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Sketch of hydra creature with human heads by J L Borges.

Two Drawings by J.L. Borges: The Hydra and Tango


A fairly unknown facet of the great Argentinian writer: Borges the draughtsman; an unexpected extension of his creative genius.

That burst, tango, that mischief,
it defies the busy years;
made of dust and time, man lasts
less than a light melody,
that is only time.
–J.L. Borges

As well as prosing with brilliant geometry the most unforgettable short stories of Western Literature, Jorge Luis Borges sketched a couple of drawings that can be stupendously appended to his oeuvre. In them we find two of his “minor” obsessions: the hydra and tango. We say “minor” because perhaps they do not occupy as much space in his writing as labyrinths, mirrors, libraries, time…

Sketch of man and woman dancing tango by Jose Luis Borges

The first drawing, “El tango”, is part of the Notre Dame rare book collection. About tango Borges said that it had originated in brothels as a way of encouraging the sensual closeness of bodies. Also, in 1965 he collaborated with Piazzola in a tango and milonga album called El Tango. His drawing reads as follows:

Tango is from the brothel. I have no doubt of that. But certainty

is not with me when it comes to finding its birthplace.

For Ernesto Poncio, it is the archway of Retirement,

it is clearly, in the whorehouses; the Southerners believe it

is in Chile street, and the Northerners sustain


it is on Temple street, both whorehouses.

In any case it is also indisputable that it was born between 1880 and 1890.

Sketch: he hydra of dictators by J L Borges

The second drawing, called “La hidra de los dictadores” (the hydra of dictators), refers to the political animal: the mythical seven-headed monster. In it we see the faces of Hitler, Perón, Rosas, Mussolini and Marx as a single monster that can only be killed by severing all seven heads at once (a feat which, by the way, only Hercules could accomplish).

This last drawing is part of the Virginia University’s manuscript collection, and belongs to a nine-page manuscript entitled “Viejo hábito argentino” (“Old Argentinian Habit”), which was later published as “Nuestro pobre individualismo” (“Our poor individualism”) in the book Otras inquisiciones (Other inquisitions).

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