Watercolour painting by Daniel Mackie Image © Daniel Mackie.
One of them has played James Bond, adding a ‘licence to pout’ to a ‘licence to kill’, another, armed with a paintbrush, gave a woman named Mona Lisa the most mysterious and talked about pout in the world, and one of them currently seems to find celebrity fame solely through pouting. But what does Daniel Craig, Leonardo da Vinci, and Kim Kardashian all have in common? They’re all cheeky monkeys, that’s what - well according to Chinese astrology they are anyway.
I myself was born during the year of the Monkey, this means I’m supposed to be talkative, fast, and a bit of a show off. So it’s no wonder that you find “troops” of them in the world of celebrity - I love showing off with a good collective noun.
No where in the world is the monkey as revered as in China, it’s practically in their cultural DNA - and thankfully less so in their cooking pot but let’s not digest, I mean digress. One of the most famous monkeys in Chinese mythology is Sun Wukong, the monkey born from a stone egg belonging to the Mountain of Fruit and Flowers. Sun was a terribly naughty and ambitious monkey, with plans to rule the world, and was especially tiresome for poor old Buddha who eventually managed to tame him by imprisoning him under a mountain… for 500 years! - that should do it. This punishment, although harsh, did seem to do the trick, and Sun was a reformed character by the time he had left his imprisonment. He even kindly offered to join a Buddhist monk on a pilgrimage to India in order to retrieve some sacred Buddhist texts, where he revelled in his role as the monks personal bodyguard, and assisted the enlightened one through a mere 81 tribulations.
And even today, monkeys are performing magic in China. During the neck and neck run up to the 2016 US election, the winning candidate was selected by a fortune telling tailed primate called “Geda”, which aptly translates as “goosebumps”. Geda, who had previously predicted Portugals win over France in the 2016 European Cup final, was presented with two cardboard cutouts of the US candidates. After giving the task considerable thought, the mystical monkey went deliberately over to Trump and planted a big kiss on his orange face; unfortunately Geda did not foresee any trade war between China and the US.
Geda, being an Asian monkey, is an ‘Old World’ Monkey, along with African monkeys, and monkeys from Central and South America are known as New World monkeys. Evolving under differing circumstances has led the Old and New World monkeys to have some interesting differences. New World monkeys spend a lot more time in trees, and so have developed a tail which acts as a fifth limb, and can even grip objects. Old world monkeys do not share these tail skills, but instead have a nice bum pad to sit on; whether Old or New World mystic monkeys have more of a knack for predicting the rise and fall of their fellow football playing primates is inconclusive.
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One of the most recognisable songbirds in the garden is the plucky Robin. Being a member of the thrush family, it’s not only cousin to the song thrush and blackbird, but also to the nightingale, so it’s no surprise that the robin has a beautiful voice as well.
The earliest depictions of the use of the heart symbol is believed to derive from the ancient culture of Cyrene, a North African city which was founded by the Greeks in 631 BC, and then later ruled by the Romans.
There’s a lot of ancient mythical beasts which seem pretty isolated, unique to a country’s culture, or even to a specific region. Others, like mermaids, dragons, and giants, are intercultural, being known by many. The Phoenix is one of these mythical superstars, and was known by the Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptians, and even by the Chinese.