Some of the earliest animal stories can be found in the magnificent prehistoric murals etched on the rock walls of the Lascaux Gallery. These caves were painted during a time when glacial ice was advancing and retreating, when the mountain ranges of Europe and Scandinavia were covered with snow, and when our earliest ancestors took refuge in caves warmed by their fires; fed and clothed by the fallen animals of their hunts.
On September 12, 1940, four teenage boys discovered the cave. Jacques Marsal, one of the four, became the chief guide for special groups authorized to visit the cave today. Located in southwestern France, the Lascaux cave contains 600 paintings and approximately 1500 engravings, along with a treasure of artifacts.
Within the subtle tones and sculpturelike renderings, the rock walls of Lascaux often serve to depict the shape of the animals. As Joseph Campbell states in
The Power of Myth
, “They are painted with the vitality of ink on silk in a Japanese painting . . . a bull that will be twenty feet long, [is] painted so that its haunches will be represented by the swelling of the rock.” (Campbell 100)
The Lascaux Gallery considered the “Sistine Chapel” of the Paleolithic era depicts prehistoric animal scenes that include: aurochs (large wild ox now extinct), ibexes, horses, cows and bulls. The artistry with which these animals were drawn pays tribute to an aesthetic sensibility that has been recaptured in more modern times by such artists as Picasso. In fact, in a
article, “Art Treasures from the Ice Age Lascaux Cave” by Jean-Philippe Rigaud (Vol. 174, No. 4, p. 499) when Picasso visited the Lascaux cave, he said: “We have invented nothing.”
The prehistoric painters of Lascaux lived between 18,000 and 11,000 years ago and are known today as the Magdalenians, named after La Madeleine, the site where the first evidence of their existence was found. Judging by the quality of the art displayed on the cave walls, the Magdalenians were experienced painters. “Engravings were made with incomparable sureness; drawings executed without erasures, without ‘repentance’.” (Rigaud 495) They may have been a school of artists and perhaps the same artists who painted the nearby Gabillou Cave (approximately 60 kilometers west of Lascaux), which features similar engravings and painting characteristics.
There is a sense of reverence for the animals portrayed in these caves. The hunted animals appear to be exalted. While their bodies supplied food for early humans, their images imply food for the soul. Campbell compares the solemnity of the Lascaux caves to the quiet majesty of a cathedral and suggests that Lascaux may have been a sacred place of initiation for boys becoming hunters. “These caves are the original men’s rite sanctuaries where the boys became no longer their mothers’ sons but their fathers’ sons.” (Campbell 101) Through this initiation, it is presumed that boys would not only learn hunting skills, but also would pay tribute to the animals they would eventually kill and eat.
Viewing, Reading & Discussion
A picture of a bull’s head is held up for the class to see. Students are told that this is an image from a very famous mural and asked who they think painted it? They are asked what style of painting it is and given a clue that the artist is French. Some students may be aware of the Lascaux caves, but most will not. Afterward, students will go to their computers and log on to the Lascaux website: “The Painted Gallery at Lascaux,” http://www.culture.gouv.fr/culture/arcnat/lascaux/en/espace.htm>.
Students will take a virtual (website) tour of the Lascaux caves. They will enter the sloped entrance into the Great Hall of Bulls where the paintings extend about seventeen meters (approximately 55 feet) across both walls and upward seven meters (24 feet) onto the vaulted ceiling of the cave, which is six meters (20 feet) high. The paintings depict three groups of animals: horses, bulls and stags. A unicornlike horse can be seen chasing a herd of horses superimposed over a large, partially drawn bull. In the opposite direction, a few large wild oxen appear. The Painted Gallery extends off of the Great Hall of Bulls and similar paintings cover its walls and vaulted ceiling.
Students will view the murals in the Painted Gallery, which is a continuation of the Great Hall of Bulls. They will continue on through The Lateral Passage, a second, lower, gallery, which opens off the Great Hall of Bulls and leads to the Chamber of Engravings and further on to the Chamber of Felines. The Shaft of the Dead Man opens at the far end of the Chamber of Engravings and more silted up chambers follow in the same direction.
Students will also read “Art Treasures from the Ice Age Lascaux Cave” by JeanPhillippe Rigaud (
, Vol. 174, No. 4, October 1988, pp. 482499) to learn about the discovery of the caves, their architecture, history, and preservation, and the Paleolithic artists who painted them.
