Saturday, July 29, 2006

The sloth's pilgrimage

From Blumenbach's Contributions to Natural History (1806), in The Anthropological Treatises of Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, translated by Thomas Bendyshe (1865):

There was a time when the origin of all petrifactions, and the general revolution of the earth itself, was deduced from the Noachian deluge. But, as one of the most sagacious and also certainly one of the most orthodox theologians, R. Walsh, has assured me, we are far from doing the slightest violence to the authority of Holy Scripture, when we deny the universality of the flood of Noah; and in like manner, I cannot for my own part form any satisfactory idea, after what I gather from the history of animals themselves, about the universality of that deluge. Thus, for instance, the pilgrimage which the sloth (an animal which takes a whole hour in crawling six feet) must in that case have performed from Ararat to South America, is always a little incomprehensible. We are obliged, with St Augustine, to call in the assistance of the angels, who jussu Dei sive permissu, as he expresses himself, first of all collected all the animal kingdom in the ark, and then distributed them again ad locum inde, in the distant islands and quarters of the globe.

1 comment:

  1. I read somewhere that in his first edition of Systema Natura (1735), Linneaus grouped primates and sloths together in one taxonomic category. I think he'd fixed that by his 10th edition, but he kept bats and primates together for quite awhile. I think Blumenbach's systematic ponderings kept all three groups separate. Given his opinion of sloth's locomotor abilities, I'm not surprised!