Sunday, February 25, 2007

Spare a talent for an old ex-leper?

The Sheriff and I (and perhaps others among you) have always enjoyed Foucault's description of Jose Luis Borges' "Chinese Encyclopedia" from the opening passage of The Order of Things. In order to delight the uninitiated and to bring a knowing smile to those already hip, it goes a little something like this:
This book first arose out of a passage in Borges, out of the laughter that shattered, as I read the passage, all the familiar landmarks of my thought—our thought, the thought that bears the stamp of our age and our geography—breaking up all the ordered surfaces and all the planes with which we are accustomed to tame the wild profusion of existing things, and continuing long afterwards to disturb and threaten with collapse our age-old distinction between the Same and the Other. This passage quotes a "certain Chinese encyclopedia" in which it is written that "animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the Emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) suckling pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies."
Old curmudgeons will never cease pointing out that Borges' encyclopedia is fabricated. Fine, fine. Perhaps the world isn't so radically relativistic. However, I had a similar chuckle today when reading an article by a fellow graduate student. He describes religious associations of the Ptolemaic period in Egypt and the various membership fees involved. One chart in particular lists the rules of the association in descending order according to the fines attached to the offense in question. Some outrages appear rather obvious -- "not giving money to a poor member," "threatening an office holder," "absence from funeral" -- but here are the top 5:

1. Adultery with a member's wife
2. Beer or wine fraud
3. Office holder hitting a member
4. Hitting an office holder
5. Accusing of leprosy

Specifically, the penalty for adultery is 30 times greater than that for "insulting a member," and accusing someone of being a leper is considered 10 times as bad as an insult. (Indeed, it's qualitatively different from a normal insult altogether.) And I can't claim to know what "beer or wine fraud" means.


Blogger Robot said...

The very idea of the beer or wine fraud is one of the funnier things I've been introduced to in a long time.

8:59 AM  
Blogger The Sheriff said...

Scantron you must surely recall the Reinheitsgebot

11:10 AM  
Blogger Scantron said...

How could I forget the Reinheitsgebot?? And consider this, from looking at these tables and charts on religious associations, I think we are definitely seeing instances of "brosnight."

8:40 PM  
Blogger The Sheriff said...



4:19 AM  
Blogger Austin 5-000 said...

I need a bros night

8:49 PM  

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