The following notes complement the text and illustrations of The End of the Circus: Evolutionary Semiotics and Cultural Resilience. The bold figures refer to the book’s pages to which the notes apply.
XVII Le cirque est mon royaume [Circus is my Kingdom] received the prize Jean Macé of the French Educational League [Ligue française de l’enseignement] in 1962. This association distinguishes every year a book they consider of high educational value for adolescents. Firmin Bouglione donated the full amount of the prize to an institution organizing summer camps for under-privileged children. An abridged version of this book was re-published in 1968 in a collection (Rouge et Or) aimed at a younger readership. Since then, there have been several pirate editions that include only small parts of the book.
47 The distinction between hunter-gatherer and sedentary cultures is not as radical as it appears in the interpretation of prehistoric data and, more generally, in the philosophical and anthropological literature. In their landmark book, The Dawn of Everything, David Graeber and David Wengrow (McClelland & Stewart 2021) convincingly argue that this binary opposition that dominates the conceptualization of human evolution is largely invalidated by archaeological and ethnographic evidence. Switching from one mode of existence to the other was not a sudden change but an adaptive process that caused the two modes to co-exist for a very long period of time. This opposition, though, has been experienced in real life by persecuted or ostracized ethnic minorities such as the Gypsies who have often been denied the right to settle down by sedentary populations. However, there are many examples of Gypsy families who succeeded in establishing permanent residence and created stable business such as riding schools, restaurants, hotels, and other trades. The generations who had unimpeded access to education produced many professionals such as lawyers, professors, or medical doctors. Some successful circus families became major real estate owners in major European cities.
68 Wolves have long been a threatening presence in Europe. During the last two decades, French researchers have thoroughly documented the history of the relationships between humans and wolves. Three majors studies have been published principally based upon archival data available for several French regions between the fifteenth and the twentieth centuries. A website published by the University of Caen documents and expands the results of this research in French with an English version: https://www.unicaen.fr/homme_et_loup
MAN AND WOLF 2000 Years of History
A History of the Relationship Between Humans and Wolves.
For many centuries, humans and wolves lived together on the same territory, engaged in a merciless battle. In European history, wolves were considered man ’s worst enemy, and fear of the animal became embedded in our cultural heritage. France, Spain, Italy, the United Kingdom, and most European states took action against wolves. This hostility and the fear of wolves were mainly caused by their attacks on domestic livestock, which were harmful to many sectors of the economy, even beyond agriculture, up until the 19th century. However, we should not forget that wolf attacks against people themselves were not purely a matter of legend: for a long time, they really did happen. The frequency, and the geographical and temporal distribution of these dramatic incidents varied.
Research so far indicates that the French territory saw numerous tragic incidents of this kind. Although statistically, there were relatively few attacks, their psychological impact was particularly powerful. These aspects of the relationship between humans and wolves prompted policies specifically aiming to lessen the “damage”, cut the risks, or simply eradicate these intolerable competitors. Thus, our cultural perception of wolves is based on a long and complex history, which has recently become subject to external influences, since wolves were eradicated.
The website Man and Wolf: 2000 Years of History aims to give the public access to the results of a national study begun in 2002. Firstly, we attempted to measure the real extent of the wolf threat from the Middle Ages to the 20th century, by collecting information on human victims in the territory that is currently France. By using a scientific process to produce university research, and transmitting calls for research from region to region (particularly among historians and genealogists), information on several thousand attacks was recovered. For over half of these, it was also possible to identify the victims and place them in their social and spatial context.
If all types of wolf attack data in the sources used here are combined, the provisional total as at 15 March 2014 stands at 9031 victims. This gives us a historical database which is unrivalled worldwide. This statistical corpus includes two key types of victims, which are carefully differentiated: victims of predatory wolves (which occasionally chose human victims), and victims of rabid wolves (which attacked men during a disturbance of their behaviour due to a rabies-induced seizure). Initially, two distinct sets of data were put together, and these can now be compared.
