Letter: Shaved horns no help to cowards

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Sir: Ernest Hemingway, would have agreed with Liz Nash ("The (shaved) horns of a dilemma", 3 March) that the machismo of many (though not all) bullfighters conceals a "quivering child who is frightened to die".

I suspect, though, that he would not have supported the premise of her argument that a bull disorientated by horn-shaving, and therefore "more likely to miss", would be the preferred animal of the cowardly matador.

Hemingway, who perhaps got as close as any foreigner can to the heart of this mysterious Spanish practice, was clear that among bullfighters the unpredictable bull, who will not charge straight and true, is the most feared animal. If the bull aims directly for the cape, as he should if he retains his alertness and balance, the matador's strict training will allow him to achieve a kill without great personal risk.

If this is so, the only advantage of horn-shaving is that should the matador receive a goring, the prospect of death or serious wounding for the man is greatly reduced.

Liz Nash's description of the "fiesta glorified by Hemingway" is a rather wayward stab at his real views. In Death in the Afternoon he mounts a sustained attack on the cowardly matador, protected even in the Twenties and Thirties by a corrupt system which her report shows has changed little.

His case was that only occasionally does the corrida rise above such failings to provide a true contest and an eccentric but stark view of the human condition. Whether it is a necessary or a moral view is perhaps a problem with which, notwithstanding EU integration, northern Europeans are unable truly to grapple.


London SW4