Sunday, May 18, 2014

Sunday Musings

So what to muse about this fine Sunday in Melbourne? Let's start by musing about muses. During the week I joined in one of those annoying internet quizzes that starts with the question "What ____ are you?" The blank could be anything like "fictional detective", or "star wars character" or "historical leader". I tried a "What muse are you?" quiz and came up with Calliope which made me very happy. I'm not sure why it made me happy as I had no idea who Calliope was, or what their significance was. Then, when I thought about it, I realised I didn't really have much clue about who the muses were or their significance in Greek (err, was it Greek, Roman or some other culture?) mythology was. I guess my happiness was due to the fact that Calliope and Carl start with the same letters.

Calliope (right) with her sister Urania, painted by Simon Vouet around 1635 (wikipedia)

The muses were the 9 Greek Goddesses of the arts. They were the daughters of Zeus and were the inspiration for pretty much al things creative whether it be poetry, music, science or art. Calliope was the muse of Epic Poetry and her emblem is a writing tablet. So while I make no claims to this blog being epic, or poetic, it's good to have chosen a muse whose concern was with writing. The other muses wh could have been appropriate for me to have been associated with were Clio (history - my college subject and a pet reading hobby, especially European 16th and 17th Century history) or Thalia (comedy - though when I think about it, my shady past in the world of entertainment only barely counts as comedic, and probably the biggest laugh is what I get now from thinking about the things I used to do). I deem it perfectly right that I was not associated with anything to do with music, dance or visual arts. I'm sure you could find the quiz in many places, but this is where I took it, so go check out which muse you are.

We have the Greek muses to thank for a number of words that we take for granted today: music (obviously), museum (buildings dedicated to the preservation of knowledge) while words such as amusement and bemused come from Old French though that language was no doubt influenced by earlier languages such as Roman and Greek. To be honest, after musing about the muses, I realised that my whole knowledge of classical mythology and history is pretty patchy. Now I know that isn't a crime, but we have been so influenced by the ancient cultures of Greece and Rome in the West that it seems a shame for someone who claims to have a love of history to know so little. I shall follow up on this in the future, but for now I'll talk about the Greek God of wine. If you're like me, you're probably thinking that this will be about Bacchus, and you would be completely wrong! Bacchus was the Roman God of wine, his Greek counterpart was Dionysius. There was a cult of Dionysius in ancient Greek times, and in Donna Tartt's novel "The Secret History", a brutal murder is carried out under the influence of Dionysian madness.

Donna Tartt's amazing novel with a touch of Dionysian madness (wikipedia
I mention the God of wine because yesterday was World Whisky Day (appropriately coming the day after Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution Day) and as I enjoy the odd snifter of Single Malt, I couldn't help but join the celebration. By the way, for those unfamiliar with the word 'snifter' it means a small alcoholic drink, usually of whisky. And snifter's tend to be the way I take my whisky nowadays, and the excesses of my youth have been left behind. I drink little alcohol, so I feel that when I do actually have some I can afford to get something a bit more expensive that I really like. So I've taken to drinking single malts which I acquired a taste for while back in the UK. I have a brother, Bob, who also likes to partake in a whisky or two, and we used to spend very pleasant evenings together with another friend we had, Mick, drinking single malts and talking through the night. Nowadays, I tend to just have a nightcap once in a while, but I must admit to often thinking back to those times when the whisky flowed a little more freely.

Laphroaig single malt, with snifter glass
I suppose there are a number of ways to judge the quality of a whisky, but my first criteria is always the peatiness of the drink. I have no problems with a smoky whisky, but I tend to prefer drinks that have more subtle flavours. My favourites are Highland Park and Auchentoshan but neither were on sale at the offie where I went to ('offie' = off licence, or for my Australian readers, bottle shop). So I ended up with a bottle of Laphroaig 10 year old single malt which is a decent flavoured Islay malt which means a fair degree of smokiness, but not enough to knock your taste buds out. I finished my evening yesterday with a snifter or two while reading some great quotes about whisky. Here's my favourite:

“I like my water on the rocks, and I like those rocks to be in a mountain stream. That’s how I like my coffee too, fresh from a glass of whiskey.
― Jarod Kintz, I Love Blue Ribbon Coffee
This blog post has made me think about words, how we use them and where they came from and have developed. This morning, my lovely wife Caroline heard a load of crows squawking loudly over something. It made us think of the collective noun for crows, a "murder". It's a very odd term for a collection of anything, so we looked up where it might have come from.  Well, it was first used around the mid 1400's, though the association between crows and death go back much longer. They are seem as ill omens, and harbingers of death, and as they are scavengers feeding off dead carcasses and covering the dead in black shrouds. So with all those links with death, I guess a murder of crows is as good a collective noun as anything else. I found a website that has loads of these collective nouns, and there are some that are even more bizarre than a murder of crows. Enjoy the site and use your imagination to work out some of the names before searching for the answer through encyclopedia. Why are starlings a 'murmuration', while herons are a 'siege'? What is a 'covey' which defines grouse, quail, and partridges? And why do owls have a 'parliament' while baboons a 'congress'?

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