Here, we provide a large part of the corpus established on 15 October 2013, which may change or grow with future findings. For each victim identified, we offer the public several complementary types of information: the victim’s surname, first name, sex and age, the time of attack (year, month, day, and sometimes time of day), and place of attack, the label used for the attacker, the victim’s social status, and the nature and reference of the sources used (civil registers, correspondence, administrative enquiry, legal records, medical report, newspaper column, notarised agreement, press article, report, etc). Studied on various temporal and geographical scales, these serial tragedies elucidate the relationship between man (in his attempts at territorial management) and his environment. A preliminary assessment was offered to the public in 2007: J.-M. Moriceau, Histoire du méchant loup. 3 000 attaques sur l’ homme en France (xve-xxe siècle) (“The Big Bad Wolf: A (Hi)story. 3 000 Attacks on Humans in France from the Fifteenth to the Twentieth Century ”),Fayard, 2007, 632 pages (new, expanded and edited edition: 2008, with foreword). It includes analyses and specific explorations that are beyond the focus of this website: patterns of change over time, geographical distribution, characteristics of predatory wolves, predation methods, and the demographic and sociological characteristics of the victims. A second assessment was given in a collective work, which reframes the issue within the general context of man-wolf relationships: Repenser le sauvage grâce au retour du loup. Les sciences humaines interpellées (“Rethinking the Wild through the Return of the Wolf. A Social Science Perspective”, ed. J-M Moriceau and Ph. Madeline, 2010 (particularly p. 23-39, 41-74 and 75-89). The third stage was an overview of a long period, particularly examining the evolution of the pressure that man has inflicted on this animal since antiquity, through numerous regulatory means (traps, poisons, rewards, hunts, etc.) and agents (including an institution specific to France, the wolf-hunting officers or louveterie): J.-M. Moriceau, L’Homme contre le loup. Une guerre de deux mille ans (“Man versus Wolf: A 2000 Year War”, Fayard, 2011, 479 pages (new edition 2013, Pluriel, 573 pages, with foreword). A final assessment was provided by the creation of a historical atlas looking at all the French regions and providing an index of the 2196 family names and the 1736 towns appearing in research as of 15 June 2013: J.-M. Moriceau, Sur les pas du loup. Tour de France historique et culturel du Moyen Âge à nos jours (“In the Footsteps of Wolves: A Historical and Cultural Tour de France from the Middle Ages to the Present Day”), Montbel, 2013, 350 pages. For each stage, the scientific perspective of the investigation in relation to social issues was specified.
In addition to making the data available to the public for the first time, this site offers considerable information on the sources and methods used to collect and analyse the documentation. Aside from studying attacks on humans, the research team carried out other projects, which will appear in coming months and particularly include data on hunting in France and Europe.
The website Man and Wolf: 2000 Years of History is consequently just a first stage. This project could not have been completed without the contributions of many colleagues, researchers, students, and genealogists, whose names are listed in the “Credits” section. Nevertheless, I wish to thank Julien Alleau and Cyril Guesnon here. These two young historians specialising in wolves, from Caen University, have both helped me with this project. This website is a participative venture, and is therefore open to all. We have taken great care, but certain factual errors (if only transcription errors) may have slipped past us. Please do not hesitate to bring these to our attention, so that we can improve the quality of our service. Similarly, as findings are made, readers may discover new information: we would be very grateful if they could pass it on to us. In the future, when we update this site, this will allow us to offer the public an even larger and richer database.
Should you have any remarks, comments, corrections, or additional information, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org – Jeanemail@example.com Caen, octobre 2013-mars 2014, Jean-Marc Moriceau
74 William Blake’s famous poem on the tiger alludes to the apparent symmetry of the pattern created by the stripes on this species’ face. These darker markings on the much lighter hues of the fur frame the eyes, nose, and mouth of this predator. However, more accurate observations reveal that the tiger’s facial patterns are not symmetrical, at least below the eyes. In his landmark book, The Face of the Tiger (1977), Charles McDougal shows indeed that the patterns on tigers’ faces are nor absolutely symmetrical below the eyeline and he exemplifies this typical feature by the line drawings of six documented tigers’ faces on page 51 of his book. These distinctive markings enable individuals to be identified by their conspecifics (and, incidentally, by the researchers who investigate their behavior). For their survival in nature, individual tigers must be able to recognize who is who from a distance since they form very competitive networks. Lethal fights are frequent to assert ownership of territories when rivals encounter each other by design or by chance, whether they are male or female. Mating brings both sexes together but only for a short while. In general, only females and their offspring form groups until the young adults come of age, and competing for prey and mate then becomes an imperative strategy. Circus trainers, of course, know (for their own survival) that not two individuals in their group are absolutely alike as each one may command a different interactional behavior in practice and performance. This characteristic expectedly escapes the attention of the artists who create circus posters by visually rendering William Blake’s fearful symmetry rather than actually representing any individual tigers.
