I saw in a hall an arrow pointing the way and I thought that this inoffensive symbol had once been a thing of iron, an inescapable and fatal projectile that pierced the flesh of men and of lions and clouded the sun at Thermopolae and gave Harald Sigurdarson six feet of English earth forever.
Some days later someone showed me a photograph of a Magyar horseman. A coiled lasso circled the breast of his mount. I learned that the lasso, which once whipped through the air and brought down the bulls of the prairie, was now nothing more than a haughty trapping of Sunday harness.
In the west cemetery I saw a runic cross, chiseled in red marble. The arms curved as they widened out, and a circle encompassed them. That limited, circumscribed cross represented the other one, the free-armed cross, which in its turn represents the gallows where a god suffered, the “vile machine” railed at by Lucian of Samosata.
Cross, lasso, and arrow–former tools of man, debased or exalted now to the status of symbols. Why should I marvel at them, when there is not a single thing on earth that oblivion does not erase or memory change, and when no one knows into what images he himself will be transmuted by the future.
[From Dreamtigers, by Jorge Luis Borges, translated by Mildred Boyer]