After viewing the website and reading the article, students will participate in a conversation to discuss the discovery of the caves and their preservation, the Magdalenians who painted them, and the significance of what their paintings portray.
LESSON THREE: Reporting on Lascaux
The class will collaborate to write mini articles on Lascaux to include: the discovery of the cave; its preservation; layout; artwork; original artists and tools; the significance of the only human figure found in over 600 pictures; its ceremonial purposes. Students will use the materials that we have covered thus far as well as additional information that they find on the Internet or at the library. They will employ research skills to do web searches, take notes, share and document information (citations). They will rely on information from our discussion to guide their research and will be encouraged to generate more questions of interest about their respective subtopics. They will exercise their paraphrasing skills in their writing, which will be informed by their research. Lastly, they will learn the inverted pyramid construction of news writing (a lead that summarizes the major points of the article with supporting paragraphs descending in the order of the most important to the least). Each mini article should be approximately 250 words in length. These articles will later be used in our culminating spread in our quarterly newspaper.
The Most Dangerous Game
In contrast to the cave paintings of Lascaux that revered animals of prey, Richard Connell’s short story, “The Most Dangerous Game,” questions the sanctity of life, both animal and human, when the hunter becomes the hunted. Sanger Rainsford, a game hunter of considerable renown, is sailing to Rio to hunt jaguar in the Amazon. While sitting on the deck of his yacht, he hears gun shots. He leans against the railing, looks out on the water in the direction of the sound of the shots he’s heard, loses his footing, and falls overboard. When he surfaces, the yacht has pulled away too far for him to swim to. Remembering where the gun shots had come from, Rainsford swims in their direction. He hears a high pitched scream, but doesn’t recognize the animal. Then another shot is fired and the screaming stops. Rainsford continues swimming until he makes it to a rocky shore. Exhausted, he climbs over the rocks to a level strip of land that marks the edge of a thick jungle and collapses.
Rainsford wakes the next day in the late afternoon. Looking around, he finds boot prints and shells from a 22 rifle. He tracks the prints through the jungle to a castle situated on a high bluff. There he meets General Zaroff and his over-sized henchman, Ivan. Zaroff is also a hunter and aware of Rainsford’s reputation. He welcomes Rainsford to his home. Rainsford is duly impressed by the many mounted heads of animals that Zaroff has killed, especially the one of the cape buffalo. He asks Zaroff, “Is the cape buffalo the most dangerous of all big game?” Zaroff tells him that it isn’t, that, in fact, the most dangerous game to be hunted must have “courage, cunning, and above all reason.” It quickly becomes clear to Rainsford that the game Zaroff is talking about is human and that he has been conducting macabre hunting expeditions on his island.
Zaroff invites Rainsford to hunt with him. Rainsford, who is shocked and outraged, refuses and so becomes the target of Zaroff’s next hunting expedition the following day. By the end of the story, Rainsford has killed Ivan and outwitted Zaroff. When he surprises Zaroff by appearing in his bedroom late that night, Zaroff congratulates him for winning the game. Rainsford says that he is still a hunted beast and tells the general to prepare to die. The general replies, “Splendid! One of us is to furnish a meal for the hounds. The other will sleep in this very comfortable bed. On guard, Rainsford.”
In the last sentence, we find out that Rainsford has indeed killed General Zaroff, but we are not quite sure whether his new insight as a hunted beast has led him to enlightenment or has simply wetted his appetite for more killing: “He had never slept in a better bed, Rainsford decided.”
Reading & Discussion
Students will participate in a shared oral reading of
The Most Dangerous Game
by Richard Connell and will discuss the following: What does the word “game” mean in this story? How does a big game hunter differ from a prehistoric hunter? Why do game hunters often display the heads of their kills as trophies? How is this kind of display of game different than the cave paintings at Lascaux? Is it ethical to hunt animals for sport? Does hunting as a sport have any redeeming value? Why do some natural reserves have hunting seasons? Is Rainsford’s opinion about prey changed after he becomes a hunted beast himself?
The last sentence of “The Most Dangerous Game” suggests an ironic twist. We might expect that Rainsford would have learned a lesson from his harrowing experience of being hunted like a wild animal, but the story doesn’t end with his reflection. Instead, he decides that “He had never slept in a better bed,” Zaroff’s bed, the man he has just killed. Students will be instructed to continue Rainsford’s story a little further by making a journal entry in the person of Rainsford for the next day.