That oracle Stephen Fry never fails to inform and amuse. The ‘B’ series of QI is currently being re-run, and last Friday, one of the subjects was the beaver. And, it turns out – get this, if you’re as unaware as I was – that, in order to circumvent dietary restrictions imposed during Lent, the Catholic Church conferred piscine designation on that marvellous, dam-building mammal, thus permitting its Friday consumption – as fish!
This created a tension in me: on the one hand, it seemed Catholically plausible; on the other, I thought, ‘Was this originally broadcast on April 1st?’ So I’ve checked it out, via a little bit of on-line research (always risky, granted, but one has to start somewhere, and I’m too busy to give serious attention to something seemingly so, er, frivolous). And, incredibly, it seems to be true, under a seventeenth century ruling applied also to other aquatic animals.
It’s easy to scoff at what seems ridiculous now, although it was likely instigated for reasons that seemed perfectly rational a century before Linnaeus; perhaps an abundance of beaver coincided with a strike by some fishermen’s union. What I haven’t ascertained – and this is the thing that bothers me – is whether or not it has since been repudiated. Or, are there people out there who still sprinkle salt and vinegar on battered beaver and chips (probably washed down with ‘wine’ from the kitchen tap)?
Evolution is a sensitive issue for Catholicism, but it seems transmutation by decree is fine. And just think, in a couple of centuries from now, our descendants will probably look back and revile the Vatican’s condemnation of the use of condoms as a protectant against HIV in the developing world. Eh?!
I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.