Volume 1869
Georges Dodds'
The Ape-Man: his Kith and Kin
A collection of texts which prepared the advent of Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs


Leopoldo Lugones

Carlos Costa and Georges Dodds, transl.


Leopoldo Lugones y Argüello (1874-1938): Argentine author, poet, founder of the 'modernista' school, socialist politician, orator was born in the small town Santa María del Río Seco. He moved to Buenos Ayres in 1896. There he befriended poet Rubén Darío, and met and married Juana González. He committed suicide in 1938, leaving no explanation. His works of imaginative fiction include Las fuerzas extrañas (1906) and Cuentos Fatales (1924)
Info from here.

Link to Tarzan of the Apes

A man attempts to teach a chimpanzee how to speak like a human. Related to Garner's studies on ape and monkey language.
  • Personal research
  • Edition(s) used

  • Originally: Leopoldo Lugones. 1906. "Yzur". In: Las fuerzas extrañas Buenos Aires : A. Moen
  • Electronic text obtained here
  • Commentary on "Yzur" : Howard M. Fraser. 1996. "Apocalyptic Vision and Modernism's Dismantling of Scientific Discourse: Lugones' 'Yzur'" Hispania 79: 8-19.
  • The translation presented here was developed independently and is distinct from that published in: Leopoldo Lugones. 2001. Strange Forces (Gilbert Alter-Gilbert, transl.) Pittsburgh, PA: Latin American Literary Review Press
  • Modifications to the text

  • None

  • "Yzur"

    I bought the ape at a circus' bankruptcy sale.

    The first time it occurred to me to attempt the experiment committed to posterity in these lines was one afternoon while reading --- I do not recall where ---, that Java's natives attribute monkeys' lack of articulate language to abstention, not incapacity. "They do not speak," they say, "so that we do not make them work".

    Though nothing very profound at its origin, this concept preoccupied me until I enounced the following anthropological postulate: monkeys were men who for some reason or other stopped speaking. This resulted in the atrophy of their organs of phonation and the brain's language centers, virtually suppressing the link between the latter and the former, fixing the species' language to an inarticulate cry, and resulting in the descent of the primitive human into animality.

    Of course if one went and demonstrated this, one would have explained all the quirks that make monkeys such singular creatures. There could be only one possible demonstration: to restore monkeys' capacity for speech.

    In the meantime I had gone 'round the world with mine, drawing close to him through our shared travels and adventures. In Europe he drew attention, and had I wished to I could have provided him the social exposure of a Consul; but such a burlesque scene would have ill-suited my businessman's sense of etiquette.

    Working on the basis of my fixation regarding monkey language, I exhausted all the bibliographical sources concerning the question, with no appreciable results. All I knew --- and that with great certainty --- was that there was no scientific reason why monkeys do not speak. It took five years of ruminations to convince myself of this.

    Yzur (a name whose origin I never could discover, as his previous owner had not known it either), Yzur was certainly a remarkable animal. His training by the circus, while reduced almost entirely to mimicry, had significantly developed his faculties; and this was what most strongly incited me to use him as a testing ground for my --- in all appearances --- crazy theory.

    On the other hand, it is well known that among the monkeys the chimpanzee (which Yzur was) carries the best brain and is one of the most docile, which increased my chances. Whenever I saw him walking on two feet, with his hands to his shoulders to keep his balance, with the look of a drunken sailor, the conviction of his lengthy humanity invigorated in me.

    Truly there is no reason why the monkey cannot have fully articulate speech. Their natural language, that is to say, the set of shouts through which they communicate to their fellows, is sufficiently diverse. The monkey's larynx, while quite distinct from that of the human being, is not as much so as that of parrots, which clearly can speak. As to their brains, the comparison with that of the latter banishes all doubts. It is important to remember that while the brain of the mentally challenged is also rudimentary, some cretins can pronounce some words.

    Regarding Broca's convolution, it clearly depends of the total development of the brain; besides which it has not been absolutely proven that it houses the centres of language. While it is the location established as likeliest through anatomical studies, the contradictory facts are of course incontestable.

