Herbs, Heat And Hypocrisy

Naively convinced that the climate really is warming, we started growing Galingale, Turmeric and ginger. Now it’s too cold to go out and as I sit here writing this blog, I can almost hear the plants’ teeth chattering. This is because they are on a minimum heat regime, after all if no one has any money next summer because the Prime Minister has spent it all on bailing out fat-cat bankers and idiotic “initiatives” like the “change4life” campaign (which won’t change anything, beyond confirming the government’s illiteracy to the few remaining political waverers), the public are not going to spend their last remaining pennies on plants whose price reflects the cost of keeping them warm through the winter so there is no point in stoking up the heating. In fact the climate seems to be doing what it  has always done and is fluctuating, remember Bede writing about Northumbrian vineyards, and the “Little Ice  age” with its three years of almost constant rain at the beginning of the fourteenth century? It seems hubristic to say the least, that governments think they can do anything about it, more it’s a god-given opportunity to raise taxes. Of course as the greenies claim, the polar bears may be languishing in steam baths and surviving on scampi fried on the rocks formerly covered by ice floes, but who is going to check the story?

As others not scared of losing their government funding have pointed out, if, and it’s a big “if”,  humans really are responsible for global warming, it is their sheer number rather than what they do which is the cause. Fewer people mean fewer Amazonian forests laid waste to provide grazing for flatulent cattle that will ultimately be turned in to muckburgers, fewer Indonesian endangered primate habitats being destroyed to grow “biofuels”,  fewer people will mean fewer plastic bags polluting the world’s oceans and a reduced number of punch-ups amongst neighbours arising from  the tensions engendered by living on overcrowded sink estates. A smaller population will mean we can eat steak every night and jet off to the (cleaner) South Seas with a clear conscience.

Now the Holy Father has got involved and aroused the ire of a not-insignificant segment of the population by taking a poke at poofters, whose activities, he claims are as grave a threat to the world as the destruction of the rain forests. Personally I think he is wrong on this, after all if the homosexuals are going at it like a lot of inebriated weasels in a nightclub, far fewer children are going to result and the rain forests will look after themselves. This runs contrary to Genesis 9 :1 but the interesting consequence of  such an eminently reasonable method of birth control is to put Benny the Papa in to the same camp as the lipsticked moose-slayer and all the other fundies (splendid term I learnt from my friend Mike-the-witch) of  the USA  who, being climate-change deniers are not bothered by the heightened atmospheric CO2 levels resulting from burning all the homosexuals and other heretics at the stake.

What, you ask, has all this to do with a herbal blog?  The answer comes a few chapters on in Genesis 30 : 16 when Jacob becomes part of  a jolly ménage à cinque which not only included Laban‘s two daughters  but their maids as well. All too much for any bloke after a hard days labouring you might think, but fortunately Jacob’s end was kept up with the crop of Mandrakes growing in the family wheat patch. Now the good news for you and for the faithful, whose inadequate multiplication is causing the Holy Father such concern, is that  during this icy weather, my Mandrake seed has germinated like crazy  and the plants will hopefully be available later in the year. Buy them and your descendents  too, may become numbered as the grains of sand in the desert. Admittedly the resulting population explosion will wreck the planet but just think what fun you will have doing it!

So returning to the current  Pope, this isn’t the first time he has wound up those whose hobby it is, to take offence. You will recall that he upset the ranks of Islam in September 2006 when he quoted a Byzantine Emperor who claimed that the followers of the prophet had done nothing for the world except to bring death and destruction to where ever they stopped to draw breath. What is less frequently mentioned, well not at all actually, is that the Byzantine Emperor happened to be Manuel II Paleologus, the victim of an aggressive expansionist war by Islamics who had reduced his “Empire” to such a teeny little enclave that he could probably have touched both sides of it simultaneously had he bothered to stretch himself.  His ambassadors trudged around the nominally Christian courts of Europe vainly seeking help against the threat and were invariably told to get lost, Not surprisingly Manuel was a bit pissed off with Christians and Islamics alike. In a herbal context, the “spin” now is as bad as it ever was and I just wish both sides would shut up and let the rest of us get on with our research in peace. Take this passage from an Islamic web site for instance

“It was through the pioneering efforts of Arabs that The Greek Herbal of Pedanios Dioscorides was transmitted to mediaeval Europe. It was translated directly into Arabic in ninth century A.D. by Istafan bin-Basil, Another Nestorian, Hunayn ibn-lshaq al-Ibadi, improved upon this work, and wrote its redaction. But for these translations -Dioscorides’ work would have been consigned to irredeemable oblivion”.

On the other hand in 949 Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus of Byzantium sent Abdorrhaman III   (912-961) the Caliph in Cordova an illustrated Dioscorides which no one could understand  so Nicholas, a Greek monk who lectured the Cordovans in Arabic was called upon to translate it. Both Harvey and Singer seem to think this text was the precedent for all  Arabic versions of Dioscorides  carefully ignoring the Baghdad claim that it was  the Nestorian Istafan Ibn-Basil’s  earlier translation  that became universally used throughout the Arab world.And one has to admit the Arabs led the world in empirical healing when many Christians regarded sickness as a punishment from God and that any attempts to cure it was a subversion the divine will

I suppose we should be thankful that the Islamics merely massacred the inhabitants of Constantinople  as one does, rather than massacring the people and trashing the city as the intellectually-challenged crusaders did  in 1203/4. (No, please don’t reply with messages about the appallingly destructive activities of the  similarly challenged “Crusaders” in Babylon during the current decade, Tony Blair aside,  we all know about them) Fortunately the thirteenth century  lot were too dumb to realise what they were looking at and so the Anicia Juliana survived in its home until Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq snitched it from the supposedly erudite and sophisticated Islamics in 1562  who also didn’t recognise the treasure on which they were sitting. Curiously neither Harvey nor Singer give the Byzantine establishment any credit for keeping the flame of Greek medicine flickering for the thousand years up to 1453. I suspect that this is due, not to occidental prejudice against the Orthodox church  nor to dislike of the Emperors (and Empresses) habit of  banging a nail through the eyeballs of those who irritated them but because Singer and Harvey belong to the generation described by Sewter in his introduction to Psellus as having  been forbidden to read Byzantine texts at school for fear of corrupting their “pure” classical Greek,- “Byzantinus est, non legitur”. Under the circumstances, it is a great shame that publication of John Scarborough’s collection of papers on Byzantine medicine has been postponed for a year. I will let you know on this site if and when a review copy drops on to my desk.  

Meanwhile, coming from a long line of preacher-men myself and although not agreeing with a word he says, I have a sneaking regard for the erudite and uncompromising Pontiff. You only have to look at the C of E to see what happens if you permit splinter groups in the name of “tolerance” Now we are regaled with  pictures of the Archbishop  of Canterbury dressed up as a Druid for heaven’s sake. If, and  Frazer devoted several pages to the subject in his “Golden Bough”, his cultural ancestors really did  stuff men, women and children into wicker baskets and burn them,  Wikipedia tells us we are no longer allowed to say so.  Such claims would be a Politically Incorrect aspersion on the beliefs not only of the archbishop but those of the weirdos who dance around Stonehenge during the solstices. Moreover the Druids were supposed to be great herb experts so although there seems to be even less documentary evidence for this than for the Wicker Men, we should all support the Druids  in their past and present activities. Casting my cynicism aside I admit that I  do go along with the pyro-enthusiasts to some extent, we have all seen the movie and appreciate that the fundy policeman who so unnaturally resisted Britt Ekland’s advances was not the sort of bloke we would want to find hanging about outside our childrens’ playgrounds. Definitely he deserved all he got.  

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