I’ll try to recreate everything at pKnatz: but here’s a sentence I just wrote at IonaArc: in relation to the Yellowstone super volcano:
The boy(-who-cried-wolf) was mortal anyway; but did the society have to be? It’s not the boy’s sheep the wolf kills!
(If the robbers tie up the night watchmen and rob the bank, whose money did they steal? the night watchman’s?! The watchman may have had a few dollars in the bank, but the boy owns none of the sheep.)
Myth: “explaining” experience
(generally before it happens)
by a story
I’ve been a fan of doomsdaying since childhood. I’ve tried to contribute my own warnings. No one in history knows better than I how obtuse the society can be, how stubborn, how dishonestly closed-minded. There’s a zillion ways for life to fail: none more threatening than the super volcano under Yellowstone.
The dangers I impoverished myself by warning us about were solvable; Yellowstone is not: not to any trick we know now!