Monday, August 09, 2010


Making Hay

Freeman Dyson, in John Brockman, ed., The Greatest Inventions of the Past 2,000 Years (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000), pp. 72-73:
The most important invention of the last two thousand years was hay. In the classical world of Greece and Rome and in all earlier times, there was no hay. Civilization could exist only in warm climates where horses could stay alive through the winter by grazing. Without grass in winter you could not have horses, and without horses you could not have urban civilization. Some time during the so-called dark ages, some unknown genius invented hay, forests were turned into meadows, hay was reaped and stored, and civilization moved north over the Alps. So hay gave birth to Vienna and Paris and London and Berlin, and later to Moscow and New York.
It's a mystery how someone so intelligent as Dyson could say something so absurd. Of course there was hay in Greek and Roman times, as overwhelming evidence shows, e.g. Homer, Odyssey 18.366-370 (tr. Butcher and Lang), where Odysseus challenges Eurymachus to a scything contest:
Eurymachus, would that there might be a trial of labour between us twain, in the season of spring, when the long days begin! In the deep grass might it be, and I should have a crooked scythe, and thou another like it, that we might try each the other in the matter of labour, fasting till late eventide, and grass there should be in plenty.

Εὐρύμαχ᾽, εἰ γὰρ νῶϊν ἔρις ἔργοιο γένοιτο
ὥρῃ ἐν εἰαρινῇ, ὅτε τ᾽ ἤματα μακρὰ πέλονται,
ἐν ποίῃ, δρέπανον μὲν ἐγὼν εὐκαμπὲς ἔχοιμι,
καὶ δὲ σὺ τοῖον ἔχοις, ἵνα πειρησαίμεθα ἔργου
νήστιες ἄχρι μάλα κνέφαος, ποίη δὲ παρείη.
Hesiod, Works and Days 606-607 (tr. Hugh G. Evelyn-White):
Bring in fodder and litter so as to have enough for your oxen and mules.

χόρτον δ' ἐσκομίσαι καὶ συρφετόν, ὄφρα τοι εἴη
βουσὶ καὶ ἡμιόνοισιν ἐπηετανόν.
Cato, On Agriculture 5.8 (tr. William Davis Hooper, rev. Harrison Boyd Ash):
Second-crop hay and aftermath should also be stored dry.

item faenum cordum, sicilimenta de prato, ea arida condito.
Varro, On Agriculture 1.49.1 (tr. William Davis Hooper, rev. Harrison Boyd Ash):
First the grass on the hay-meadows should be cut close with the sickle when it ceases to grow and begins to dry from the heat, and turned with the fork while it is drying out; when it is quite dry it should be made into bundles and hauled to the barn.

primum de pratis summissis herba, cum crescere desiit et aestu arescit, subsecari falcibus debet et, quaad perarescat, furcillis versari; cum peraruit, de his manipulos fieri ac vehi ad villam.
Hat tip: Dave Haxton, with thanks for an enjoyable and memorable visit to his farm last year.

Julien Dupré, The Haymaker

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