From then on, thanks to Zira, my knowledge of the simian world and language increased rapidly. She contrived to see me alone almost every day on the pretext of some test and undertook my education, instructing me in the language and at the same time learning mine with a rapidity that amazed me. In less than two months we were capable of holding a conversation on a variety of subjects. Little by little I came to understand the planet Soror, and it is the characteristics of this strange civilization that I am now going to try to describe.
As soon as we could converse together, Zira and I, I directed the conversation toward the principal object of my curiosity: Were the apes the only rational beings, the kings of creation on the planet?
"What do you think?" she said. "Ape is of course the only rational creature, the only one possessing a mind as well as a body. The most materialistic of our scientists recognize the supernatural essence of the simian mind."
Phrases like this always gave me a start in spite of myself.
"Well then, Zira, what are men?"
We were then speaking French, for, as I have said, she was quicker to learn my language than I hers. At the outset there were some difficulties of interpretation, the words "man" and "ape" not evoking the same creatures for us; but this snag was quickly smoothed out. Each time she said "ape," I mentally translated "superior being, the height of evolution." When she spoke about men, I knew she meant bestial creatures endowed with a certain sense of imitation and presenting a few anatomical similarities to apes but of an embryonic psyche and devoid of the power of thought.
"It was only a century ago," she said dogmatically, "that we made some remarkable progress in the science of origins. It used to be thought that species were immutable, created with their present characteristics by an all-powerful God. But a line of great thinkers, all of them chimpanzees, have modified our ideas on this subject completely. Today we know that all species are mutable and probably have a common source."
"So that apes probably descend from men?"
"Some of us thought so; but it is not exactly that. Apes and men are two separate branches that have evolved from a point in common but in different directions, the former gradually developing to the stage of rational thought, the others stagnating in their animal state. Many orangutans, however, still insist on denying this obvious fact."
"You were saying, Zira ... a line of great thinkers, all of them chimpanzees?"
I am reporting these conversations as they occurred, in nonconsecutive snatches, my eagerness to learn leading Zira into countless lengthy digressions.
"Almost all the great discoveries," she stated vehemently, . "have been made by chimpanzees."
"Are there different classes among the apes?"
"There are three distinct families, as you have noticed, each of which has its own characteristics: chimpanzees,
gorillas, and orangutans. The racial barriers that used to exist have been abolished and the disputes arising from them have been settled, thanks mainly to the campaigns launched by the chimpanzees. Today, in principle, there is no difference at all between us."
"But most of the great discoveries," I persisted, "were made by the chimpanzees."
"That is true."
"What about the gorillas?"
"They are meat eaters," she said scornfully. "They were overlords and many of them have preserved a lust for power. They enjoy organizing and directing. They love hunting and life in the open air. The poorest of them are engaged on work that requires physical strength."
"And the orangutans?"
Zira looked at me for a moment, then burst out laughing.
"They are Official Science," she said. "You must have noticed this already and you'll have plenty of opportunities to confirm it. They learn an enormous amount from books. They are all decorated. Some of them are looked upon as leading lights in a narrow specialized field that requires a good memory. Apart from that . . ."
She made a gesture of contempt. I did not pursue this subject, but made a mental note to come back to it later. I led the conversation to more general ideas. At my request she drew the genealogical tree of the ape, insofar as the best specialists had determined it. This bore a close resemblance to the diagrams that with us represent the evolutionary process. From a single trunk, whose roots faded away at the base into the unknown, various limbs branched out in succession: vegetables, unicellular organisms, then coelen-terata and echinoderms; higher up one arrived at fish, reptiles, and finally mammals. The tree was extended to include a class analogous to our anthropoids, and at this point a new limb branched out: that of men. This branch stopped short, whereas the central stem went on rising, giving birth to different species of prehistoric apes with barbaric names, to culminate eventually in Simius sapiens, forming the three extreme points of evolution: the chimpanzee, the gorilla, and the orangutan. It was absolutely clear.
"Ape's brain," Zira concluded, "has developed, is complex and organized, whereas man's has hardly undergone any transformation."
"And why, Zira, has the simian brain developed in this way?"
Language had undoubtedly been an essential factor. But why did apes talk and not men? Scientific opinion differed on this point. There were some who saw in it a mysterious divine intervention. Others maintained that ape's mind was primarily the result of the fact that he had four agile hands.
"With only two hands, each with short, clumsy fingers," said Zira, "man is probably handicapped at birth, incapable of progressing and acquiring a precise knowledge of the universe. Because of this he has never been able to use a tool with any success. Oh, it's possible that he once tried, clumsily. . . . Some curious vestiges have been found. There are a number of research projects going on at this moment into that particular subject. If you're interested in these questions, I will introduce you someday to Cornelius. He is much more qualified than I am to discuss them."
"My fiance' said Zira, blushing. "A very great, a real scientist."
"Of course. . . . Anyway," she concluded, "that's what I think, too: our being equipped with four hands is one of the most important factors in our spiritual evolution. It helped us in the first place to climb trees, and thereby conceive the three dimensions of space, whereas man, pegged to the ground by a physical malformation, slumbered On the flat. A taste for tools came to us next because we had the potentiality of using them with dexterity. Achievement followed, and it is thus we have raised ourselves to the level of wisdom."
On Earth I had frequently heard precisely the opposite argument used to explain the superiority of man. After thinking it over, however, Zira's reasoning struck me as being neither more nor less convincing than ours.
I should have liked to pursue this conversation, and I still had a thousand questions to ask, when we were interrupted by Zoram and Zanam bringing the evening meal. Zira bade me a hasty good night and went off.
I remained in my cage with Nova as my only companion. We had finished eating. The gorillas had left, after putting out the lights, except the one over the entrance which gave a feeble gleam. I looked at Nova and thought about what I had learned during the day. It was obvious that she did not care for Zira and was vexed by these conversations. At first she had even protested in her usual manner and tried to come between Zira and me, leaping about the cage, tearing up handfuls of straw, and flinging them in the in-
truder's face. I had had to resort to force to keep her quie After receiving a few thundering slaps across her beautiful face, she had eventually calmed down. I had allowed myself to indulge in this brutal behavior almost without thinking; afterward I felt sorry, but she appeared not to hold it against me.
The intellectual effort I had made to assimilate the simian theories of evolution left me worn out. I was happy when I saw Nova creep over to me in the dark and in her usual fashion beg for the half-human, half-animal caresses for which we had gradually worked out the code: a singular code, the details of which are of little importance, composed of compromise and reciprocal concessions to the manners of the civilized world and to the customs of this outlandish human race that populated the planet Soror.