Sunday, 30 August 2015

dodona and di-oscuri

In one of its latest acquisition released for all, the Public Domain Review presents the 1898 illustrated ethnographical exposition on bird-watching in the Bird Gods by Charles de Kay with decorations by George Wharton Edwards.  The book opens with a strong injunction against those who’d seek to preen their own image with furs, skins, plumage and big-game trophies, written at a time just after the herds of buffalo were wiped out in North America and about a decade before the passenger pigeon went extinct and goes on to address the cultural and religious connotations attributed to auguries in action and in their natural habitat.

Pigeon-fanciers might already be in the know when it comes to the extensive catalogue of metaphorical associations (a truce) connected with this breed of bird, but the notion that dovecotes are allegorically thought to represent the treasury of souls in-waiting (a containment unit) was new to me, as well as the personified traits given to all the fowls of field and forest—like woodpeckers as locksmiths and by extension, SWAT teams, crows as tailors, the cuckoos as manifestations of foundlings (Young Arthur being nicknamed Egg), or that placing an oath upon a swan (compare the old-timey expression I swanny or the German saying, “es schwanet mir”—it makes me shudder, like saying someone’s walking on my grave carries an obligation to be true to one’s word, since the graceful birds are known for being discrete and mute, except for the occasional hiss and honk, they’ll confess all during their swan song, its final dirge. Be sure to check out the Public Domain Review’s extensive archives and well-curated collections for more forgotten treasures.