Being Beta

Exercises in the higher banter with One of 26. Elsewhere called 'poet of adland'. By a whipple-squeezer. Find out why being beta is the new alpha: betarish at googlemail dot com

Monday, August 06, 2007

Editorial: Self-castrating beavers

The following is, I contend, the funniest paragraph ever printed in the Times Literary Supplement. If you disagree, please provide evidence to the contrary. The article it comes from is here.

It may often seem as if Isidore, like a bad search engine, offers little or no control over all this material. Certainly, much of the “information” he provides is (from a modern perspective) blatantly false, albeit entertaining. For instance, we are assured that “Beavers (castor) are so-called from castrating (castrare). Their testicles are useful for medicines, on account of which, when they anticipate a hunter, they castrate themselves and amputate their own genitals with their teeth”. Isidore lifts this detail of natural history straight from Pliny (backed up, in this case, by a number of other ancient authorities, including Aristotle and Juvenal). As with the internet, written testimony takes on a life of its own – even in cases where you might think it would be better to go out and look at some beavers. That thought seems not to have occurred to anybody for several hundred years: the story of the self-castrating beavers was still current in the seventeenth century, and was mocked by Thomas Browne in his wonderful analysis of ancient errors, the Pseudodoxia Epidemica of 1646.

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