Sunday, October 23, 2016

Pretty picture: Cymbidium Atalanta (?)

[NOTE: today's post is not safe for work due to a 372-year-old painting and some language; proceed accordingly]

The only Cymbidium from the 2016 show was pretty, but kind of a nightmare to research.

The tag said "Atlanta," like the city in Georgia.

That's a perfectly sensible thing to name a Cymbidium, but the International Orchid Register didn't have it in their database. And it's ogooglebar, because any search for (Cymbidium + Atlanta) mostly gets you lists of places you can buy Cymbidiums in Atlanta, or photos of Cymbidium flowers that were taken in Atlanta.

If the IOR doesn't have an "Atlanta," that doesn't necessarily mean that no such plant exists: they're thorough, but I wouldn't expect them to have every single grex listed the moment it's official. So it's possible that this is, in fact, Cymbidium Atlanta, but I doubt it. In the seven months between first looking it up and writing this post, the IOR didn't add an "Atlanta," and they seem to be pretty on top of the names, in general, so there probably still isn't a "Cymbidium Atlanta."

There is, however, an AtAlanta, named after the mythological figure instead of the city in Georgia, and my guess is that that's probably what we're looking at here.

Atalanta is interesting.

She was a huntress and virgin, sworn to the goddess Artemis (the goddess of hunting and virgins, among other things,1 so kind of a natural fit, there), but her father wanted her to get married. This, obviously, would have fucked with the whole virgin thing, plus there may have been a warning from an oracle that marrying would prove disastrous for her, so she declared that she would only marry a man who could beat her in a footrace, and that any man who failed to defeat her would be put to death. And everybody, apparently, nodded and was like, yup, that seems reasonable.2 So. Many races and a pile of corpses later, eligible bachelor Hippomenes gets the idea to seek some outside assistance, so he goes to the goddess Aphrodite3 and says, hey, I want to get with this chick but she's not into me and I know I can't outrun her so what can I do?

Aphrodite says here, take these three irresistible golden apples, and when you run against her, just throw one of the apples in front of her whenever she gets ahead of you, and she'll stop and pick them up, giving you time to get back ahead of her. (And if you're wondering how he's supposed to be able to resist picking up these irresistible apples himself, I refer you back to footnote 2.) So that's what Hippomenes does, and he manages to win the race by a hair,

The Race Between Atalanta and Hippomenes, 1644, Nicolas Colombel, Liechtenstein Museum, Vienna. From Wikipedia.

and Atalanta's like, well, a deal's a deal. So long, Artemis, see you when I give birth. And eventually Atalanta and Hippomenes have a son, who I'm guessing they didn't like very much because they named him Parthenopeus.

And then some time after that, Atalanta and Hippomenes both get changed into lions, because of course they did, though the details and reasons vary.4

Atalanta is, according to the IOR, a very old grex, dating to 1918, and a primary hybrid of Cymbidium erythrostylum (pink to white sepals, with red and white-striped petals) and Cymbidium lowianum (yellow to greenish-yellow, with some orange striping on the labellum). (Ref.) If the plant at the show was in fact Atalanta, then she mostly takes after Cymbidium erythrostylum.

I found a possible picture of Cymbidium Atalanta on an eBay-like site in Australia when I was researching all this in March, showing a pinkish-purple bloom with a white and dark red labellum. The tepals were longer and narrower than this plant, but the red spotting was in more or less the same location, so this is plausibly a different clone of the same cross. On the other hand, one never wants to put too much faith in photos posted by people selling stuff on-line, especially not at sites like eBay, so I'm not willing to treat that photo as confirmation of this plant's identity. But that photo was at least not wildly different from the plant I've got here, and Atalanta seems like a reasonable guess.


1 (Confusingly, the goddess of virgins was also the goddess of childbirth and midwifery.)
2 It may help to think of ancient Greek myths as comic book / superhero movies: meant to entertain, so there are certain premises you just have to accept, and certain plot holes you just have to ignore, if you want to enjoy the story at all.
3 (the goddess of sexual love, beauty, pleasure, and procreation, who as you can imagine had some issues with the goddess of hunting and virginity)
4 Mostly the stories agree that being turned into lions was punishment for boinking in a god's temple, though their motivation, and whose temple, vary from story to story. The most complicated of the stories has Aphrodite mad at Hippomenes because he failed to give her the proper respect after she helped him out with the apples and everything. So, as Atalanta and Hippomenes traveled somewhere together, they wound up stopping at one of the goddess Cybele's temples. Aphrodite, being the goddess of sex, made them super-horny, knowing that Cybele wouldn't like this. A. and H. boinked in the temple, and then Cybele was like HOW DARE YOU and turned them into lions.
Why lions? Well, apparently the thinking at the time was that lions couldn't reproduce by having sex with one another; you only got more lions if a lion got it on with a leopard. So changing a couple of people into a pair of lions because they had sex as humans was a way of ensuring that they would never be able to have sex with one another again. Which makes the whole thing sadder than it sounds at first. Though Cybele also appears to have just been really, really into lions, so maybe she changed everybody into lions, I don't know, I didn't look into it.
Why did the ancient Greeks believe that lions didn't / couldn't mate with other lions? Fuck if I know. My go-to theory for this kind of thing is that ancient people were drunk a lot and also not good noticers.


Pattock said...

The Greeks were not just drunk. Their wine was stored in vessels waterproofed with natural asphalt. The wine would contain a little bit of petrol (gas in the US). High octane drinking is generally bad for the brain and would reduce the ability to notice stuff.

Ivynettle said...

This is my favourite style of telling mythology. I want a whole book of mythology being retold this way. (Okay, tumblr occasionally does a good job of that as well.)