    Fortunately, monkeys have, along their numerous bad habits, a taste for learning, as their imitative tendency illustrates; a good memory, a capacity for reflection resulting in a strong ability for dissimulation, and an attention span comparatively more developed than that of a child. They are, then, pedagogically-speaking, most favourable subjects.

    In addition, mine was young, and it is known that youth constitutes the most intellectual time for monkeys, similar in this to the negro. The difficulty resided only in what method to use in getting words across to him. Knowing of all the fruitless attempts of my predecessors; it would be fruitless to add, that despite the competence of some of them yet the fruitlessness of all their efforts, my designs were doomed to failure. Much thought on the subject led me to the conclusion that:

    The first goal consists of developing the monkey's phonic apparatus.

    Thus is it, in effect, how one proceeds with deaf people before teaching them to articulate. I had not long considered this question, when the analogies between the deaf-mute and the monkey overwhelmed my thoughts.

    First of all, their extraordinary range of mimicry, compensating for their lack of an articulated language, demonstrates that not having the ability to speak does not mean one stops thinking, i.e., that the waning of one faculty results from by the loss of another. Other more specific characteristics must then be taken into account: work ethic, loyalty, courage, clearly bolstered by two further characteristics whose synergism is truly revealing; the facility for feats of balance and the resistance to dizziness and nausea.

    I then decided to begin my work with a genuine exercise of the lips and tongue of my monkey, treating him in this manner as a mute-deaf. Furthermore, I emphasized his use of hearing, so as to establish direct communication through the use of words, alleviating the need for a tactile approach. The reader will see that in this case my expectations were overly optimistic.

    Fortunately, of all of the great monkeys, the chimpanzees are those with the most adaptable lips; and in this particular case, Yzur, having suffered throat infections, knew how to open his mouth so that it could be examined.

    A first assessment partly confirmed my suspicions. The tongue remained at the back of his mouth, like an inert mass, without movements other than in swallowing. The exercise has produced its effect rapidly, because in two months he already knew how to stick out his tongue in jest. This was the first occasion that I know of when I was able to link the movement of his tongue to a concept; a relationship, on the other hand, perfectly in keeping with his nature.

    It was harder to work with lips because I had to stretch them apart with clamps; but he understood --- perhaps by my expression --- the importance of that anomalous task and undertook it with gusto. While I was demonstrating the labials movements he had yet to practice, he remained seated, with his arm twisted backwards scratching his rump and yawing in doubtful concentration, or smoothing his sideburns with the air of a man who is working out something in his head by means of rythmical gestures. In the end he learned to move his lips.

    But the exercise of speech is a difficult art, as it is proven by the long stammering of babies, which occurs in parallel with their intellectual development and acquisition of learned behaviours. It was demonstrated, in effect, that the center of the vocal nerves is associated with that of speech in such a way that the normal development of both depends on their harmonious exercise. This had already been pointed out by Heinicke in 1785, the creator of the oral method of education of the deaf-mute, along with its philosophical consequence. He speaks of "a dynamic concatenation of ideas", a phrase whose great clarity would do honour to more than one contemporary psychologist.

    Yzur was, with respect to speech, in the same situation as that of babies who before speaking already understands a number of words; but given his greater life experience, he was much more apt to make judgements regarding certain things.

    These judgments, that, judging by the different forms they took, not only represented a gathering of impressions, but a sign of inquisitiveness and of reasoned analysis, suppose a capacity for abstract thinking. This indicated his superior degree of intelligence, which was most favourable to my purposes.

    If my theories appear overly audacious, it should be sufficient to reflect that the syllogism, that is the fundamental basis of logical argument, is not alien to the mind of a number of animals. For originally, the syllogism was a comparison between two sensations. If not, then why do animals that know of men flee from them, and not from those that they have never met?

    I began, then, the phonetic education of Yzur.

    It involved with first teaching him words mechanically, then progressively moving onto meaningful words.

