After the age of the reindeer, people took to caves to paint the animals they’d learned to ambush in migration. Horse, deer, bull: each a flash of wild light to spark the chase. So here is where we find the first stories. Once upon a time there was a horse.
The arrow became the first hero. It won against the flesh. From the start, original sin and original notions of power were wedded. The horse, having no tools, ate only the garden. The paintings made the first history a sacred bond between hunter and hunted. To die, the creature had to consent to its killing.
Long after the age of the cave paintings, came a poet. He looked, wondering: to what do we owe the charm of this vivid bestiary? He admitted an answer: only insatiable, murderous, love. It weighted his heart ever after. No, he thought. This would not do. How could he accept this mythology as his birthright?
He went on, looking and writing. What was he making, some new myth? No, it was nothing so defined as the outline of those figures on the cave walls. He was only trying to return, again and again, to the flash of wild light before the chase began.
Inspired by Zbigniew Herbert’s essay on the Lascaux cave paintings, from Barbarian in the Garden. Italicized phrases above are his, as translated by Michael March.