//The horse in universal literature

The horse in universal literature

The horse is present in the history of humanity in different forms. The main roles of the horse have been means of transport, tool in agricultural production and war technology. But this means that he has been present in the most important moments of mankind. That is why his figure has been recurrent in all human artistic manifestations, including literature. That is why today we will talk about the role of the horse in universal literature.

Many of us have seen on movie screens horse movies that have touched us. We have also come across TV series or series on streaming services in which the horse is one of the protagonists. What many people don’t know is that many of these series or films are inspired by books that were already famous… some even before the popularization of streaming services.

Greek, Nordic mythology, the stories of indigenous peoples, the stories of cavalry… All of them account for the fundamental and symbolic role of the horse for humanity.

Without a doubt, good books and their excellent stories are largely the inspiration for the seventh art and its derivatives. Let’s remember that the origin of superhero cinema lies in comic books, another great art form. Later we’ll talk about narrative experiences spanning various media about horse stories. For now we will refer to talking about horse books that have inspired generations and continue to inspire modern artists.

With nothing more to add, let’s start learning more about the role of the horse in universal literature.

Why should you read "Don Quixote"? - Ilan Stavans

First works of art related to horses recorded in history

The first records related to horses are earlier than even writing. The first artistic expression of the human being was painting. In the painting we find among his first expressions the cave paintings. It is in this category that we find some of the oldest, the paintings located in the Caves of Ekain.

In the Caves of Ekain, located in the Basque Country in Spain, we find the first pictorial record of humanity that includes horses. Ekain’s paintings are estimated to date back to 10,000 BC. There are numerous figures among which more than half are horses.

The proportion of horse drawings in the Ekain Caves gives us to understand the importance of the horse in the life of humans. With the creation of writing, the human being will record not only his existence but his relationship with it.

From the year 2,500 A.C. approximately there are tools and records associated with the taming of horses.

Paintings of horses in the Cave of Ekain
Paintings of horses in the Cave of Ekain

The written history and history of horses in literature

Humanity’s first writing systems are around 3,000 A.C. in Sumerian writing and Egyptian hieroglyphics. Likewise, the first texts that tell stories are located for approximately 2,500 A.C.

The horse is incorporated by the hicsos in ancient Egypt and around 1500ac the symbol of the horse is introduced to the Egyptian hieroglyphics. Being part of the symbols of the alphabet is much to say but also the hieroglyphic of the horse has the meaning of “noble”. Definitely a very suitable meaning to this beautiful animal.

The horse was also the symbol of pharaoh’s power. In this context we have the first “story” about horses.

Ramses II fought at the Battle of Kadehs and thanks to his two champion horses he achieved victory in the battalion. The names of these horses are: “Victory in Thebes” and “Mut is satisfied”. Ramses II’s love for these horses that helped him in his victory caused him to forge a ring with the figure of both in him. Thus the first story about horses is halfway between oral, pictorial and hieroglyphic history.

Ring of Ramses II - with his two horses- "Mut is satisfied" and "Victory in Thebes"
Ring of Ramses II – with his two horses- “Mut is satisfied” and “Victory in Thebes”

Ancient Greece and its contribution to universal literature.

We also find that the stories of ancient Greece where their stories were first disseminated orally by the Aedos or Rapsoda. The Aedos made up their own stories. Meanwhile, the snuffs were professional declaimers and told stories that others told.

Some historians say that Homer was a rapsoda and that there is no record that he had written the Iliad and the Odyssey. However, it could be the Aedo of both stories… In the absence of writing, the rapsoda went from city to city serving as a poet and traveling singer to bring history to every corner.

The Iliad is the first literary work in which the horse makes an appearance. We can say that the Iliad is only an oral composition, but the truth is that it was then transcribed. It was the latter that ensured that this work was preserved in time and will come to this day.

It was here in the first literary work that we found the role of the horse as a technology of war, transport and even as an unexpected protagonist. Achilles’ horse-drawn carriage allows him to drag the body of the defeated Hector three times around Troy in revenge for Patroclus’s death.

But beyond that, the symbol of the horse will serve to deliver a “peace offering” to the Trojans. The peace offering was a horse-shaped sculpture, inside which it was hidden from Greek soldiers. These soldiers would infiltrate and at night they would go out to open the city gates to be conquered.

The horse’s first appearance in universal literature was a stellar lead. No doubt the horse has left its mark on human history and literature.

The Trojan Horse - The horse in universal literature
The Trojan Horse – The horse in universal literature

The horse in Middle Ages literature

In the Middle Ages, cavalry literature was one of the great exponents. Whether in the form of epic poems or novels he gave great works of universal literature. In this genre the horse demonstrated the importance of the horse in universal literature.

