Monday, October 13, 2008

Parrots and the Divine

Here is an interesting essay on parrots from the NYT Book Review (hat tip Olga Gershenson). It has some fascinating connections to religion. For instance, here is a story of Apsethos the Libyan - and an excellent advertisement for the skeptics movement:
Gardner’s plot is spectacularly convoluted, though perhaps less strange than the tale of Apsethos the Libyan, which was apparently believed by several historians in classical times. Apsethos taught a flock of caged parrots to say, “Apsethos is a god,” and then released them all over the country in the hope that gullible folk would believe them. This ruse was allegedly foiled by a wily Greek who recaptured some of them and taught them to recite instead, “Apsethos compelled us to say that he is a god.”
And if this doesn't satisfy you, how about the story of a giant parrot welcoming you to paradise:
The most celebrated parrot in 19th-century literature was itself apparently mistaken for God. This is Loulou, in Flaubert’s story “A Simple Heart” — which was partly inspired by a newspaper report of a man driven mad by unrequited love, who lived alone with a parrot that he came to regard as holy. Loulou’s owner, Félicité, is a pious and very unfortunate servant whose only consolation is her adored bird, which she somehow connects with the Holy Spirit. Flaubert describes how, on her deathbed, Félicité seems to see the heavens open to reveal a gigantic Loulou welcoming her up to paradise.
I know about cats as gods - but now I have a new found respect for parrots. Read this fascinating history of fictional and non-fictional parrots.