V: Pheasant

Jason and the Argonauts were scared of pheasants.

V: Pheasant
Pheasant in a field. Photo by June Gathercole / Unsplash

Good morning. Today is quintidi, the 25th of Brumaire, Year CCXXXI. We celebrate le faisan, for those who like their chicken a little wilder.

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What would you guess is the only country to choose the pheasant as its national bird? Maybe something with vast prairies, like Canada or Russia? A Mediterranean country like Turkiye? One that is obsessed with sport hunting like the UK? No, it's Japan, which has honored its endemic green pheasant with the title since 1947. The bird, called a kiji in Japanese, has been featured in Japanese literature for as long as Japanese literature has existed. It's prized for its ability to detect earthquakes, letting off tremendous shrieks before the ground begins to shake. It's also prized for being delicious.

At some point, many thousands of years ago, the Greeks went sailing around to anywhere they could safely reach. The exploits of those sailors were captured in an oral tradition that slid into myth, and one of the most enduring myths was that of the Argonauts who, at the command of Jason, sought the golden fleece.

Along the way, on an island in the Euxian Sea, the Argonauts encounter Stymphalian birds. These were birds once defeated by Heracles as part of his famous labors, and they are vicious. Their beaks were made of copper and their brightly colored feathers made of razor-sharp metal. Their dung was poisonous.

We have no way of knowing things for certain about what took place 4,000 years ago, but given the archaeological evidence, and the fact that Jason was heading to Colchis to get the fleece, it's fairly certain that the birds the Argonauts encountered were pheasants.