Myth, Legend, and Symbolism

Phil

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Love the poem, Tani.

Here's another classic I thought might appeal. OK, it's not about cephalopods but about the humble trilobite, that wonderful denizen of the ancient seas. Hope no-one minds, afterall, don't we all love marine invertebrates, wherever and whenever they were?

It was written by May Kendall in 1887 and is an absolute classic. Please enjoy!

'Lay of the Trilobite'

A mountain's giddy height I sought,
Because I could not find
Sufficient vague and mighty thought
To fill my mighty mind;
And as I wandered ill at ease,
There chanced upon my sight
A native of Silurian seas,
An ancient Trilobite.

So calm, so peacefully he lay,
I watched him even with tears:
I thought of Monads far away
In the forgotten years.
How wonderful it seemed and right,
The providential plan,
That he should be a Trilobite,
And I should be a Man!

And then, quite natural and free
Out of his rocky bed,
That Trilobite he spoke to me
And this is what he said:
'I don't know how the thing was done,
Although I cannot doubt it;
But Huxley - he if anyone
Can tell you all about it;

'How all your faiths are ghosts and dreams,
How in the silent sea
Your ancestors were Monotremes -
Whatever these may be;
How you evolved your shining lights
Of wisdom and perfection
From Jelly-Fish and Trilobites
By Natural Selection.

'You've Kant to make your brains go round,
Hegel you have to clear them,
You've Mr Browning to confound,
And Mr Punch to cheer them!
The native of an alien land
You call a man and brother,
And greet with hymn-book in one hand
And pistol in the other!

'You've Politics to make you fight
As if you were possessed:
You've cannon and you've dynamite
To give the nations rest:
The side that makes the loudest din
Is surest to be right,
And oh, a pretty fix you're in!'
Remarked the Trilobite.

'But gentle, stupid, free from woe
I lived among my nation,
I didn't care - I didn't know
That I was a Crustacean.*
I didn't grumble, didn't steal,
I never took to rhyme:
Salt water was my frugal meal,
And carbonate of lime.'

Reluctantly I turned away,
No other word he said;
An ancient Trilobite, he lay
Within his rocky bed.
I did not answer him, for that
Would have annoyed my pride:
I merely bowed, and raised my hat,
But in my heart I cried: -

'I wish our brains were not so good,
I wish our skulls were thicker,
I wish that Evolution could
Have stopped a little quicker;
For oh, it was a happy plight,
Of liberty and ease,
To be a simple Trilobite
In the Silurian seas!'

* He was not a crustacean. He has since discovered that he was an Arachnid, or something similar. But he says it does not matter. He says they told him wrong once, and they may again.


Good, isn't it!
 

nanoteuthis

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Phil said:
Good, isn't it!
Absolutely brilliant :grad: and very funny :D I always did suspect those Trilobites of knowing a lot more than they were letting on!

Somewhat along the same lines -- though not as erudite -- is this favorite of mine, penned by that prolific polymath, Anonymous:

EVOLUTION: THE MONKEYS' VIEWPOINT
[just one of numerous titles attributed to this poem - TD]

Three monkeys sat in a coconut tree
Discussing things as they're said to be.

Said one to the others, "Now listen you two;
There's a certain rumor that can't be true;

"That man descends from our noble race.
The very idea! It's a dire disgrace!

"No monkey ever deserted his wife,
Starved her baby, and ruined her life.

"And you've never known a mother monk
To leave her babies with others to bunk.

"Or pass them on from one to another
'Til they hardly know who is their mother.

"And another thing you'll never see
A monk build a fence 'round a coconut tree

"And let the coconuts go to waste,
Forbidding all other monks a taste.

"Why if I put a fence around this tree
Starvation would force you to steal from me.

"Here's another thing a monk won't do -
Go out at night and get on a stew;

"Or use a gun or club or knife
To take some other monkey's life.

"Yes, man descended, the ornery cuss,
But brother, he didn't descend from us!"


Nowadays. this one shows up all over the internet, but the first time I saw it was long, long ago (in a galaxy far, far, away) when I was a teenager and a friend gave me a little bronze statue based on Rodin's Thinker, but featuring a chimpanzee -- sitting on a pile of books marked "Darwin" -- contemplating a human skull. The poem was taped on an attached card, and I thought it was a perfect combo.

(Uh-oh, better throw in something ceph-y before Tony tosses us out on our tentacles.... :lol: )

:nautilus: :octopus: :squid: :cthulhu: :nautilus: :squid: :cthulhu: :nautilus: :octopus: :squid: :cthulhu:
 

nanoteuthis

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From the massive reference book, THE PENGUIN DICTIONARY OF SYMBOLS, 1996 pb, eds. Jean Chevalier & Alain Gheerbrant, transl. John Buchanan-Brown:

OCTOPUS: This shapeless, tentacled creature stands significantly for the monsters who regularly symbolize the spirits of the Underworld and even Hell itself.

The octopus was a decorative motif in northern Europe from the Greek world to that of the Celts, which might help to account for its Hyperborean origins. The octopus corresponds to the zodiacal sign of Cancer and is opposed to the dolphin. This identification is not unrelated to the creature's "infernal" aspect, the Summer solstice being the gate of the Underworld.


TD Notes:

-- Hyperborea, in Greek mythology, was a long-lost Utopian country in the far North.

-- The reference to the "infernal" character of the Octo and the "gate of the Underworld" might explain Tolkien's use of a fanciful mega-ceph at the entrance to the subterranean cave of Moria.

