You’ve got the butterflies all tied up: Strike diary 10

The last 24 hours have been filled with drama. At 8 pm yesterday, a tweet by the Financial Times pensions correspondent, Josephine Cumbo (who has been doing excellent work throughout this dispute), announced that an agreement had been reached between employers and our union. As the details of the “agreement” came in, most of us realised that it was entirely unacceptable: we were still being promised poverty in old age. Within 30 minutes, #NoCapitulation was trending on Twitter. By 10 pm, an open-letter asking to reject this deal had around 5000 signatures. We live in the digital age!

This morning, union branches throughout the country met to vote on the “agreement”. At Cardiff, we had to assemble in a local park because the community hall that had been booked was too small to host everyone. After a great exercise in direct democracy, we voted to reject the agreement. Nationwide, one branch after the other did exactly the same – unanimously. We sent our negotiators back to the table. Groups of students in many universities occupied buildings.

At Cardiff, a meeting at the Welsh Assembly had also been scheduled today. We travelled by buses to the Senedd and listened to speeches by several Assembly Members and trade unionists.

I won’t lie. I’m exhausted. I want to go back to the class room. This afternoon, I felt like giving up this diary. I felt so depleted. However, the beautiful weather – and a nap – gave me a boost of energy; and here we are for my thoughts for the day.

Colin the Caterpillar Cake. Photo by Ben Sutherland available on Wikimedia.

In fact, the following thoughts have been with me since the beginning of the strikes. I have found myself thinking about butterflies a lot over the last month. You see, our local strike slogan is #HelloColin, after our Vice-Chancellor’s first name, Colin. “Colin” is also the name of a Marks & Spencer’s caterpillar-shaped cake. (Wikipedia informs me that more than 7 millions Colin the caterpillars have been sold since it was introduced in 1990.) Picketers at Cardiff have of course exploited to the full, and in good humour, the association between our V-C and the caterpillar.

So I’ve been racking my brains and tried to think about Greek and Latin botanical texts referring to pretty butterflies flying over beautiful flowers. I could not recall any, and a look at a few works on animals in the ancient world confirmed this. The Greeks and Romans wrote very little about adult butterflies. Instead, they concentrated on the – far more pesky, from a farmer’s point of view – larvae and pupae. This is partly because the ancients had no understanding of the process of pollination (see here for more detail), and could not therefore appreciate the important role butterflies and other animals play in the propagation of plants.

Coin from Rhodes with Helios on the obverse and a rose bud with butterfly on the reverse. Source:

Greek and Latin authors considered the metamorphosis of the caterpillar into the butterfly alongside phenomena of spontaneous generation. I leave you with the verses of Ovid allegedly recording the teaching of the philosopher Pythagoras on the matter. For Pythagoras, butterflies are the souls of the departed:

If trust is given to things proven by experience,
Can’t you see that, due to time or melting heat,
Whenever corpses putrefy, they are transformed into tiny animals? […]
And those that are used to cover leaves with their white threads:
The wild caterpillars (a thing observed by farmers)
Change their form to become funeral butterflies.
Ovid, Metamorphoses 15.361-374.

May my butterfly mind rest tonight!

PS: some of you will have recognised the title of this blog as one line in Prince’s ‘When doves cry‘ – a beautiful piece of poetry.

This entry was posted in Ancient History, History of Science, Poetry, Wales and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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