Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with our fondness for the origins of words and their correct usage. Classical Greek and Latin laid a good foundation for many of the terms in current medical currency. Much of this heritage harks back to the Greek writings of Hippocrates and the later work of the slightly less renowned Galen. Medicine has much to thank the classical era for. But the Greeks weren’t all sweetness and light. They had their darker moments, as readers of The Iliad know all too well.
The Iliad is Homer’s story of the fall of Troy, told in a classic type of Greek poetry. For the record; this is the story of a grim war that went on so long that the main protagonists forgot what they were fighting for. When the Greeks departed the battlefield, they left behind their wooden horse. The rest, as someone once said, is history. An Iliad is a retelling of the classic tale in contemporary translation by US-based Homer’s Coat. When the Micrognome went to a performance at the Perth International Festival, the one man cast held an audience of several hundred spellbound for 90 minutes without a single break. It was theatre at its greatest: the depths of pity to the heights of heroism. From wry humour, through tragedy to ironic commentary. Set in UWA’s sunken garden, the stage was Zen-like in its minimalism. Denis O’Hare was magnificent in his dramatic breadth, and impeccable delivery. On at least a dozen occasions he took the author back to teenage struggles with Virgil’s Latin sequel; The Aeneid. Which brings us to those dark moments- the end of a great warrior kingdom at the hands of the Greeks, and its mythic transformation into the Roman successor to classical greatness. And the catalyst to the transition between Greek and Roman hegemony? The horse, of course. So beware Greeks bearing gifts.
Geeks Bearing Gifs
There is a contemporary version or the oracle’s warning, concerning Geeks and not Greeks; Gifs and not Gifts. The re-written warning reminds us that shiny new technology needs to be treated with a measure of caution. This is a little difficult for the Micrognome, since he has been called an early adopter of anything Omic (remember the legend of the Micrognomehttp://micrognome.priobe.net/2010/11/the-whole-gnome/?). His most recent tussle with Greeks and Gifts was on this very day, when he downloaded the new OS for his so-called smart phone. This was said to bring enhanced security – a Gif from the Gods, so to speak. But to his dismay it brought the whole communications system crashing down around him. Data but no voice. Telco gone without trace. Just a powerless PIN. It was a Geek tragedy that threatened to take on epic proportions. For once it wasn’t a virus, let alone a Trojan, that exposed Achilles’ heel. In order to put the Geeks back in their place, rebuild the firewalls of Ilium and reconnect with Olympus, the Micrognome applied one of the most basic tenets of classical thought and switched off the smart phone. It worked. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but the havoc wrought by Gif-bearing Geeks was reduced to a minor inconvenience in a matter of hours.
The convention for naming new species has changed only a little in recent decades. During this period there have been many discoveries, adding long lists of new species to an already crowded dictionary of microbiology. In the last couple of years it has been our pleasure to add several of our own, and more recently to add two new genera (Cruoribacter & Canibacter). The technology we’ve started to use is much more efficient than the hard graft a previous generation of systematic microbiologists used. That means we get to choose new descriptors and convert them into naming words. A knowledge of classical Greek and Latin helps, and familiarity with etymology is a bonus. Remember: we sweat the small stuff. This is the microbiological version of space travel. Only the scale of the questions, where can we go, what’s out there, and what can it do (to us) is significantly smaller. Among those minute life forms are microscopic Greeks that can clamber inside a very small Trojan horse, and thence unto the very inmost parts of our walled city.
But beware: Greeks and gifts make a toxic combination, according to Virgil. And he ought to know because he wrote about it in Latin.