Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Genealogy and Sexual Misdemeanor

The real problem with Darwin’s theory of evolution is that it makes the entire pursuit of genealogy a total laughing stock. As a case in point, somewhere on the wall in my childhood home there hangs a framed certificate. It displays the face of William the Ist of England, a man who –in one of the more audacious pieces of rebranding known to history – began his life with the nickname ‘the bastard’ and ended it as ‘the conqueror’. Underneath his portrait is emblazoned text which proudly proclaims that – according to the findings of the William the Conqueror Society - the Clarke family are related by blood to the man himself, and can presumably bask in all the vicarious glory this entails. Although, in my experience, this rarely impresses anyone down the pub; not least because -thanks to our moribund education system - most of the population have either never heard of him or think he fights for the World Wrestling Federation.

Similarly, the Clarkes are also connected – through a series of poorly documented and implausible ‘begats’ - to the mysterious Kings of Donegal. These fellows apparently took their genealogy very seriously indeed, even going to the lengths of tracing themselves back to Noah. This they achieved by the time honoured and scientific technique of locking the best scholars they could lay their hands on in a room and threatening to execute them if they couldn’t deliver the goods. Sadly you can no longer use this technique on IT departments.

Of course, none of this matters a jot. Thanks to the aforementioned theory of evolution and the discovery of common descent I am now related – not just to William the Conqueror, the Donegal glitterati and the apocryphal Noah – but also to dung beetles, mosquitoes, skunks, tapeworms and genital herpes. In fact I could probably produce a plausible genealogy certificate for every ‘slimy thing’ that crawls ‘with legs upon the slimy sea’. Hopefully the whole ghastly business can be suppressed.

In the past few weeks I have been greatly entertained by the number of marital infidelities that have come to light in the media. These were gleefully documented and regaled to me by my better half as she trawled the ‘Perez Hilton’ blog site. Perhaps in amongst all that celebrity coaching and counselling, Tiger Woods, Ashley Cole and John Terry should have been exposed to the teachings of Sextus the Pythagorean. This –ironically named - 3rd century Stoic advised that those who found it difficult to practice celibacy should castrate themselves, extolling them to 'cast away every part of the body that misleads you to a lack of self control, since it is better for you to live without the part in self control than to live with it to your peril'.

One can take this attitude too far though. At around the same time Sextus was delivering this advice, Arnobius remarked that it blasphemous to believe that Jesus was 'born of vile coitus and came into the light as a result of the spewing forth of senseless semen, as a product of obscene groping’ and extended this to refer to all intercourse as ‘filthy and degrading’. Following this general attitude the Patristic figure Tertullian decided to publicly renounce sexual relations to his wife and composed a lengthy treatise to her, explaining his reasons for doing so and admonishing her to suspend her lustful desires and lead a celibate life. Her reaction sadly has not been recorded for posterity. I can pretty much guarantee that if I tried this with my wife I could expect a harshly worded treatise in reply admonishing me to suspend my abject silliness and take the rubbish out. Quite right too.