May 8, 2013

Jungle Economics in the Age of Progress

James Pictor quivered in his sleeping bag. He shouldn't have asked that particular question.
"What are these money-wheels made of, Chief?"
"Earth, vine and blood," said the Chief of the Ant people.
"What kind of blood?" Pictor asked.
The chief made a slicing gesture across his neck.
"Man blood."

Painting by Martin Johnson Heade

I imagined an anthropologist/painter living with an Amazonian tribe which, for some mysterious reason, worships Greek gods and cultivates certain objectionable customs.

The Myrmidons ("ant-people") were a legendary Thessalian Greek tribe of formidable warriors. Led by Achilles, the Myrmidons fought for him in the Trojan Wars. Over time, "Myrmidon" came to signify one who follows orders without question.

They took their name from a fabled ancestor, Myrmidon, whose mother Zeus visited in the shape of an ant; turning the lady Eurymedousa into an insect of the same kind, Zeus proceeded to do what Zeus does best. Nine months later, Eurymedousa gave birth to Myrmidon. Hey, it's not cheating if a god turns you into a bug.

Legend claims that Thessalian witches had control over the sun and moon, and possessed uncanny powers, as Thomas Love Peacock observes. In Peacock's preface to his long poem, Rhododaphne, he quotes Apuleius:

"Considering that I was now in the middle of Thessaly, celebrated by the accordant voice of the world as the birthplace of the magic art, I examined all things with intense curiosity. 

"Nor did I believe any thing which I saw in that city (Hypata) to be what it appeared; but I imagined that every object around me had been changed by incantation from its natural shape; that the stones of the streets, and the waters of the fountains, were indurated and liquefied human bodies; 

"and that the trees which surrounded the city, and the birds which were singing in their boughs, were equally human beings, in the disguise of leaves and feathers. I expected the statues and images to walk, the walls to speak; I anticipated prophetic voices from the cattle, and oracles from the morning sky."

So... ant people? Not that wild of an image. Not in the ancient world.

I'm not sure whether embedded bandcamp songs show up on emails. To listen to "The Ant People" by Yakuza, click here.

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