February 19, 2003
Marilyn Manson And The Classics

Pseudo-Aristotle's work On Marvellous Things Heard is a collection of unconfirmed stories about natural history and other topics. It includes this fascinating bit of ancient lore (chapter 147):

It is said also that vultures die from the smell of perfumes, if anyone annoints them, or gives them something with a perfume to eat: likewise they say that dung-beetles also die from the smell of roses.

The idea was widespread in the ancient world. Here's what Malcolm Davies and Jeyaraney Kathirithamby have to say in Greek Insects (Oxford, 1986, p. 85). Note: I have omitted all the references without any ellipses (. . .) because there are so many of them:

Aristotle, Aelian, Theophrastus, . . . and Pliny say that perfumes or roses kill beetles; Clement of Alexandria says that oil of roses will work too. [Second method omitted.]

The first of these modes of killing obviously presupposes an antipathy of opposites (similar to that revealed in the notion that the carrion-loving vulture is repelled by the scent of myrrh, or Yeats' poetic fancy ('Coole Parke and Ballylee, 1931') of a swan 'So arrogantly pure, a child might think It can be murdered with a spot of ink'). Related but less extreme is the idea that dung beetles hate or are harmed by sweet smells, and will reject honey, even if it poured before them. Hence the proverb 'a beetle will produce honey sooner than you will produce anything good'.

What does all this have to do with Marilyn Manson? Note this story from four years ago. The Washington Post's archives for April 29, 1999 are unavailable, but Seems Like Salvation News quotes the whole thing:

Shock rocker Marilyn Manson cut short his concert and abruptly walked off the stage when he realized someone had stuck a large yellow smiley face on a stage prop. The resulting rowdiness ended in 23 arrests.

The crowd of 4,765 appeared stunned when Manson -- already the target of criticism this week alleging that his wild, "gothic'' style influenced the Littleton, Colo., school shooting -- became angry Wednesday and stormed off the stage early.

Some in the crowd became rowdy and swarmed Manson's tour bus. Police arrested 23 people on charges of assault on an officer, interfering with police, disorderly conduct, trespassing and failure to disperse, police Lt. Jerry Potter said.

Police and security officers at the scene said there were several scuffles between officers and the crowd. There were no reports of injuries. It was not known if Manson was in the bus at the time of the incident.

Inside the Five Seasons Center, 10 people were arrested on charges of public intoxication or possession of a controlled substance. Organizers had beefed up security at the center because of the controversy surrounding Manson.

Jennie Boddy, publicist for the band's record label, Nothing/Interscope Records, said today she would try to learn why Manson cut short his show.

Potter said Five Seasons Center personnel told him that Manson "somehow saw (the smiley face) at midpoint of the song and he became very upset.''

He said it was the face, 2 to 2 1/2 feet across, "large enough to make a presence,'' was stuck on the front of a prop that looked like a pulpit. It was visible to the audience but not, at first, to Manson.

"It struck me as very odd that it would be part of his stage presence when it was so uncharacteristic of everything else he was doing,'' Potter said.

Tammy Koolbeck, marketing director at the Five Seasons Center, said no one in the crowd or the center's staff could have gotten to the prop to attach the smiley face.

"It was probably put on by one of his people,'' she said.

So the general rule is: use a cross to repel vampires, perfume for vultures, roses or honey for dung-beetles, and a smiley face to keep Marilyn Manson away. Makes sense to me, though I'd never had much use for smiley faces before.

My brother 'Steevil' tells me that a small businessman in Baltimore County has found classical music very effective in driving away the teenage dope-smokers who used to hang around outside his 7-11s all day.

There are many other delightful passages in On Marvellous Things Heard. Here are chapter 7, 31, and 71:

Men say that in Egypt the sandpipers fly into the mouths of the crocodiles, and clean their teeth, pulling out the pieces of flesh, which stick in their snouts, while the crocodiles are pleased, and do them no harm.

It is said that a certain man in Abydos being deranged in mind, and going to the theatre on many days looked on (as though actors were performing a play), and applauded; and, when he was restored to his senses, he declared that that was the happiest time he had ever spent.

Among the Indians, in what is called the Horn, it is stated that there are little fishes, which wander about on the dry land, and run away again into the river.

(Except for chapter 147, which I've modified for clarity, all translations are by L. D. Dowdall, from Jonathan Barnes (ed.), The Complete Works of Aristotle, Princeton, 2 volumes, 1984.)

Posted by Dr. Weevil at February 19, 2003 11:41 AM

But you have to take care to use the right scent. Apparently Calvin Klein attracts cheetahs, while goat urine attracts humans. You have been warned!

Posted by: Cracker Barrel Philosopher on February 20, 2003 08:12 AM

This is off on a tangent, but Club Squeeze, the dive in Ft. Lauderdale where Marilyn Manson used to play before he hit it big, used to clear people out of the doors at the end of the night (about 3am) by playing Frank Sinatra's rendition of "New York, New York."

Posted by: Andrea Harris on February 24, 2003 03:02 PM