Saturday 20 October 2012

Fishy Myths and Scottish Independence

What did the Salmon say to the Sturgeon?
As someone of Scots ancestry, who likes swimming, eating fish and sometimes drinking like one, I have an over-determined interest in Alex Salmon[d] and his deputy Nicola Sturgeon. Their Scottish National Party offers the lucky inhabitants of Scotland a just-about credible alternative to the ”plebs”-despising Tories and the craven, mendacious Labourites. 

Moreover, Scotland’s recent partial independence has preserved some excellent things:  free university tuition, guaranteed personal care in old age, prescriptions, dental check-ups and eye-tests for all.

But something fishy is going on. It is almost inconceivable that the top two people in such a small political outfit should both be called by the names of fish beginning with ‘S’, especially when most people in Scotland have names beginning CAM (Cameron, Campbell) or MAC. This forces me to ask whether we can trust Mr Salmon[d]. He and Ms Sturgeon are universally agreed to be canny politicians, but is that enough?
King Salmon[eus] impersonates Zeus

In Greek mythology the hero called "Salmon" (Salmon[eus]) was a megalomaniac. He commanded his people to worship him under the name of Zeus.  In order to heighten his resemblance to the Top God, he drove his chariot over a bridge made of brass to imitate the sound of thunderclaps, while throwing torches into the air as fake lightning. Zeus destroyed both Salmon[eus] and his people with a real thunder-bolt, which is not a fate I want the Scots, whom I have always liked, to share.

The Gaelic "Salmon of Wisdom"
Yet in Scots/Irish mythology (surely more relevant here), the Primeval Salmon ate nine hazelnuts that fell into the Well of Wisdom, thus gaining all the knowledge in the world and benefitting his people. Alex Salmon[d] looks just like a fish with hazelnuts stuffed in his cheeks: is he actually the ancient Salmon of Wisdom, returned to rescue his people?

If so, what about Ms Sturgeon? The portents are also ambivalent here. Many scientists think that the legend of the Loch Ness monster arose from sightings of a massive Ocean Sturgeon. Moreover, female sturgeons have been known to devour whole male salmon at a gulp. Alex Salmon[d] had better watch his back fins. Yet native Americans legends represent the sturgeon as the most ancient and benign cosmic companion of Homo Sapiens, so we should probably trust that Ms. Sturgeon is not trying to use a Scottish Ichthyocracy merely as a stepping-stone to a brutal Matriarchy after swallowing her leader whole.

Could being taken over by fish actually be good? According to Oppian, who wrote the oldest surviving treatise on fishing (although it was written in Greek it is known by its Latin title de Halieutica), fish are certainly wily, but they are also admirably loyal: ‘in a spirit of helpfulness’ they ‘rush to help other fish struggling on hooks and chew through the line’; adult fish act as decoys when the young and vulnerable are under threat;  boy fish are gallant and fight hard to save the pregnant girls. Utopia!

I am therefore inclined, for now, to give the suspiciously piscine Salmon[d] & Sturgeon the benefit of the doubt. If they win that referendum in 2014, I shall, moreover, move to Scotland and change my name to [Red] Snapper

SNAPPER: my identity in the independent Scotland


  1. The fish took over ages ago. They snuck in acronymically and they've been here ever since: ΙΧθYΣ.

  2. During BBC's Question Time last week from Glasgow I found myself seriously contemplating a move to Scotland. Followed in quick succession by the thought of a huge incoming of immigrants to Scotland. I think they can pull through and if it doesn't work out, surely the English will not deny them a bail-out!