February 14, 2008

The Caveman's Valentine

Wiktor Stoczkowski, Explaining Human Origins: Myth, Imagination and Conjecture, p. 110:

Since society is [thought of as] the fruit of necessary cooperation, it is believed that this necessity did not exist previously, and that man's ancestors led individual, presocial lives. It is easy to recognise the ancient view of a period of paradisal abundance, when "each one went his own way in search of fruit and herbs", all then being capable of obtaining food without the help of others. Lucretius and Diodorus Siculus were already painting a similar picture of the primordial existence, and in the eighteenth century the idea of the solitary life of the earliest humans became more firmly embedded in popular imagery. In the twentieth century, colorful speculations concerning that grave event, the first encounter between two humans, still persist. Here is how E. Haraucourt imagined it in a "prehistoric novel" which portrays the first tête-à-tête between a male and a female:
A punch on the forehead stunned but did not defeat her and she returned to attack. She buried her teeth in the shoulder of the male who had grabbed her round the waist; it was his turn to scream; picking up a stone, he dealt her such a vicious blow on the top of her head that she collapsed: circles of light were whirling in front of her and she was vaguely aware of a violent mass hurling its weight on her back... When she reopened her eyes, the conqueror was still clasping her but was not devouring her.
This is a good illustration of the firm belief that existence was originally solitary and that the first meeting was not without some difficulties.
The novel, incidentally, was entitled Dâah, le premier homme, and was first published in 1914 and apparently reprinted as recently as 1996. Whether this work is the actual origin of the drag-her-back-to-the-cave meme (and so of its variants), or itself merely another iteration, I couldn't say.

(More on Stoczkowski's book under recommendations for February.)

Writing for Antiquity

Posted at February 14, 2008 08:53 | permanent link

Three-Toed Sloth