Raised by Wolves, Shunned by Society

The wolf man, Spaniard Marcos Rodríguez Pantoja. (Youtube)

A recent article in The Guardian “How to be Human: The Man Who Was Raised by Wolves” tells the story of a boy who was sold into slavery (yes, slavery, unbelievable, it certainly wasn’t common) during Spain’s turbulent post-war period. Abused by his master and forced to work as a shepherd in Spain’s remote Sierra Morena mountain range, Marcos Rodríguez Pantoja eventually escaped by taking refuge with a pack of wolves.

With no one to talk to, he lost the use of language, and began to bark, chirp, screech and howl.

“With no one to talk to, he lost the use of language, and began to bark, chirp, screech and howl,” writes Matthew Bremner, author of the article. But with a basic understanding of survival skills, he learned how to fish, trap, hunt and forage, as well as coexist with the wolves.

It’s an incredible tale that belongs to the annals of mythology, along with the legend of ancient Rome’s founders: Romulus and Remus.

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Etched by Wenceslaus Hollar after drawings by Giulio Romano (1652) | The Met

The BBC produced a video on Pantoja:

 

What’s striking is what happens to Pantoja after he is found by police and thrown back into “civilization.” After that, it is basically a tale of deception and indifference of many who were “baffled by his ignorance and infuriated by his inability to communicate.”

Some nuns took him in and taught him Spanish, but unfortunately, as nuns, they didn’t teach him about the ways of the world. He gets ensnared in manipulation at almost every turn. It’s a harsh critique of post-war Spain where cruelty was maximized under the crushing poverty and trauma of the Francoist regime. Pantoja was clearly different, and a sitting duck for those who wanted something, anything, from him.

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Birth of the Wolf (Geburt der Wölfe) by Franz Marc (1913) | Brooklyn Museum

In the end, it becomes clear that Pantoja was happier in the wild. The complexity of human interactions, Bremner writes, “would later grate against the remembered simplicity of his dealings with the animals. ‘When a person talks, they might say one thing but mean another. Animals don’t do that,’ Pantoja told me.”

Pantoja’s social development essentially froze when he was abandoned as a child. He picked up some of the social slack later when the nuns had helped him, but would retain a child-like mind. He saw the world differently and asked naïve questions of it.

For example, when traveling to Mallorca on a ferry from Barcelona he saw the sea for the first time. He recalled being totally confused by “the never-ending water.”

“I went to one of the sailors and asked him why there was so much water surrounding the boat. The sailor turned to me and smiled; he must have known I was different. ‘We tied the water to the boat,’ the man said to me, pointing to one of the ropes hanging off the gunwale.”

‘We tied the water to the boat,’ the man said to me, pointing to one of the ropes hanging off the gunwale.

The question isn’t at all a bad one: Why does the sea contain so much water? But such questions only confirmed his outcast status in the minds of many.

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Boatmen of Barcelona by Dionisio Baixeras y Verdaguer (1886) | The Met

The article suggests a feral question: How does being deeply socialized—being totally caught up in the social mix, playing the rules of the human game to get ahead or achieve standing—obscure other ways of being, for example, in Pantoja’s case, living in accordance with nature?

We would certainly gain a novel perspective by trying to break out of the human trade of calculation and manipulation and into the simple existence of a wild animal.

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The port Mallorca by Leo Gestel (1914) | Rijksmuseum

 


 

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