-- The identification of the Octo with the astrological sign of Cancer (the crab) undoubtedly refers to the multiple arms of both sea-creatures. From my rather rudimentary knowledge of astrology, I also seem to recall that the sign of Cancer is associated with the feminine, maternal principle. Is it possible that this association could have derived from an ancient observation of the fact that Octos' behavior represents the ultimate in maternal devotion (starving itself to death in order to care for its eggs)?

-- The sign of Cancer (approx. 22 June - 22 July) begins immediately after the Summer solstice.

-- I am not certain what "opposed to the dolphin" might mean. Just out of curiosity, I looked up Dolphin in this same book and noted a reference to the fact that the people of Crete believed that dolphins carried the deceased on their backs to the Isles of the Blessed. Perhaps the "opposition" refers to Octos' association with Hell/Inferno vs. dolphins' association with Heaven/Isles of the Blessed?

CUTTLE-FISH: The cuttle-fish or squid would seem to be a curious candidate for the first master of fire in a myth recorded by G. Frazer from the Nootka Indians of Vancouver. The deer stole it from him and gave it to mankind. The myth explains that at that time the cuttle-fish lived both on land and in the sea.

TD Notes:

-- This is reminiscent of the Greek myth of the Titan Prometheus, who stole fire from the Gods and gave it as a gift to humanity. In this context, the deer would parallel Prometheus and the Squid would parallel one of the Gods (Zeus, Hephaistos, or Helios).

-- Just as other Pacific Rim peoples regarded cephs as sacred creatures, IMHO the cited myth might indicate that the Native North Americans of Vancouver held the Squid in esteem as a God.

-- Could it be that the reference to "living on land and in the sea" was the result of identifying the primordial Squid with the small shallow-water Octos which moved on land from tidepool to tidepool?

All comments, additional references, etc. will be welcomed!
 

nanoteuthis

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Fujisawas Sake said:
Yeah, I remember reading an old Polynesian or Hawaiian legend about a greedy shark who nearly gets himself killed by a lazy octopus reef guardian who puts the squeeze on shark (literally) for waking him up from his nap.
Konichiwa, John --

I finally found a reference to this myth, in my trusty copy of Knappert's PACIFIC MYTHOLOGY: AN ENCYCLOPEDIA OF MYTH AND LEGEND (see my first couple of posts on this thread), under the entry SHARK:

In Fijian mythology the Shark-God is the scourge of the fishermen, eating their fish as well as the men who fall overboard. His name is Dakuwanga. However, one day he meets his master, the giant octopus, guardian of the reef. The octopus wins the battle and the Shark-God has to promise never to attack the men of Kandavu.


TD Notes:

-- According to my netsearch, Kandavu, a.k.a. Kadavu, is an island in Southern Fiji which is also known as "Little New Zealand":

http://www.svcherokee.com/pages/Kandavu.htm

-- Here is a more complete version of the legend which I found on the net (go to site and scroll down to "Dakuwaqa the Shark God"):

http://www.pacificislandtravel.com/fiji/about_destin/legends.html

-- If you haven't already seen it, check out this beautiful modern interpretation of the Octopus in the "guardian" role (in this case, his beloved "charge" is a mermaid), by artist David Delamare:

http://www.daviddelamare.com/guard.html

-- IMHO it is interesting to note the discrepancy between Pacific and European views of the Octo. While European (and Anglo-American) cultures tend to vilify Octopuses, Pacific cultures tend to admire or even deify the species.

"Sea" y'all later,
Tani
 

nanoteuthis

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Tintenfisch said:
.... I think there's also brief mention of what the native American peoples who encountered them (coastal, I suppose :) ) thought/believed about them, at least those living on the northern west coast of North America.
Hm, a vague and unresearched post. Anyone else know more about this?
Hiya Kat --

I just re-read your post and realized there is a reference to this in THE PENGUIN DICTIONARY OF SYMBOLS. See my post of 11 March containing the entry under CUTTLE-FISH, with the reference to the Nootka Indians of Vancouver.

Pax,
Tani
 

Tintenfisch

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TaningiaDanae said:
...there is a reference to this in THE PENGUIN DICTIONARY OF SYMBOLS.
Them penguins are smart, huh. :idea:

The idea of octopus being related to the Zodiac sign Cancer got me thinking about whether there are any octo or squid constellation... alas, none that I know of (though I bet you could pick one out in any group of stars ;) )... reminds me of the scene in A Beautiful Mind where Russell Crowe tells Jennifer Connolly to pick out any aminal (I think?) and he'll find a contellation for it... and she says octopus!

:octopus:
 

Phil

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Tintenfisch said:
The idea of octopus being related to the Zodiac sign Cancer got me thinking about whether there are any octo or squid constellation...
See! The constellation of 'Octopus' exists!

Dubious proof here:

LINK
 

nanoteuthis

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Phil said:
See! The constellation of 'Octopus' exists!

Dubious proof here:

LINK
Awww, that is so cute! Looks just like my Beanie, Orbi (Official Ty name: Inky) What I find amusing is the downloadable pdf file of constellations to trace at home and send to the course instructor. Makes me wonder how many of the original tracings she receives are actually printable....

:jester:
 

tonmo

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Hey, just FYI, I discovered that this discussion thread is linked to from the following page:

http://www.bluecoast.org/kanaloa1.html

Go to the "Edit | Find" command from your browser and type in "tonmo" and you'll find the section that has content related to this discussion.
 

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