Art / literature / Science

A fearful symmetry

Since ancient times, the tiger has been considered a symbol of strength and courage among animals; perhaps for its particular striped coat, this animal has always caught the attention of men and, unluckily, of hunters and poachers;  but in the past, this animal was respected much more than today as  many Asiatic myths,  legends and beliefs tell us, so that in Asian countries  it’s  still considered  the “king of animals”, in opposition to the lion of the Western culture.

The tiger gives name to several styles and techniques of Martial Arts and it is one of the 12  animals of the Chinese zodiac ; the White Tiger of the West is also the name of one of the Four Symbols of the Chinese constellations, representing  the west and the autumnal season.

A very important role is also given to this animal in Chinese Buddhism, where it is considered one of the Three Senseless Creatures symbolizing anger, together with the monkey (that symbolizes greed) and the deer (that represents love sickness). In Hinduism, moreover, the god Durga is drawn while riding a tiger during a fight, while Shiva, the god of destruction, is represented with the coat of tiger on his body.

However, the tiger has enchanted Western culture, too, becoming  the subject of many painters like Rubens, Dali and Rousseau; even in literature the tiger acquired a great importance, as in “The Jungle Book” by Rudyard Kipling, featuring the tiger Shere Khan as the enemy of the protagonist, Mowgli.

Rubens: La caccia alla tigre (1616)

Moreover, the Romantic poet and engraver William Blake presented this terrible and, at the same time, fascinating animal in a beautiful poem, called The Tiger. The meaning of the tiger in Blake’s poem is complex and ambiguous; it probably represents the creative energy of human life that aims at a perfect geometrical shape, symbolized by the coat of the animal;  however, for Blake, this symmetry is fearful because it includes the contradictory and complementary forces of creation and destruction: in fact, according to the main idea of Blake’s poetry, that of “ complementary opposites”, opposite states of mind like good and evil coexist either in the human being and in God, as an essential part of both.

Would you like to know (and watch!) more about this incredible animal?

Here are a few videos  to describe better  the behaviour of tigers, dangerous predators that can be at the same time caring mothers for their little cubes. Enjoy them! 🙂

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