Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Goat stories

Gavroche is a male pygmy goat. Often, male goats are called bucks or billies, just as female goats are called does or nannies.

In my early days at Gamone, I had a pair of ordinary female goats, named Leah and Rachel. Their speciality was climbing onto the roof at the back of my house, and then scampering over the tiles to explore every corner of the roof. I couldn't keep them in a paddock with the sheep, because they'd learned how to jump fences. (Later, my sheep, too, acquired this art.)

I tied them to stakes, but this method came to a gruesome end when Rachel slipped on the sloping ground (all the ground at Gamone is sloping) and strangled herself. So, I gave Leah to a lady down in the valley who already had a billy goat. That was years ago. Since then, I've heard that Leah became the matriarch of an entire herd of goats.

The Hebrew Bible tells a weird story involving male goats. In Leviticus, Moses was informed by the Lord that the high priest Aaron must obtain two such animals, one of which will be for the Lord whereas the other will be "driven away into the wilderness of Azazel", who could well be some kind of a demon. The gist of this affair is that the second billy goat is supposed to transport all the sins of the Israelites into a remote region. A 16th-century English translator, working on the King James version of the Bible, misunderstood the name of the demon, and thought that "Azazel" was a Hebrew expression meaning "the goat that escapes". Consequently, the expiatory buck of Leviticus came to be known as a scapegoat.

The Bush administration has just sacrificed a worthy scapegoat (often known as a fall guy in modern slang) called Lewis "Scooter" Libby, whose former boss was a certain Dick Cheney. Nobody has ever suggested that Libby himself was responsible for leaking the CIA role of Valerie Plame, wife a State Department official who was saying things that Bush and Cheney didn't wish to hear. But it's Libby who'll be paying the price for this screwup.

The good thing about a scapegoat is that, once he has been packed off into oblivion, everybody back home can carry on living as if the sins transported by the buck never even existed. And nobody would ever dream of wandering out into the wilderness to retrieve the wretched animal from the clutches of the demon Azazel. In fact, if ever I were to get into any kind of really messy situation, I'm sure that certain people would suggest that I call upon the services of Gavroche. Being a midget, though, Gavroche could probably only expiate minor misdeeds. So, there wouldn't be any point in sacrificing my dear innocent friend for a big affair.

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