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PART THREE
EPILOGUE


THE GIFT OF THAUMAS

For some years past the Swiss biologist Max Spinder has been going for his summer holidays to Emplos, a cluster of little white houses on the edge of the grounds of the Hotel Peleponnesus, high on the cliffs of Cape Antonosias. Last summer, while walking under the centuries-old pines, he met the American archaeologist John Harris Altenhower, who was at Emplos to study the nearby ruins of the Temple of Kanos with a view to deciding whether or not to involve the University of Cranstone in an intensive excavation program. The two men, who share a love on Greece and a passion for exploring unknown worlds, soon became fast friends.
One morning they decided to go for a walk along the cliffs, following a path that wound between pines and myrtles until some three kilometers from Emplos it reached the snow-white fragments of the Temple of Kanos, scattered in the underbrush beneath the purifying sun. They talked of their work, and Spinder was deploring the incredulity with which the scientific establishment, and even some of his own colleagues, had greeted the news of facts that were as yet inexplicable but which he had proved experimentally. When they were a stone's throw from the ruins, Altenhower broke in on him to observe that more than two thousand years before, in that very place where they were walking, Heraclitus and Theaetetus had carried on the famous dialogue immortalized by Plato.
Taking his friend by the arm, as if he wished to re-create the scene, with an ironically theatrical gesture he declaimed the key sentence of the dialogue: "But if you, o Theaetetus, were to see among the myrtles a berry as white as a pearl and as cubic as a cube, would you reject it with contempt and disgust as a horrible whim of nature, or would you pick it with joy and gratitude, as a divine gift from Thaumas?"1 It was then that Spinder brusquely shook off Altenhower's hand from his arm left the path and worked his way laboriously through the dense undergrowth until he reached a large piece of white marble, maybe a section of column, that lay almost entirely hidden from view about ten meters from the path. There he stopped, bent down and, almost overcome with emotion, called out to his friend. When Altenhower joined him, anxious to know what on earth was happening, Spinder pointed to two strange black plants no more than twenty centimeters tall that stood upright like little bronze statues in the midst of a minute clearing, a small circle of bare earth amongst the prickly scrub.
There was a slight sea-breeze laden with the scents of seaweed and thyme, so that the longest branches swayed on the pine trees and the leaves fluttered on the bushes; but the two little plants remained perfectly motionless, throwing a brightly colored and extraordinarily luminous shadow an the burnt clay soil. It was as though the sun's rays had passed miraculously through them as through a prism, casting on the ground not a shadow but a rainbow.
The two men were overcome with astonishment, and for a while they stood there staring at the sight in helpless speechlessness. Spinder knew from experience that the plants would dissolve into dust at the first touch, so he decided to return to Emplos and fetch photographic equipment.
Unable to tear their thoughts away from the amazing vision they had just witnessed, they both walked in silence. Suddenly Altenhower stopped dead. What extaordinary intuition, he asked, had led Spinder to those plants, which from the path had been completely hidden. The biologist smiled and said: Im flattered by your high opinion of my powers, but at the same time rather surprised by your ingenuousness. You must surely know that there was nothing miraculous about it. The water-d:viner believes in the movements of the rod, but the truth is that without knowing it he has an exceptionally sensitive reaction to certain natural things: colors, smells, kinds of earth, the shapes of plants, all things that derive the ultimate subtleties of their nature from the presence of water under the soil. Like a frog with an instinctive perception of a pond some miles away, he unconsciously distinguishes differences of shade and size which would not be perceptable to us. And the same holds true for the archeologist who 'has an intuition' of a buried temple under a perfectly ordinary ploughed field, and the botanist who 'has an intuition' of the presence of a parallel flower in the midst of a thousand normal plants. They both read signs which little by little, through the continual habit of specialized observation, build up in the deepest levels of the memory. There they lie in readiness for the time when a particular combination of automatic analogies will call up images long forgotten and now remembered with instant clarity.
The discovery on the cliffs of Cape Antonosias of the two Parensae parumbrosae, which Spinder, thanks to a brand-new process, was able to transhabitate with complete success to his laboratory at Hemmungen, was announced to the public in the latest issue of The American Botanist. It was the first time that the authoritative organ of the American Botany Association, which traditionally interests itself only in normal botany, had really opened its columns to a phenomenon of parallel botany. The evidence of Altenhower on the circumstances of the find, the description of the plants themselves and, above all, the phenomenon of the colored pseudoshadow which was perfectly visible in Spinder's photographs-all these aroused a good deal of sensation in scientific circles. Even today, some months after the news broke, the media are still devoting a lot of time and space to the event.
One of the first newspapers to take up the story was the Greek daily Omonia, which interviewed Professor Spyros Rodokanakis, Professor of Botany at Athens University. This veteran botanist is well known to the Athenians for his provocative attacks on what he calls "the invasion of reason." A few years ago his vitriolic sarcasm did not even spare the colonels, who for some reason best known to themselves chose to turn a blind eye to the violent attack on their regime which the professor launched from the pages of Botanika.
But the furious arguments and controversies carried on by Rodokanakis often close more doors than they open. He often unwittingly becomes the mouthpiece of those who, in the name of tradition, wisdom, and a kind of freedom that is never very well defined, obstinately refuse to leave the murky vapors of their own mental status quo. And so it was on the occasion of the short interview which he gave to the Athenian daily.
