8 Feb


This is Sigimundo de Malesta. He was Lord of Rimini, a small town up north of Rome on the eastern Italian coastline. Rimini’s current claim to fame is that it’s the place where Federico Fellini grew up. Sigismundo was born four-hundred and twenty-two years before Fellini. He wasn’t nice. They called him the Wolf of Rimini

He got that name much as the Mafiosi gets their handles. At the time he was what we would call a mercenary. The Italian sounds much nicer, as it would. Amongst his other exploits he’s said to’ve raped a 15 year-old boy in the view of those he commanded in battle. They cheered. The boy in question was a bishop and I s’pose this atrocity had something to do with Vatican intrigues. The Wolf was not, at first, part of the landed gentry, he was a professional soldier. And the Church was his main client. They called him The Wolf because he was good at what he did.

In Pulp Fiction there’s also a wolf: he solves problems. He doesn’t lose his temper, he’s considerate and urbane. He has character. He also knows how to cover up a corpse so that it’s undetected and never avenged. He’s not the only wolf. Little Red Riding Hood is eaten by a wolf. A wolf will blow your house down.

We apes have converted wolves into dogs and’ve almost wiped the original out. We can view them in zoos. We live our lives mostly never experiencing the instantaneous, irrepressable fear that comes of coming within the sweep of those yellow laser eyes. But should it happen to you one night, say, camping in some northern forest, you might not know right away why, but your body will remember its millions of years of evolution. Your heart will turn into an engine ready to do zero to whatever in about five seconds. And you will be lucky to get away without some technology to save you.

Of course the wolves have learned also in their bodies the consequences of our own deadly ways: this technology. They stay out of our way. But only now, two-hundred thousand years at least, after the first members of our species passed away, is the shadow the wolf casts upon our souls fading. Wolves are another word for evil.


Boy-wolves don’t run out on their girls when they knock ’em up. They mate for life. They respect their elders, they love their kids. Within the pack they are true Christians. They almost never kill unless to survive. And then quickly, they are ruthless and thereby merciful killers. All without the need for what we call Culture.

We have feared wolves, but we have learned much from them. We have made them into our best friends and from thence into a myriad of noble and ridiculous forms. And we, after the 20th century, have learned disquieting things about our own natures; also about the natures of wolves and of chimpanzees and gorillas. We’ve discovered the bonobos, our closest relatives. (Sex maniacs!) We have observed and recorded and learned much. We have conducted experiments on them and on ourselves with the cruelest dispassion and our knowledge has expanded a million fold.

And of the private lives of wolves, to which we only recently gained access, we have discovered an exemplary idyll towards which we apes still struggle.


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