One of the most projected epic poems is the “Cantar del Mio Cid”. The poem is inspired by the adventures and successes of the knight Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar.

This work is considered the most important work of the genre “singing de gesta”. This genre of Spanish literature developed during the Middle Ages. It is said that the version currently reproduced dates back to the year 1200 and is preserved almost entirely.

The cavalry genre over time was worn out and repeating itself. This caused an author to decide to rewrite the story: Miguel de Cervantes. But that will be a cause for study at a forthcoming opportunity.

Statue dedicated to Mio Cid in Spain - The horse in universal literature
Statue dedicated to Mio Cid in Spain – The horse in universal literature

The Novel of Chivalry

The novel of chivalry developed from the end of the 15th century to the year 1,602 approximately. This genus had great popularity in Spain, France, Portugal and in the region of the Iberian Peninsula. Although since the mid-15th century this genre was losing followers.

The center of the chivalry novel was the adventures of the knights. Some of the characteristics of this genus are as follows:

Structure by episodes: Each work tells a story that concludes in itself but that does not close the adventures of the same knight. That is why the story of a gentleman is spread over several books or novels.

Values such as honor, courage and adventure are the key: These types of values are reviewed as the result of passing tests for the knight. Through the challenges and trials overcome by the gentleman he demonstrates his dignity and integrity in accordance with such values.

Idealization of love and the presence of the lady: Love as the center and driver of adventures. Although love is present in relationships outside of marriage, the conclusion always leads to marriage. Love is sacrificed and capable of everything to obtain the love of the lady in question.

Violence as a mean to success: Combat is the way to achieve fame, love, and self-worth. Superiority in arms implies moral superiority. Battles are one of the most important centers of cavalry action.

Origin of the hero with extraordinary characteristics: Generally the hero has behind him a noble but dark and illegitimate origin. Becoming knights and proving your worth is the way to access the recognition that comes from your lineage.

The most important representatives of the cavalry genre

The greatest exponent of the cavalry genre is the so-called “The Four Books of Amadis of Gaula”. Its popularity was maximum in Spain and Portugal. The original story dates from the 13th century however its definitive format as a novel of chivalry will come in the nineteenth century.

Its compiler and creator of the final edition incorporating the fourth book of Amadis Gaula was Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo.

Some scholars of the work indicate that Amadis Gaula appears to be the literary incarnation of Infante Brian de Monjaste, who was the son of the King of Spain.

Undoubtedly, Amadis Gaula is one of its great exponents and a work. Although the work does not mention the horse of Amadis Gaula, the figure of the knight is undoubtedly unequivocally linked to it.

The cavalry genre with the passage of time was wearing out and repeating itself. This caused an author to decide to rewrite history: Miguel de Cervantes. But that will be a reason for study in the next opportunity.

Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes – A work about the horse in literature

Don Quixote de la Mancha is the most read work of universal literature after the Bible. The work is considered “the best literary work ever written” being the first of the list of “the best literary works in history”.

This work of Miquel de Cervantes is a parody of chivalry novels. The genre had worn out and due to the overexploitation of the subject it was constantly repeated. The burlesque tone of the work marked a milestone for the demystification of the walking knight and the so-called “courtly love”. Undoubtedly the best work of universal literature in which one of its protagonists is a horse. And you can’t talk about Don Quixote without talking about Rocinante.

Don Quixote and Rocinante - Horse in Literature
Don Quixote and Rocinante – Horse in Literature

How did Don Quixote name Rocinante?

In the book, Don Quixote renames his horse after pondering for a long time and puts it this way:

“Four days went by imagining what name I would give it… and so after many names that he formed he erased and removed, added, undid and turned to do in his memory and imagination, at last he came to call him “Rocinante”, name in his opinion high, sonorous and significant of what had been when he was rocín, before what he was now, which was before and first of all the rocines of the world “

In Spanish:

“cuatro días se le pasaron en imaginar que nombre le pondría… y así después de muchos nombres que formó borró y quitó, añadió, deshizo y tornó a hacer en su memoria e imaginación, al fin le vino a llamar “Rocinante”, nombre a su parecer alto, sonoro y significativo de lo que había sido cuando fue rocín, antes de lo que ahora era, que era antes y primero de todos los rocines del mundo”

Rocinante was a horse that for lack of food had been left made flesh and bones. No doubt this work achieved its goal of parodying the novel of chivalry and leaving its name engraved in world literature.

