July 22, 2004

The Humble Brown Second Best

Sadly, our gargantuan Papilio Antimachus broke free of her moorings during the night and did untold damage to the new ornamental gardens outside the science block, overturning a miniature decorative bridge, devouring saplings and causing the night watchman to scold himslef with the kettle. The butterfly and the watchman have both been subdued since, and naughty Antimachus is now flapping with less vigour where we have had her secured outside.
As ever, the Papilio Antimachus seems determined upstage the silver-medallist of African butterflies, Papilio Zalmoxis, the humble brown second best, the by-no-means-small runner-up in the contest to be Africa’s biggest butterfly.
Sittin' here resting my bones / And this loneliness won't leave me alone
Papilio Zalmoxis fit snugly in the back of my car, and I would have brought the specimen in to show you, but she escaped through the sunroof as I was approaching the gatehouse. She was last seen jeering at the giant specimen tethered outside this lecture hall from the upper boughs of a poplar.
But who was the somewhat awkwardly named Zalmoxis? The Thracian Dacians held that he was the only true God. In truth he was a former slave of the scientist and pastry chef Pythagoras who became very wealthy upon gaining his freedom, quite possibly by selling purloined theories about triangles on the local Geometry Market. He then went to Thrace and spun them some tall tales about the immortality of the soul, and (some say this was his master stroke) investing his wealth in the Stax record label (who would later give the ancient Thracian township of Memphis Otis Redding and Booker T. & The MGs).
But sound investments and a few clever theories are not enough to secure one the status of deity. Zalmoxis retired to a cave and made sure a rumour was spread that he had visited Hades. Three years later, when most were sure he was dead, he returned. As if this wasn’t enough, he’d spent his time in retreat studying medicine, so he could bolster the resurrection stories now being told with remarkable feats of healing.
As a consequence, when he really died he gave the world its second truly monotheistic religion, after Judaism.
Thus we might say that Papilio Antimachus is the butterfly of Zion, securing itself first place in mankind’s race for monotheism. Poor Papilio Zalmoxis could only ever come in second, and its moments of glory are brief, like the example given earlier in this lecture: mocking Antimachus from the safety of a nearby tree.

Doctor Pockless