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[220] The Dialogue of the Dogs – Miguel de Cervantes

Dogs“But in you, my boy, experience tells me the opposite. I know you’re a rational person in the semblance of a dog.” [74]

Cervantes’s lesser-known, almost eclectic novella may be the ancestor of talking-dog story. Filled with humor and social satire, The Dialogue of the Dogs, which reads like an Aesop allegory, is a tale within a tale. Campuzano is a philandering man who is left with nothing but syphilis upon a deceitful marriage to Dona Estefania, who ropes him with chicanery. Late one feverish night at the Resurrection Hospital Campuzano overhears the guard dogs, Berganza and Scipio, telling each other their life’s story.

I’m not so ignorant that I don’t know animals can’t talk without some miracle. Even if mockingbirds, mynahs, parrots appear to talk, I knew they only repeat the words they’ve learned by rote, and only then because they happen to have tongues like ours to pronounce them. But they can’t talk, let alone talk back, with the thoughtful exchange of views that those dogs managed. [18]

Indeed, what ensues is a sermonizing exchange between two virtuous canines (who acquire a more solid sense of morality than humans in the book) who find themselves victim, over and over again, to deceitful and corrupt humanity. At one point, Berganza was being punished for not catching the wolf that attacked the pack of sheep. But the canine’s true enemy is the shepherd, who kills the sheep and devours it. The dogs’ encounter illustrates the finicky and capricious ways of the world and the inequities of fate. It’s not as plot driven, more of a catechism in the sense of morality.

God is literally impeccable, without sin, from which we can only conclude that we are the authors of our own evildoing, and we conceive it in our own intentions, words, and deeds. [80]

105 pp. [Read/Skim/Toss]

Man’s Best Friend

Dogs

The sniff. They play. They slobber. They play catch. People celebrate their strong memories, their sense of belonging, the concept of gratitude, and fidelity. They are some of our keenest observers, taking in our daily happenings with a cycloramic vision. In The Art of Racing in the Rain, the outsider who always always sees it all and sees it through is most unusual because it is a canine named Enzo. Enzo is the narrator of the novel. Miguel de Cervantes’s eclectic classic novella, The Dialogue of the Dogs, is narrated by two canines.

Berganza: I feel the same way. Ever since I could chase a bone I’ve longed to talk, to say all the things I’ve been saving up in memory for so long that either they were growing murky, or I’d forgotten them completely. Now that, without ever daring to hope for it, I’ve got this divine gift of speech, I plan to make the most of it and pour out everything I remember, even if it comes out wrong or confusing. I don’t know when I’ll have to give back this gift, which I still think of as on loan [25-26]

Even though dogs only learn words when they’re associated with an action, I still entertain the fantasy that they might be capable of speech or at least be intelligent to our speech. But do dogs really understand our speech? If you’ve ever noticed that a dog will come when you call it (sometimes even if you don’t call) because they believe you have food (simply by the tone of the way you called), then you realize the power of associated behaviors and positive reinforcement. A dog will easily take up new habits when it realizes the possibility of reward. Dogs respond powerfully to cues about status. A dog picks up on subtle behaviors like the fact that you put on your socks, feed yourself first, or walk out of a door first and responds accordingly.

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