We Are the Wild
Romulus wasn't the only feral child of mythology to found a civilization.
In ancient Syria, a goddess named Derceto somehow offended the Greek goddess Aphrodite. Aphrodite exacted punishment by using her love powers to make Derceto lust after an underage boy. After she had her way with the lad, Derceto became pregnant and gave birth to a daughter named Semiramis. The whole seedy business overwhelmed Derceto with shame so she killed her lover, left baby Semiramis out in the wild to die and drowned herself for good measure.
Luckily for Semiramis, there was a flock of helpful doves nearby. A group of the birds warmed the baby's body by covering her with their wings while another cohort fetched milk drop by drop from nearby cows. In this way, the doves kept their human charge alive for more than a year, going so far as to steal cheese from some cowherds who then discovered the bouncing baby alive and well. Semiramis grew up to become a powerful queen and is credited by some with founding Babylon [source: Siculus].
Taken individually, myths and stories about feral children often reveal much about the time and place in which they occur (the anxieties of 18th-century Europe, the chaos of post-Soviet Russia), and they often cast light on the deplorable ways we humans can treat the small, weak and vulnerable among us. But viewed as a whole, the very idea of feral children goes to the heart of our relationship with the natural world.
In the mythologies, a wild childhood is a source of strength and magical powers. Being nurtured by animals serves as a kind of baptism by nature that grants the hero or heroine special status. It's as though such a childhood gives these children access to a wildness that we all carry with us at our core. And those who reconcile this inner wildness with the outward manifestations of human civilization are capable of great feats.
Recent studies by animal researchers reveal with increasing certitude that there is no special quality that separates us from other creatures [source: Kolbert]. That's a finding confirmed by the true stories of feral children. They remind us that we are part of nature. We too are animals, and the difference between humans and other species is one of degree, not kind. Perhaps this is one reason why we remain perennially fascinated by tales of wild kids.
Author's Note: How Feral Children Work
I think I was about 10 when my parents took me to see Francois Truffaut's "The Wild Child." Although I can't remember much of the storyline, the images made a deep impression on me. Even though the film came out in the middle of the "flower power" era, Truffaut didn't romanticize Victor's childhood. Living in tune with nature should be celebrated, but a lonely childhood is a terrible thing, no matter where you are.
More Great Links
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- Bumiller, Elisabeth. "'Stranger Things Have Happened in India': Goose Chase Is Long and Wild in Search of the Wolf Boy." The Washington Post. May 19, 1985. (July 17, 2016) http://articles.latimes.com/1985-05-19/news/mn-9225_1_wolf-boy/
- Candland, Douglas Keith. "Feral Children and Clever Animals: Reflections on Human Nature." 1993. (July 17, 2016) https://toleratedindividuality.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/feral-children-and-clever-animals-reflections-on-human-nature.pdf
- Casanova, Manuel. "Feral (Wild) Children and Autism." Cortical Chauvinism. Feb. 22, 2016. (July 18, 2016) https://toleratedindividuality.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/feral-children-and-clever-animals-reflections-on-human-nature.pdf
- Dutta, Kunal. "Raised in the wild: tales of survival." Independent. Sept. 22, 2012. (July 18, 2016) http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/news/raised-in-the-wild-tales-of-survival-8165967.html
- Frank, Priscilla. "Photographer Brings Unbelievable Stories Of Feral Children To Life." The Huffington Post. Sept. 30, 2015. (July 11, 2016) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/julia-fullerton-batten-feral-children_us_56098e95e4b0dd85030893a9
- Hattenstone, Simon. "Was Marina Chapman really brought up by monkeys?" The Guardian. April 13, 2013. (July 14, 2016) https://www.theguardian.com/science/2013/apr/13/marina-chapman-monkeys
- Kolbert, Elizabeth. "He Tried to Be a Badger." New York Review of Books. June 23, 2016. (July 14, 2016) http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2016/06/23/he-tried-to-be-a-badger/
- Leung, Wency. "Marina Chapman's wild tale of a feral childhood sparks skepticism." The Globe and Mail. May 2, 2013. (July 14, 2016) http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/relationships/marina-chapmans-wild-tale-of-a-feral-childhood-sparks-skepticism/article11690193/
- Newton, Michael. "Savage Girls and Wild Boys: A History Of Feral Children by Michael Newton." The Guardian. Jan. 18, 2002. (July 11, 2016) https://www.theguardian.com/books/2002/jan/19/extract
- Newton, Michael. "The Child of Nature: The Feral Child and the State of Nature." PhD Thesis, University College, London. 1996 http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/1317523/1/244110.pdf
- Purves, D. "The Development of Language: A Critical Period in Humans." Neuroscience. 2nd edition. 2001. (July 17, 2016) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK11007/
- Radford, Benjamin. "Feral Children: Lore of the Wild Child." Livescience. Nov. 27, 2013. (July 18, 2016) http://www.livescience.com/41590-feral-children.html
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- Siculus, Diodorus. "Book II, Vol. 1, The Library of History of Diodorus Siculus." Loeb Classical Library. 1933. (July 14, 2016) http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Diodorus_Siculus/2A*.html