Wednesday, May 11, 2005


Unclean Spirits and Cockroaches

Mark Goodacre at NT Gateway Weblog adds another parallel (Matthew 12.43-45, cf. Luke 11.24-26) to my collection of passages from ancient literature expressing the idea that evil things are never destroyed but only move about from place to place:
When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first.
I just came across another example from modern folklore to put alongside my Tom Sawyer parallel. In the chapter on cockroaches in Life on a Little-Known Planet (Philadephia: E.P. Dutton, 1968), p. 62, entomologist Howard Ensign Evans reports an odd method of roach control, quoted from Frank Cowan, Curious Facts in the History of Insects (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1865):
It is none other than to address these pests a written letter containing the following words, or to this effect: 'O, Roaches, you have troubled me long enough, go now and trouble my neighbors.' This letter must be put where they most swarm, after sealing and going through with other customary forms of letter writing. It is well, too, to write legibly and punctuate according to rule.
Evans' book is a gem. He closes the cockroach chapter with these words:
When a scientist is asked what good his research is, the classic answer (and a good one) is a shrug of the shoulders. A more thorough knowledge of roaches may or may not help us to reach a "peaceful coexistence" with them. But to a student of roaches, it is self-evident that any creature so beautifully adapted and adaptable for lo these millions of years is worth lifetimes of study. Not that we should all emulate roaches (though it might be exciting for a while if we could do so without selling our souls for a whiff of pheromone); but if there are any underlying principles of long-term survival, surely they are evidenced by the roaches. The study of roaches may lack the aesthetic values of bird-watching and the glamour of space flight, but nonetheless it would seem to be one of the more worthwhile of human activities. In fact, as I scan the evening paper, I wonder if it may not be more worthwhile than most of them.

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