Monday, June 14, 2010

Eucalyptus in space and time ...

"The ordinarily musty interior smelled of pine and eucalyptus."

-- Julian, Gore Vidal, p. 47.

Eucalyptus: A genus of evergreen timber trees mostly native to Western Australia.

Eucalyptus, interestingly enough, is a Greek word for a tree that no Greek -- nor any other European, unless he were shipwrecked on his way to China -- ever saw before the 18th century.

You see, I may not be the world's expert on Australia but far as I know, Europe knew nothing of the land down under until about that time.

So unless that "mostly" means that some kind of eucalyptus is native to somewhere beyond the land of koala bears and wallabees ...

... or unless "eucalyptus" -- like corn in America -- is an old word that was in use for something else before it became attached to "a genus of evergreen timber trees mostly native to Western Australia..."

... yes, unless that is the case, then celebrated author Mr. Vidal goofed, in hanging eucalyptus boughs in the courtroom of a 4th-Century Roman building.

If so,it is a reminder to the rest of us, just how hard it is to write credible historical fiction. You must know when even the most ordinary objects were invented,such as a pocket watch; what foods they could not have eaten, such as tomato soup in the Middle Ages; and a thousand other sundry details, that, if neglected, will leave annoying know-it-alls such as myself clucking our tongues.

In spite of that, I am enjoying his book on that Roman emperor, Julian, who tried and failed to turn the ship of his state back on a course to the old paganism and away from its devotion to Christianity.

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