Deception is Truth, Truth Deception

‘The postmodernist critique of Plato was anticipated in classical times in a celebrated story told by the Roman scholar Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) in his Natural History. Pliny described a competition between the painters Zeuxis and Parrhasios during the 5th century BC. Zeuxis painted a bunch of grapes so lifelike that they attracted the birds.

[Parrhasios] “But I triumphed over him by painting a veil so deceptive that Zeuxis turned to me and said…”

[Zeuxis] “Well, and now draw aside the veil and show what you have painted behind it.”

[Pliny the Elder] “Whereas Zeuxis fooled the birds, Parrhasios deceived his fellow human beings.”

Plato always maintained that truth and falsity are opposed. This idea is perpetuated in confusion arising from Zeuxis’ painting. But Parrhasios contradicts this notion by revealing that deception is the truth, and vice versa. The French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan was particularly fond of this story, and quoted it in his seminars during the 1960s and 70s.’

– Kul-Want. C. (2012) Aesthetics London, United Kingdom: Icon Books p. 15

On Astrology

“The stars, as I have already stated, are attached to the world and not, as the man in the street thinks, assigned to each of us, shining in proportion to our individual lot.”

– Pliny The Elder

Antidotes of Pliny the Elder

Antidotes of the Roman physician, naturalist and philosopher Pliny the Elder (CE 23 – August 25, CE 79) include:

  • To cure epilepsy, eat the heart of a black jackass, outside, on the second day of the moon. Alternatively, eat lightly poached bear testes, a dried camel brain with honey, or drink fresh gladiator’s blood.
  • To cure incontinence, touch the tips of the genitals with linen or papyrus. Alternatively, drink a glass of wine mixed with the ash of a burned pig’s penis, or urinate in your or your neighbour’s dog’s bed.
  • To cure haemorrhoids, use a cream made from pig lard and the rust of a chariot wheel. Alternatively, use swan fat or the urine of a female goat.
  • To cure headaches, tie some fox genitals to your head.
  • To cure choking on a piece of bread, take a piece from the same loaf of bread, and put it in each ear.

Regarding his death, we know that Pliny the Elder died on August 25, CE 79, the day Mount Vesuvius erupted and destroyed Pompeii. Pliny went to investigate the eruption, wearing a pillow tied to his head to protect him. His curiosity proved fatal.

Apotropaic Striptease

In his encyclopaedic Natural History, Pliny the Elder (Gaius Plinius Secundus 23 AD – August 25, 79 AD) wrote that a menstruating woman who uncovers her body can scare away hailstorms, whirlwinds and lightning. If she strips naked and walks around the field, caterpillars, worms and beetles fall off the ears of corn. Even when not menstruating, a nude woman can still lull a storm out at sea by stripping.

In Ireland and China, women have been known to lift up their skirts to chase off enemies. A story from The Irish Times (September 23, 1977) reported a potentially violent incident involving several men, that was averted by a woman exposing her genitals to the attackers.

According to Balkan folklore, when it rained too much, women would run into the fields and lift their skirts to scare the gods and end the rain. In Jean de La Fontaine’s Nouveaux Contes (1674), a demon is repulsed by the sight of a woman lifting her skirt.

These examples of women exposing their breasts or genitals had a so-called apotropaic function: ritual nudity was supposed to ward off malevolent influences or evil spirits.

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