Allow me to introduce you to the Happy Wolf! There, you’re smiling already, aren’t you?
I met the Happy Wolf quite recently, on a visit to Leeds City Museum. As soon as I saw this wonderful creation I burst out laughing, which was no doubt very disrespectful of me when confronted by a work of art dating from the 3rd century. It’s a large floor mosaic discovered in the Yorkshire village of Aldborough, depicting the legend of twin brothers Romulus and Remus. They were the founders of Rome, who were abandoned as babies but found by a kindly she-wolf, who fed them and saved them from death.
If you get the chance, do go see the Happy Wolf. You’ll be charmed, like me, by her round button eyes and broad friendly grin (despite the rows of pointy teeth). I love the coquettish way she crosses her front legs. I love the fact that her hind-quarters quite obviously belong to another animal altogether. I love that the artists didn’t even attempt to depict any fussy wolf-teat / suckling business in tiny pieces of coloured stone – and who can blame them? – but instead opted to show the twins joyously jamming together on air-guitars. In fact, I love everything about the Happy Wolf.
I wonder how the mosaic-makers felt on the completion of this masterpiece. Did they step back to view their hybrid wolf-cat-pony with a puzzled frown, a little crestfallen that something wasn’t quite right? Oh for a Tardis to whizz back a few centuries and reassure them! I’d love to say, ‘Please don’t change a thing – you have no idea how much someone a couple of thousand years into the future is going to love her exactly the way she is. I’ve even got her picture set as a screensaver on my computer . . .’ No wait, think that last bit’s tricky even with a Latin dictionary.
There’s a story – maybe true, maybe not – that all Persian rugs have a deliberate flaw woven into them, either in respect to the belief that only God can create perfection or to point out that even the most skilled craftsman is only human. A useful reminder, when we often feel dissatisfied that things aren’t quite good enough. We hold out for the perfect home, the perfect job, the perfect partner, telling ourselves that we can’t be happy till we get them because we’ve got high standards – as the adverts say, you deserve them ‘because you’re worth it’! But while we’re waiting, life passes us by, unloved and unlived.
Have a good look around – perhaps it’s not a question of making do but accepting the good things you’ve already got in your life with a less critical eye. What if we could learn to love things not in spite of, but because of, their little flaws and imperfections? Maybe the same goes for people too . . . just as long as they don’t have the back end of a horse.
Poem of the Week