#MeToo nothing new

Pan and Syrinx, by Peter Paul Rubens

Pan and Syrinx, by Peter Paul Rubens

A priapic director, dressing gown flapping open, chasing a pretty actress round his hotel room.  A seedy image but hardly a new one.  As old as myth and fable.

A fable that gave us two of the most scary objects ever made by man.

Syrinx was a chaste nymph who was pursued by the God Pan, the goat legged wild spirit who represents the wilderness and fertility.  In a bid to avoid him Syrinx appealed to the water nymphs to hide her, and they turned her into hollow reeds.  As he passed Pan sighed and the hollow reeds resonated.  So he cut them and created the pan pipes.  So next time you are accosted by a brightly clad troupe of Peruvian troubadours in Subway, Underground or Metro you can blame it on the Ancient Greek Harvey Weinstein.   Pan pipes – a particular form of torture!

But for the ultimate torture comes another word derived from Syrinx herself.  The hollow reed was the model for the hollow needle, from which we get the word Syringe.  Next time you are at the doctor or dentist and this object of medieval torture emerges you know who to blame.

Panpipes.jpg

 

Sprite

Lutine Bell in Lloyd's of London

Lutine Bell in Lloyd’s of London

The french word “lutin” is translated as “imp” in English.  The feminine form is usually translated as a “sprite”. In truth the realm of the faery world is poorly understood by humans and it is difficult to nail down exactly what a sprite is.  Sprites can be fairies, imps, pixies, elves, dryads and so on.

To my mind the correct translation of Lutine should be Nymph, a nubile female spirit who is associated with water.  There were nymphs associated with lakes, pools and rivers, but also nymphs of the sea.  The most famous of these were the Nereids and in particular Thetis, who married Peleus and gave birth to Achilles.

The name Lutine was given to a frigate of the Royal French Navy.  Originally called the “St Jean” she was berthed at Toulon during the siege that made the reputation of Napoleon.  The British under Admiral Hood took the ship and renamed her the HMS Lutine.

In Oct 1799 the Lutine was carrying gold bullion to Germany when she went aground on a sandbank in the West Frisian Islands.  She sank with total loss of crew and cargo with only one survivor from a crew and passengers numbering over 240.  Also lost was the shipment of gold.  Despite many attempts only a fraction of the bullion has been recovered.

Some timbers from the ship were salvaged and made into a chair for the Chairman at Lloyd’s who bore the insurance.  Also salvaged was the Lutine bell, which hangs in Lloyd’s to this day, where it marks especially important occasions.

Originally the Lutine Bell was rung to mark the fate of an overdue vessel to the trading community, so that everyone would get the information at the same time.  It rang once for a loss and twice for a safe return.  The bell now has a crack and the practice of ringing for returned ships has ceased.

During the second world war the German propagandist Lord Haw Haw quipped that the Lutine bell never stopped ringing during the war of the Atlantic.  In actual fact it rang only once during the war, when the Royal Navy sank the Bismarck

No man is an island,
entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
for I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
for whom the bell tolls,
it tolls for thee.

……………………John Donne

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