91 Circus posters are a pictorial genre that evolved from the banners hanging over the entrance of travelling shows. They purport to represent the highlights of the performances they advertise. The epic theme of confronting predators has inspired artists and designers. Usually, the composite images of wildness and ferocity are not truly realistic but they are interpretations of the popular imagination that the circus feeds with its hyperbolic rhetoric. They embody the transcendent power that predators once were until very recent times, at least as far as urban well-protected settings are concerned, and after age-long campaigns of eradication. On this first poster the polar bears are represented with feline teeth and claws according to a fantasy anatomy that merges two deadly species into a single image. Similarly, in most of the following posters, the predators are pictured as much bigger than they actually are with respect to the human body dimensions.
94 The film Taras Bulba (1962) featured the iconic actor Yul Brynner in the role of the Cossack warrior hero of a novel by Nikolai Gogol. The tiger trainer (Emilien Beautour) represented in this poster exploited the popular image of the actor by contriving his appearance through a convincing make-up, a wig, and a costume. He presented his tiger act with lots of action, whip cracking, and shouting, seemingly as wild, if not wilder than the predators he was driving through their pace. The mediaeval mace in his hands is a pure invention by the author of the poster who obviously aimed at emphasizing the violence suggested by the trainer’s stage name. No predators’ trainer has ever used such a weapon in their act. A documentary showing the preparation of the trainer and samples of his act is available through YouTube under the title:” Taras Boulba, roi des dompteurs de tigres/archives/INA”.
115 How animals are experienced and interpreted is a challenging issue. It involves more than purely practical considerations. In many traditional cultures, animals embody a transcendent order and they are considered to be appropriate vehicles for bringing humans in contact with divine beings or even are divine themselves. In nature, animals of any kind are indifferent to humans except when they are preying on them or receive food from them. Humans often project feelings of fancied brotherhood (or sisterhood) when they realize their biological commonalities with them. Even insects have eyes, mouths, and anuses. They mate and take care of their young. They fight and die. This leads many humans to identify with animals, principally those that belong to altricial species [the species in which the neonates needs the care of adults (usually the mother, and in some species the parents or the group) for survival and are prone to bond with other species when accidental circumstances brings them in contact, for instance with humans]. This is the root of anthropomorphism, an attitude that interprets other species’ behavior as being human-like, including empathy and loyalty. Some humans come to consider themselves as benevolent, albeit unsolicited guardians and protectors of some animals either as individuals or as whole species. The animals that the spectators experience in the circus are mostly imaginary animals in part created by literature, art, and the media. For the trainers who live and interact with them, the ultimate unpredictability of most animals in any species is a constant existential challenge since the relationship cannot be symmetrical, even when it is complementary in some respects. However, there are many examples of the close relationship that may develop between animals, even wild animals brought up in a social environment such as the circus, and their human caretakers. This creates hybrid micro-cultures based on overlapping semiotic affordances without eliminating totally radical differences arising from the animals’ biological program. Humans cannot lose ultimate control on the relationship lest they be overpowered by nature’s imperatives. We may wonder what it means for an animal to perform In a circus ring. I have addressed this problem in Chapter 3 of my book Semiotics at the Circus (De Gruyter, 2010): “In what sense is a circus animal performing”?
125 The traditional circus represents a kind of transcendent order through its ritualistic display of control over gravity and wildness, and the formality of its performances in which even chaotic charivari are carefully crafted and rehearsed. As a performed metaphor for social and cosmic order the circus offers a vivid mastery of all the dissipating forces that threaten human life and society. At the beginning of the performance of the German circus Sarasani, the formally dressed lady who welcomed the audience and introduced the spectacle in 1982 concluded her speech by saying: “Circus is a well-ordered microcosm that reflects a harmonious society in which everybody works at a place that has been assigned by God.” Irrespective of its ideological and socio-political implications, this declaration expressed the deeper meaning of the codified mastery of the mysteries and uncertainties of life that the circus insistently represents.
164 The literary and visual trope of the clown as Christ’s figure is well established and undoubtedly inspired the artist who represented the demise of the McDonald’s iconic logo through the symbol of the crucifixion. The sufferings of the clown, construed as redemption for humanity as a mystic representation of Christ, is present for instance in the paintings of the French expressionist George Rouault (1871-1958). This theme is implicitly recurrent in Symbolist poetry and literary works such as Henry Miller’s The Smile at the Foot of the Ladder (New York: Duell, Sloane & Pearce, 1948). A very explicit articulation of this figure is found in a Christian website with the tag “Christ as Clown”[ https://artandtheology.org ] or in “Christ as Clown Theory” propounded by Harvey Cox in The Feast of Fools (Harvard University Press, 1969).