issue 247 - September 1993
...that have always intrigued you about the world will appear in this,
your section, and be answered by other readers. Please address
your answers and questions to ‘Curiosities’.
Is the story of Elzeard Bouffin – the ‘man who planted trees’ in the Alps – true? Or was it invented to encourage replanting in that area?
According to the ‘Afterword’ in my edition of Jean Giono’s The Man Who Planted Trees the author ‘seems to have intended to inspire a reforestation programme that would renew the whole earth. His history of this imaginary shepherd calmly veers away from past and present time toward the future of newer and better generations. Giono termed this confidence in the future espérance, or hopefulness – not espoir, which is the masculine word for hope, but espérance, the feminine word designating the permanent state or condition of living one’s life in hopeful tranquillity.’
Illustration: Michael McCurdy
Is it true that the ceremony of Pope-making involves touching of the testicles? If so, why?
What a load of rubbish! Obviously checking the suitability of a candidate for ordination in the Catholic Church would have been carried out before the first of the Major Orders. It’s a bit late in the day to leave it until after a candidate had become a bishop.
As to the story of Pope Joan (Curiosities NI 244): Pope Leo IV died on 17 July 855 and his successor Benedict II was elected on 29 September of the same year, so there would have been no space for the reign of the mythical Pope Joan.
It is quite false to say that the Catholic Encyclopaedia accepts the Pope Joan story (Curiosities NI 244). I have consulted both the present edition and the former one and I find that it reports the story and concludes it is a medieval legend of no historical value – a view shared by the Dictionary of the Popes, not a Catholic publication.
As regards the extremely offensive section on the ‘special chair’: there was a seat near the Cathedral, one of many to be found in Rome, on which the newly elected pope rested after the procession.
I think the questioner is confused. In the imperial periods of pre-Christian Rome only adult males were regarded as fit to give evidence in courts of law. Proof of adult manhood had to be displayed to the prosecutors or their representatives. The word ‘testicle’ derives from the Latin testiculum which means – literally – ‘a little witness’.
I have recently tried gunpowder tea which is a delicious, traditional, green tea, steamed and rolled in balls. Can anyone tell me if it is rolled by hand and, if so, who does it and are there any health risks incurred? And finally, is this tea machine- or sun-dried?
I suspect that cannibalism is a racist myth. Did Idi Amin have to eat people other than for the benefit of our tabloid press? Can anyone provide me with evidence of cannibalism – either way?
I am a Canadian residing in Aotearoa/New Zealand and would like to know why people from the UK are referred to here as Poms. Does anyone know the origins of the term?
Palmerston North, Aotearoa/New Zealand
Does anyone know the origin of the idea that a stork brings a new baby?
Why should storks be associated with childbirth?
If you have any questions or answers please send them to Curiosities,
New Internationalist, 55 Rectory Road, Oxford OX4 1BW, UK,
or to your local NI office (click here for addresses).