Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Thanks to my new Finnegans Wake blog, or more precisely, to Mr. Joyce himself, whole new realms of ignorance have been revealed lately. One word that came up in our last session was "chimera".
After my last post, I am not confident enough to be sure that what I think I know is actually right. But my sense of "chimera" is that it is a mythological figure, possibly Greek, which is something like a willow-the-wisp. In other words, whimsical, elusive and possibly puzzling.
But what is it really?
Well, not what I think, anyway. At least I got the Greek part right. In Greek mythology, it's a creature that has the head of a lion, the body of a goat, and the tale of a serpent.(And we think we have identity crises.) The chimera is consistently thought of as female, despite having a mane on the lion's head aspect. It is a sibling of Cerberus the three-headed dog. It also breathes fire. And Harry Potter fans are apparently going to be way ahead of me on this one.
What's perhaps more interesting is the modern day application of the word, in which the term has come to mean many organic things that have two or more different genetic sources. If you stop and think about it, this is an age ripe with the chimerical. Grafting, organ transplants and genetic engineering all result in sorts of chimeras, don't they? In fact you may meet a chimera tomorrow, or eat a piece of fruit from one and never even know it. (Try not to eat one from any of the fire-breathing varieties, though. Unless it's a pepper.)
By extension, "chimera" has come to mean a monstrous figment of the imagination, or even a kind of pipe dream, something of the imagination only.
Monstrous, sure, but come on, it's not that bad. Didn't you see that cute little geep or shoat or whatever it is up above?