    Monkeys having a voice and thus a great capacity for rudimentary articulations, have, so to speak, an advantage over the deaf-mute. It was only a matter of teaching him the differences that constitute the phonemes and their articulations, termed static or dynamic by teachers, according to whether they refer to vowels or consonants.

    Given the gluttony of monkeys, and following in this a method used by Heinicke with the deaf-mute, I decided to associate each vowel with a treat: a with papa (potato); e with leche (milk); i with vino (wine); o with coco (coconut); u with azúcar (sugar), so that the vowels were either individually dominant or repeated in the name of the treat, as in papa, coco, leche, or presented in combination, with tonic and prosodic accentuation, as in vino, azúcar.

    In terms of the vowels, everything turned out well, as these sounds are formed with the open mouth. Yzur learned them in a fortnight. However, sometimes, the air in his cheeks imparted a thundering roar to them. He had the most difficulty in pronouncing the letter u.

    The consonants gave me a lot of trouble. I also learned that he would never be able to pronounce those consonants whose formation involves the teeth and gums. His long eyeteeth and his cheeks entirely hindered him from doing so.

    The vocabulary was reduced, then to the five vowels and the consonants b, k, m, g, f and c. This is to say all those consonants whose formation requires nothing but palate and the tongue.

    For this the ear was not sufficient, even for me. I had to appeal to the sense of touch like a deaf-mute, placing his hands on my chest and soon after on his chest so that he could feel the vibration of the sound.

    And three years passed, without him being able to achieve the pronounciation of any words. He tended to associate things with the letters whose sound predominated in the associated noun. This was all.

    In the circus he had learned to bark like his task-mates the dogs; and when he saw me giving up hope in trying to make him speak, he barked strongly, as though to show me everything he knew. He pronounced the vowels and consonants separately, but he could not string them together. Beyond that, we would string together a sequence of p's and m's.

    As slow as it was, there has been a great change in his character. His facial features had lost their mobility, his gaze arose from great depths and he adopted meditative poses. He had acquired, for example, the custom of contemplating the stars. His sensitivity had also grown; he could easily be brought to tears. The lessons continued with unwavering determination, although with no greater success. It had become a painful obsession, and little by little I became inclined to use force. My character had been soured by failure, until it had assume a heedless animosity towards Yzur. He was becoming more and more of an introvert; in his stubborn silence, he began to convince me that I would never remove budge him from his stance, when it suddenly dawned on me that he did not to speak because he did not want to. One night the cook, horrified, came to tell me that he had surprised the monkey "speaking genuine words". Yzur was, according to the cook's story, curled up next to a fig tree in the orchard; but the cook's fright was so great that he could not recall the most essential element, namely, the words. He seems to remember only two: cama (bed) and pipa (pipe). His stupidity almost led me to kicked him.

    Needless to say, I spent the night in a highly excited state; and undertook that which I had not done in three years --- a mistake that brought all to nought --- out of nervous tension arising from a lack of sleep, as much as from an excessive curiosity.

    Instead of allowing the monkey to manifest his capacity for language on his own terms, the next day I called him to bear and tried to force him and draw obedience from him under threat of punishment.

    I got nothing but p's and m's out of him, the which I was already fed up of. Then there was his hypocritical expression and --- God forgive me --- a certain hint of irony in the faces he was pulling.

    This angered me, and thoughtlessly I struck him with a whip. The only thing I could get out of him was tears and an even more absolute silence, unbroken even by moans.

    On the third day he fell into a kind of dark dementia complicated by meningitis-like symptoms. Leeches, cold infusions, purgatives, cutaneous counterirritants, alcohol rubs, bromide --- all the therapeutic tools at my disposal were applied to him. I fought with desperate determination, stimulated by remorse and fear. This was because I believed the beast to be a victim of my cruelty; and because he might take his secret to the grave.

    After long time he improved, however, he remained so weak that he could not move himself in the bed. His brush with death had ennobled and humanized him. His eyes full of gratitude, were always fixed on me and followed me around the room like two revolving balls, even if I was behind him. His hand searched for mine in the intimacy of his convalescence. In my own great solitude, he was quickly acquiring the importance of a person.

