Wednesday, 11 July 2012

cactus is our friend, he will point out the way

The prickly pear or paddle cactus has sprouted dozens of hands and continues to grow. With each new bud, I speculate whether it is a fig blooming or another new appendage, and the cactus spreads. The scientific name for the genus is Opuntia, after the Greek settlement of the Locrian tribe. The Homeric figure of Patroclus was from this region and forty black ships assailed Troy from here under the leadership of Ajax. This cactus is a new world species, from Mexico, but does thrive in the Mediterranean as well. I don’t see the connection between our brave little cactus and the Iliad but other new world oddities, like the strange Echidna of Australia, after the mother of all monsters in Hesiod’s Theogony, are given fanciful old world designations, as well as wholly newly discovered worlds. According to some traditions, though, one of the hundred-handed giants, the Hekatonkheires (the Centimani in Latin), lived in the surrounding region of Euboea, where the Locri were located, as challenger for Poseidon for control of the Aegean, the monster having invented the warship to further his claim by proxy. I could imagine the resemblance there and an inventive etymology.