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A talk given by The Inquisition at Defuse, on Wednesday 7th November 2012, as part of Designweek in Dublin, Ireland
Nürnburg got ripped to shreds by Bomber Harris’ boys. By how much appears to be open to debate.
The preface to HLA Hart’s publication of his 1961 lecture series on the meeting of law and morality is as prevalent today as it ever was.
There are people out there who pretend to like coffee. Coffee Haters – you have been warned.
False flag, covert ops by Americans against Americans? Sounds crazy, and so it was deemed.
55 years ago Roland Barthes considered the importance of plastic and what it meant, as a substance and a symbol.
Marriage is thought by many to be a fixed rite, one which is immovable and inflexible. The truth is that it has not always seemed so…
The world was shocked when a victim of torture started blinking morse. The story of a US aviator captured in Vietnam.
The Blemmys, or Blemmyae, were a genuine historical Nubian tribe, who may gradually have become demonised and fictionalised. Successive writers metaphorically removed their heads and shifted their faces to their chests, until they became fantastic headless humanoids, most often seen in medieval bestiaries and fantasies.
Blemmyae found resurgent fame in early English colonialism. Sir Walter Raleigh flounced back to civilisation from his travels among the uncouth and savage Amazonian residents describing them to his peers as having “their eyes in their shoulders, and their mouths in the middle of their breasts”.
We would assume that anyone hearing those reports must have questioned their veracity, as they would have been familiar with these traditionally fictitious and quasi-human forms. Today’s equivalent would be astronauts returning from Mars reporting a series of uber-mensch wearing tight shiny clothing with red capes and their underpants on the outside. Why not throw in the facts that they carry a mortal fear of green crystal and they all go around sporting heavily greased quiffs? We simply would not believe it.
…eyes in their shoulders, and their mouths in the middle of their breasts…
Nonetheless, William Shakespeare lapped up this stuff, and cogged it in Othello, and thereby muddied the mythological waters:
“And of the Canniabals that each other eat,
The Anthropophagi, and men whose heads
Do grow beneath their shoulders.”
Unsurprisingly, Shakepeare’s writing confused many at the time, and since. The mythic cannibalistic race, the Anthropophagi have consistently been confused with, and as a result interchangeable with Blemmyae; ie they have eaten people and had their heads submerged into their chests.
At least there is some consensus – Shakespeare is indeed inexact and confusing, and not just for students.
The Anthropophagi were earlier referred to by Herodotus and he did so in an equally interchangeable manner with the Blemmyae. The former were reported to be cannibals who wore their victims’ scalps bound to their chests. This may have been the genesis for the idea of beings with heads on their chests.
Approximately 500 years later in 75CE, Pliny cleared the air in his Naturalis Historiae, if inventing mythical beasts can be said to be clearing up anything, “It is said that the Blemmyae have no heads and that their mouth and eyes are put in their chests.”
So Walter Raleigh’s claims of headless humanoids, to be fair to him, did not come from nowhere. There was a certain traceable lineage of Blemmyae appearing in literature, particularly travellers’ tales and natural histories.
Most recently Umberto Eco had a fantastic image of a Blemmy in his book, Baudolino, “Then Baudolino offered him a large piece of cheese. The blemmy put it to his mouth, which suddenly became the same size as the cheese, which vanished into that hole.”
Naturalis Historiae by Pliny
Blemmyes – the factual, historical, bona fide tribe
Blemmyes – the factual, historical, bona fide mythical creatures
Baudolino, Umberto Eco, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2002
The Travels of Sir John Mandeville fantstic tales of a fictional traveller
The City of Z, David Grann, Simon & Schuster, 2009
This article was posted by Ronan McDonnell on
Thursday, November 24th, 2011 at
It is archived in Culture, History, Mysterious, Myth, Travel, Wild Places and tagged fantasy, History, Myth, mythology, Travel.
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