You can pin and mount me like a butterfly – The Smiths.
The best thoughts are the most delicate,
fastest, trickiest to capture.
Lepidoptera so different on the wing,
than when caught, killed,
and proudly displayed. – Randy Read.
Larousse defines beauty as ‘that which is pleasing to the eye or spirit’ and I’m sure most people would agree butterflies are beautiful. Although there will be one or two pessimist’s who ignore the vibrant and intricate patterns, and just see a flimsy little insect. Tough for them since through the ages butterflies have been seen as the former. Lepidoptera [see above] is the scientific name for the phenomenon, and therefore Latin; deriving from the word Lepid meaning ‘pleasant’, Ancient Greek interestingly called it the psyche which meant the soul, and we now borrow that word to mean ‘mind’. Modern Greek haven’t strayed far with petaloudia -petal. I’m guessing that refers to their wings. The Yiddish call it a summer-bird. I should explain butter-shit, hm? There are two theory’s to the origins, one is to with 12th century witches stealing cream, and the other is to do with Dutch excrement, so both are equally valid. The dutch word boterschijte came from the thought that butterflies poo looked a lot like butter, and so on and so forth the flying little butter-shits became butterfly, probably around the same time we became to prudish to even mutter the word shit. The witchcraft explanation is far more interesting however; back in the 12th century (only a hundred years after Jesus, how he never got done in for witchcraft is beyond me) they believe witches turned into butterflies and stole peoples butter/cream and other such dairy products. So perhaps it was a sort of warning see a papillon shout BUTTERFLY!, as in watch out your butter gonna-ago-flying if you don’t watch it. Protect the cows there’s a witch about!
Etymology aside, what really fascinates me is the transition between wee caterpillar, to pupa, to grown adult. “‘[to] have to turn into a chrysalis – and then after that into a butterfly. I should think you’ll feel it a little queer?'” – Alice in wonderland. And I think it should feel queer especially as you’ve been a larvae for your whole life, which could be a matter of months, then spin yourself a little home for a few weeks, and come out with wings and your tongue in your antennae. But unfortunately for him, she only has a matter of weeks or even days to enjoy flying, because she has to lay her eggs before they die. But there are some that avoid winter by migrating south, one such case that has stuck with me is the image of the Monarch Butterfly, in the David Attenborough documentary: Life. who travel from Canada to Mexico for a four-month hibernation, more than can be imagined travel to one spot. For protection, seems an obvious reason why they all go there, but how they can know that is still one of the great mysteries.
I do not know whether I was a man dreaming I was a butterfly,
or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I was a man.