    The demon of experimentation, which is naught else but a form of the spirit of perversity, drove me to renew, nevertheless, my experiments. In fact the monkey had spoken. That could not go unnoticed.

    I began very slowly, asking him to pronounce the letters he could pronounce. Nothing! I left him alone for some hours, spying on him through a peep-hole in the partition. Nothing! I spoke to him with brief sentences, trying to reach his loyalty or his gluttony. Nothing! When those words were sad, his eyes would well up with tears. When I spoke to him a phrase that he already knew, such as "I am your Master," with which I usually began all my lessons, or "You are my monkey" to complete my previous statement, to inspire a confidence in the complete truth of my statements, he acknowledged by closing his eyelids, but he neither gave out a sound, nor even moved his lips.

    He had resume making gestures as the sole means of communicating with me; and this adding to his analogy to the deaf-mute, redouble my preoccupations, because nobody can ignore the great predisposition of the latter to mental diseases. At times I wished that he might go crazy, to see if the associated nervous excitement would break his silence. His convalescence remained unchanged, he showed the same sadness. It was evident that this was a sickness of the mind and spirit. The organism had collapsed under the impulse of an abnormal use of the brain, and in a few days more or less, he would become a lost cause. Furthermore, in spite of the meekness that the progression of his convalescence brought on, his silence, that exasperating silence, cause of my desperation, did not yield. From some obscure font of habits petrified into instinct, his race had imposed its millenarian silence upon animals, fortifying an atavistic will at the very roots of its being. The ancient men of the forest, who were forced into silence and submission, that is to say, to intellectual suicide, by who knows what barbarian injustice, kept their secret: forest taboos developed in prehistoric abysses, but grown formidable through the immensity of time into in the monkey's unconscious decision.

    It was the misfortune of the anthropoids to have lagged behind in the evolution whose lead had been taken by humans, and who had in a dark, barbaric despotism doubtlessly overthrown the great families of quadrupeds from their arboreal dominion over their primitive Eden, winnowing their numbers, capturing their females to enslave their broods fresh from the maternal belly, instilling in the defeated anthropoid their impotence. These, in order to protect their mortal dignity, broke their one unfortunate bond with the enemy, that of the word, seeking salvation in the ultimate night of lower animality.

    And what horrors, what horrible atrocities would the winners not have committed upon these half- beasts at a critical moment in evolution, so that this these, rather than being content with intellectual gift that was the paradisiacal fruit of the Bible, were resigned to giving up the claudication of their race, and the degradation of their breed to an equality with of the inferior creatures; to that retrogression which forever crystallized their intelligence in the gestures of an acrobatic automat; to that great cowardice of life that would eternally bend, as a symbol of their beastiality, the backs of the dominated, and reinforce those melancholic features that remains at heart of their nature.

    Here I was, on the brink of success, when my bad humour had arisen from some great atavistic limbo. Across millions of years, the word, with its spell, had remained dormant in the ancient simian soul; but set against that temptation to violate the darkness of protective animality, were ancestral memory, which instilled an instinctive horror in the lower species, forming across eons and eons a powerful barrier.

    Yzur began his death agony without losing consciousness. A sweet agony closed his eyes, his breathing weak, his weak pulse, a complete calm broken when, on occasion, he turned to me with a heartbreaking expression of eternity, with the expression of an old mulatto. And the last night, the night of his death, was when it happened, that extraordinary thing which led me to undertake this narrative.

    I had slept by his side, overcome by the heat and the calm of the growing twilight, when I felt something suddenly grasp my wrist.

    I woke up frightened. The monkey, with his eyes wide open, was definitively dying now, and his expression was so human, that it horrified me; but his hand, his eyes, drew me strongly towards him, such that I had to bend immediately to his face; and then, with his last sigh, the last sigh that crowned and simultaneously dashed my hopes, he spoke up --- I am certain --- and spoke in a murmur (how can one explain the tone of a voice that has remained speechless for ten thousand centuries) these words whose humanity reconciled our species:



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