The bugger dropped down the back of my jacket under the pines and writhed around on my neck and shoulder for a bit until I worked out that the rash was too intense and fast-growing to be due to some stray prickly pear (nopal/higo chumbo) spines and took out and killed the worm. The local guru recommended mometasone furoate and anti-histamine (both twice a day for two days, and then once a day for three days), and the napalm effect is receding a bit, thankyou.
All the post-Renaissance, pre-18th century descriptions of what authors variously call pityocampa, pityocampe, πιτυοκαμπη, eruca pini, pinorum eruca etc etc seem to be based on Dioscorides. He recommends toasting them a bit to preserve them and then using them to blister the skin and thus cure scabies and other dermal ailments, as well as mixing them with vaginal suppositories to help induce menstruation. Both those sound like spectacularly bad ideas, even if you do happen to be a naturist quack or don’t happen to be blessed with a fanny, and Dioscorides himself later–perhaps earlier might have been more appropriate–describes the terrible consequences of swallowing a caterpillar raw.
This version of Dioscorides is the 1555 Antwerp reprint of the translation annotated by the great Spanish scientist, Andrés de Laguna and first printed in Venice in 1554. He notes that death by caterpillar is rare among humans, as “they direct all their evil against the poor pines”, and tells several anecdotes, of which the first is worthy of Boccaccio, about the medical misapplication of the blister beetle (cantárida), which was classed with the pine processionary caterpillar because of its similar effects on humans:
In a certain pharmacy in Metz, I being resident in that city, a medicine containing blister beetle was prescribed for a certain impotent bridegroom; together with another made of golden shower tree [cañafístula/Cassia fistula, a powerful purgative] to refresh the liver and kidneys of the feverish Guardian of the order of St Francis. And it happened that, interchanging the beverages by mistake, the groom (who drank the friar’s) that night crapped all over himself, and what is worse, over the bed and the bride; and the friar, on the other hand, who drank that of the bridegroom, wandered back and forth through the convent (as well you can imagine) like one possessed, and neither wells, cisterns nor ponds were sufficient to cool his ardour.
Blister beetle taken in large quantities causes one to urinate blood, ulcerates the stomach, the kidneys and the bladder, and finally kills. I remember a noble lord of Germany (whose name I will conceal for his honour) one day in Carnival caused to be given to a chaplain of his (who was most hypocritical regarding fornication) in his wine in order to cheer him up more than 15 well-ground blister beetles, which killed him in the space of 24 hours there being no way of helping him.
The first truly sensible description of the pine processionary is in Réaumur‘s excellent 1736 Memoires pour servir la l’histoire des insectes but a decade later the animal-lovers at the Royal Society are still feeding caterpillars to dogs:
January the 5th, we gave a Dog 12 small Caterpillars of the Pine-Tree … weighing half a Drachm, which we braised alive and mixed with Flesh. The Dog, tho’ he was but young, received no other hurt, than that now and then he seemed as if he endeavoured to swallow something, or was troubled with an Inclination to vomit; from whence we judged the Stomach and Œsophagus to be only lightly affected: but these Symptoms vanished in a few Hours, and the Dog continued brisk, and greedy of Meat all the rest of the Day.
Whatever: stay off the blister beetle, hippies.
- The demon barber of Calais, a 17th century Sweeney Todd
I believe the current early chronology of versions containing all the basic motifs is as follows:
- Joseph Fouché was a politician and administrator, and the delightfully wicked creator under Bonaparte of something vaguely resembling the modern police service. According to PBS, he wrote in something called Archives of the police of a series of murders committed
- Der Führer and I: misinterpretation as a smart career move
Unprofessional Translation, one of the most interesting translation blogs out there, has introduced me to a wonderful anecdote, which apparently comes from the German original of Dolmetscher der Diktatoren (1963), the memoirs of the Eugen Dollmann, the protagonist. Here‘s the late American investigative journalist, Robert Katz:
Dollmann had spent the past decade in Italy. As a young scholar
- Daniel Heinsius’ solitary phoenix and the final words of the beastly bookseller of Barcelona
In 1927 the Catalan literary researcher and writer, Ramon Miquel i Planas (1874-1950; henceforth MiP) wrote a little book, published in a bibliophile edition, called La llegenda del llibreter assassí. In it he reflects on the origins and recycling of “Le bibliomane ou le nouveau Cardillac”, an anonymous tale published as if true in 1836 …
- French lessons: Grannie on her bike rides across the pool
Boby Lapointe, an obsessive, deranged comic genius who seems to have drunk himself to death aged 50, points to one of the delicious traps lying in wait for elephants who proceed beyond their French-English phrasebooks – the fact that of the supposed infinity of possible sentences in natural language, most are nonsense: