Saturday, February 9, 2013

So you see, Scipio, what a lot of harm a little bacon can do

As I was saying, I was well cut out for the job of guarding the flock, because I felt that I was earning the fruits of my labors, and that I was a stranger to laziness, the root and mother of all vice. If by day I rested, at night I didn't sleep, what with striking out and giving chase to the wolves. The shepherds had hardly cried, "After him, Barcino!" when I took off, outpacing the other dogs to wherever they said the wolf was. I ranged over valleys, scoured the mountains, plunged through forests, jumped gullies, crossed highways. In the morning I'd return to the fold without finding any trace of a wolf, panting, tired, stumbling, my paws torn by thorns--only to discover, right there in the flock, a dead sheep or a gutted lamb, half-eaten by the wolf. I despaired to see how little good my fanatical care and attention were doing. Then the owner would appear. The shepherds would approach him with the pelt from the carcass. He'd scold them for negligence, then order the dogs punished for laziness. Blows rained down on us, and recriminations on top of them.
    One day, seeing that they were punishing me for no reason, and seeing that my care, sure-footedness, and bravery were proving useless to catch the wolf, I resolved to change my strategy. I wouldn't chase after the wolf as I'd been doing, far from the flock, but stay near it instead. That way, when the wolf came, I'd stand a better chance of catching him.
    Week in and week out they'd raised the alarm, and one sable-black night I lay in ambush for those wolves against whom I'd failed to protect the flock. While the other dogs tore out ahead of me, I lay doggo behind a bush and watched two shepherds mark out one of the best lambs in the fold and kill it--and in such a way that in the morning, everyone would think the wolf had done it.
    It flabbergasted me. I gasped when I saw that the shepherds were the wolves, and were raiding the flock they were supposed to guard. They notified the master of the "wolf's" depredations right away, giving him the pelt and part of the meat, but they wolfed down most of it themselves, and not the worst part, either. The master reprimanded them again, and again the dogs got the worst of it.
    There had never been any wolves, and the flock was still shrinking. I wanted to blow the whistle, but I found myself mute, filled with confusion and outrage. God deliver us, I said to myself, who can defeat this evil? Who has power enough to proclaim that the defenders are doing the attacking, that the sentinels sleep, the trusted plunder, and those who watch over us are killers?

--Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, El Coloquio de los Perros, 1613. Translated by David Kipen

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