Don Quixote and Rocinante - Horse in Literature
Don Quixote and Rocinante – Horse in Literature


The Horse in Modern World Literature

The Gothic novel, which followed the medieval stage and the industrial revolution, were two of the influences that displaced the horse from an important role in literature. After the Middle Ages the focus was on the human being, and adventures ceased to be at the center of literature. In the course of this last stage, the industrial revolution, a genre emerged that revived the role of the horse in literature. In the United States, the expansion of the territories and the gold rush gained relevance.

With this was born the genre of the Novel of the West. This novel responded to the renewed interest in the exploration and use of the horse in this phase.

It was a literary genre that had its heyday during the 19th and early 20th century. It generally locates its history after the American Civil War. This genre relates the reconstruction of a country. A country that goes from being a wild world to a civilized world dominated by law.

Therefore, their stories tell the technological and ethical transformation of the country, and its search for order and prosperity. Not all the genre revolved around the horse, but in several of its aspects the horse acquires a leading role.

Today you will discover how this genre, which is just over 100 years old, marked the construction of the North American ideology. An event that revived the horse in world literature.

Cowboys and western novel - Horse in Universal Literature
Cowboys and western novel – Horse in Universal Literature

Plot axes of the Novel of the West and the horse in modern universal literature.

The old west novel revolved around various themes that were explored again and again. The American writer Frank Gruber studied the genre in depth, so he established the characteristics of these thematic axes. Thanks to this, Frank Gruber also made his contribution to the genre with novels linked to the genre of the western novel. Gruber established that there were only 7 story arcs, which we will go on to describe in the next section.

Thematic arcs of the Western Novel by Frank Gruber

  1. Stories about the construction of media and communication routes in the United States: These stories told the story of the construction of railroads, railroads, and telegraphs. It meant the way technology united the country.
  2. Stories about life on the ranch: These stories told the life of the countryside and ranches. Both the day to day and the challenges related to the conflicts between ranchers, thieves, and landowners.
  3. Empire building: Tells the story of the construction of the great ranches or oil empires of the time.
  4. Stories of revenge: Stories where justice is imposed through violence by victims. In general, they are stories of investigation, search, persecution, and mourning.
  5. Cavalry and Indian Stories: These are stories that tell the process of “civilization” of the American West. Stories of wars with the Indians or reminiscences of the civil war, cavalry, military among others. They revolve around conflict, order and chaos and the construction of a civilization. In these stories, the horse has a preponderance for world literature.
  6. Outlaw Stories: Stories about outlaws, ganged criminals, and gunmen. Here the horse becomes very important for universal literature.
  7. Stories about Sheriffs and the Law: The law and the man who imposes it presents the central thread of the plot. They represent the story of the imposition of justice in the west and the construction of a law that would defend the weak against abuses.

Arguments left out by Frank Gruber

Although Frank Gruber’s study was considered extensive, it certainly left out some themes that he did not consider. His analysis focused on the histories of civilization, both technological and legal, and the conflict between chaos and order. However, there were other stories that were frequently repeated that were those of the pursuit of prosperity.

Stories about the quest for prosperity focus on the common man who is engaged in hunting, mountaineers, and pioneers. They relate the initial search for territories or wealth outside the order. In these stories we find accounts about the time of the gold rush, the pioneers, and the stories of individual mining.

Not because these issues have been left out can we demerit the extensive analysis of Frank Gruber and his contribution.

Precursors of the genre and greatest exponents of the western novel

Some of the books that belong to this stage are:

  • “The Last of the Mohicans”, by James Fenimore Cooper (1826) was a precursor of the genus
  • Seccond, “The Western Journals” by Washington Irving (1832) was another precursor to the genre
  • “The Virginian”, by Owen Wister (1902) is considered the pioneer of this literary genre
  • “Heart of the West”, by William Sydney Porter, also known as O. Henry (1907) was a collection of western short stories.
  • “Arizona Nights”, by Stewart Edward White, also a collection of western short stories.

In this genre, the horse is an adventure companion, omnipresent, but without great personality. It is a means of transport rather than a protagonist, although with great importance.

This denotes, little by little, the loss of presence of the horse in literature. This genre later imposed its equivalent in the cinema that we can know in the article “The Horse in the Netflix series and in its films

The Last of the Mohicans
The Last of the Mohicans

Our friend’s horse in universal literature

The horse has accompanied the human being since the beginning of civilization. Thanks to the horse man has traveled great distances and given life to moving stories. The horse will continue to be present in universal and modern literature as well as in our lives. Whether in art or day-to-day life, the horse will accompany the human being to the end of civilization leaving his impass in our hearts.

We leave you an additional article about “The horse in literature