"It is fashionable," he said, "to stigmatize the mass media for the devilish way in which they create false needs and consequently contribute to the spread of manic consumption. But if labor-saving electric appliances and the small family car can atrophy our muscles, there are in my opinion far graver, more real and more imminent dangers threatening the survival of man. The so-called hidden persuaders are merely vaitless shopkeepers compared with those who in the name of culture and scientific information pollute our minds and intelligences with ideas that could have no other purpose than to put an end to our already frail ability to tell perception from fantasy, reality from fiction, and truth from falsehood. These gentlemen have cynically sold us telepathy, alpha-rays, flying saucers, mental deconcentration, acupuncture, the Loch Ness monster, forks bent by willpower and the Black Box. These ghost hunters in nonexistent laboratories have now, it seems, discovered in the vegetable kingdom those anthropomorphic qualities which man himself is rapidly losing: the ability to feel joy and sorrow, a real love of the arts, a hatred of tyranny and even the use of a comprehensible language. We are told that we may safely and confidently engage a saxifrage to spy on our unfaithful spouse. They encourage us to play the Ungo and the kalamatiano to make roses grow more voluptuous and perfumed. They suggest we should recite the poems of Verlaine to siraighten a wilting aspidistra in the waiting room of a Parisian dentist. And they assure us that while the voice of Gigliola Cinquetti weakens geraniums, that of Renata Tebaldi stiffens their stems.
" And now this glorious literature of fiction and fantasy has been enriched by a new masterpiece: among the sacred ruins of Kanos, where Heraclitus himself meditated, they have discovered a "parallel" plant as black as ink, that foctoows a shadow as bright and many-colored as the windows of Notre Dame. It will not be long before we hear that a cyclamen has been proclaimed Rector of the University of Athens."
But in the fury of his rancor the veteran botanist lumps together the absurd with the possible, madness with reason, good with ill. His mental inertia leads him to express a mere hotchpotch of refusals and denials, when a more open attitude, a calmer optimism, a more generous confidence in others, would certainly have rewarded him with unsuspected creative happiness. Though perhaps we can scarcely be surprised if the revelation of a parallel flora, splendidly enigmatic in character, has given rise to incredulity, skepticism and, on occasion, open hostility on the part of those who with blind bureaucratic resignation go on cultivating the old common-or-garden plants in their common gardens. We have to admit that in the wake of a perfectly understandable alarm, the fascination of mysterious and ambiguous organisms suddenly wrenched from the deep shadows of the jungle and from the mists of legendary valleys has lead at times to the hasty formulation of exotic theories and shaky hypotheses.
But the episode of the Parensae parumbrosae is emblematic of what is happening in the most recent phases of parallel botany. As we have seen in our brief review, research is going on in many different directions, and though we do not yet have the comfort of clearly defined principles and the support of solid structures, what is emerging is a "style" of method and research that enables us to predict the general outlines of the new scientific discipline.
The circumstances of each new find enlarge our experience, and thereby increase the chances of further revelations. Special techniques are at last permitting us to transport plants which only a few years ago would seem to have been relegated forever to some dark and secret place of exile. In laboratories throughout the world, plants that have been, as it were, suspended for millennia between life and death now await the explanation of the mysteries of their existence.
The sudden questioning of things that have always and in every way conditioned our sensory and mental behavior demands a spirit of invention, an originality of method, a freedom of interpretation normally suffocated by the enormous weight of accepted ideas inherited as a result of our traditional scientific education. Thus it is that a growing number of young scientists, in spite of opposition from the establishment, are refusing to undertake research of which the results are a fait accompli, and instead are committing themselves with feverish enthusiasm to the exploration of an unknown world rich in exciting possibilities.
In spite of the warnings of good sense and personal gain, these men have dared to discard from their cultural and scientific baggage all those officially consecrated ideas they worked so hard to acquire, and have shown themselves willing to start again, to invent methods capable of penetrating the mysteries of a Nature whose laws are hidden in some remote and unknown country of our imagination.
It is reported of the Swedish philosopher Erud Kronengaard that he once said to a friend: "There are two kinds of men, those who are capable of wonder and those who are not. I hope to God that it is the first who will forge our destiny." A statement which strangely but clearly echoes the question put by Heraclitus to Theaetetus, a question to which the scientists now exploring the "other" reality beyond the hedge have already given a resoundingly emphatic answer.


1. For the Greeks Thaumas was the god of wonder. In the Platonic dialogue referred to by Altenhower, Socrates says: "Wonder is the emotion proper to the philosopher and philosopay begins in wonder. He was a wise genealogist who said that Iris, messenger of the heavens, was the child of Thaumas." (Jebb trans.)

END


CONTENTS

PART ONE: INTRODUCTION 1
General Introduction 3
Origins 20
Morphology 35

PART TWO: THE PLANTS 57
The Tirillus 59
Tirillus oniricus 62
Tirillus mimeticus 64
Tirillus parasiticus 67
Tirillus odoratus 68
Tirillus silvador 70
The Woodland Tweezers 73
The Tubolara 78
The Camporana 80
The Protorbis 86

The Labirintiana 95
The Artisia 100
The Germinants 112
The Stranglers 117

The Giraluna 119
Giraluna gigas 134
Giraluna minor 1 43
The Solea 145
The Sigurya 162

PART THREE: EPILOGUE 171
The Gift of Thaumas 173
Notes 178

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