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The Short Form

“The Snake Charmer”

Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov

Excerpt

It often seems, and probably it is true, that man rose up out of the animal kingdom, that man became man, the creature able to think up such things as this archipelago and our improbable life here, simply because he had greater physical endurance than any other animal. What made an ape into a human being was not its hand, not its embryonic brain, not its soul — there are dogs and bears who act more intelligently and ethically than human beings. Nor was it a matter of mastering the power of fire — that too was secondary. Man had no other advantage at this time except that he turned out to be considerably stronger, he turned out to possess greater endurance — greater physical endurance. It's inaccurate to say that a man has nine lives like a cat. It would be more true to say of a cat that it has nine lives like a man.