Throw someone to the wolves

Posted by Probe on August 20, 2007

In Reply to: Throw someone to the wolves posted by Baceseras on August 18, 2007

: : : : "Throw someone to the wolves." In "My Antonia" Willa Cather attributes to two of her characters, immigrant brothers from Russia, the Russian incident of the wedding party in sleighs attacked by a huge pack of wolves. They throw the bride to the wolves in order to save themselves. Shunned, they emigrate to the US. The incident may well be a Russian urban legend, something that happened to "a friend of a cousin of babushka's milkman". In any event, for definition purposes I think that the key element of the act is doing it to save yourself.

: : : Wow. Throwing a bride to the wolves!

: : The phrase predates Willa Cather's 1918 book. It's rather putting the cart before the wolf to automatically assume that any story that is somewhat similar to an idiom is the source or true meaning.

: Nevertheless, the bride story does illuminate the root meaning of the phrase. It refers to a practice (sacrificing one person for the safety of others) that occupies a gray area between coldly utilitarian calculation and a tragic recognition that the survival of the group must take priority over an individual. It is painful for us to contemplate a life so hard that such choices become necessary. The "abandoned bride" story, then, is even more shocking, since no possible moral calculus would put the lesser value upon one at the brink of life, and a likely bearer of new life. The brothers' act outrages even those who might be thought to be numb to any outrage.

I am a native Russian speaker and have never heard this story (although there are numerous stories and even one famous painting with a subject of sleigh travellers attacked by pack of volves). Among Russian fairy tails with similar subject there are others telling of a powerful dragon claiming from the settlers a regular prey to be devoured (frequently a youg girl) which the settlers chose and delivered to him at their discretion.