June 24, 2016

The Infinity of Lists

Behold this beautiful compilation of real and unreal:

the magnet, Agrigentine salt, asbestos, the Egyptian fig, the fruits of Pentapolis, the stone that follows the cycle of the moon, the meat of Naples that cannot rot, the baths of Pozzuoli, the upside-down bean, the gates of hell, the Holy Face of Edessa, the combat of beetles, hot sands, the windows at which ladies appear, water that never boils, silk, dolphins, mermaids, the fox, the equinocephali, bearded women, the phoenix, men with eight feet, nocturnal larvae, the crow’s egg in the stork’s next, and birds born of trees…

water that never boils... mermaids... and birds born of trees

These are mirabilia – miracles, marvels – that Umberto Eco draws from Gervase of Tilbury's Otia imperiala.

Eco gives us marvels listed by Aristotle, too, and a list of things liked and not liked by Roland Barthes, and animals in made-up categories by Luis Jorge Borges, and body parts compared to amber and despair by André Breton.

My love an otter in the tiger's jaws...
Whose back is a bird's vertical flight

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