It is often said that monkeys sometimes cross streams by means of monkey bridges. According to the popular notion, the monkeys take hold of one anothers tails and suspend themselves in a living rope from the limb of a tree on the bank of a river that they wish to cross. They begin to sway back and forth until they gain enough momentum to swing the lower end of the column to a tree on the opposite bank. The other end of the bridge is then released and swung across the stream. Naturalists are inclined to doubt these stories. Dr. William T. Hornaday, the noted zoologist, who for thirty years was director of the New York Zoological Park, expressed the opinion that the living monkey bridge is a myth. Still, he said, one should be very cautious in stating what animals never did and what they cannot do. Monkeys do hang on to I one another from time to time and frequently one will climb up the tail f of another. One monkey will sometimes even draw another up. Dr. William M. Mann, superintendent of the National Zoological Park, thinks the stories of monkeys making bridges by taking hold of one another may have been suggested by the habits of the spider monkeys of South America. At any rate, these natural acrobats of the forest and jungle are the animals that usually figure in the- monkey bridge stories. They are very fond of taking hold of each other and performing all kinds of gymnastics. Their remarkable prehensile tails serve as a “fifth hand.” More than one writer has reported cases of the red howling monkeys of Central and South America spanning tree tops by linking hands and tails and forming a living chain.
Great Britain, although an island, is so close to the continent of Europe that it is generally regarded as being a part of it. Scientists are of the opinion that the British Isles, which are on what is known as the continental shelf, were formerly joined to the mainland and were not separated from it until comparatively recent times, geologically speaking. The rest of the world regards Great Britain as a European nation, although the British people themselves refer to continental Europe as “the Continent” to distinguish it from the British Isles. Europe itself, strictly speaking, is not a continent, but merely part of the continent of Eurasia.
In Norse mythology Berserk was the nickname of the grandson of the eight-handed Starkadder. He always went into battle without armor and was famed for the reckless fury with which he fought. Ber-serk in old Scandinavian probably meant “bare-shirt,” that is, one clothed only in his shirt and not protected. by armor or heavier clothing, To be berserk was equivalent to “in one’s shirt sleeves.” Among those slain by Berserk was King Swafurlam, by whose daughter he bed twelve sons equal to himself in bravery. These sons of Berserk were called “berserkers,” a term that thus became synonymous with “fury” and “reckless courage.” Later berserker was applied to a class of heathen warriors who were supposed to be able to assume the form of bears and wolves, from which fact some etymologists mistakenly derive the term from berasark (“bear-shirt” or “armor of bearskin”). Dressed in furs these berserkers would fall into a frenzied rage, foam at the mouth and growl like wild beasts. They were said to have prodigious strength and to be invulnerable to fire and iron. From this latter myth we get berserker rage. In Modern English Usage, H. W. Fowler says that “beresark for berserker, is a corrupt modern form owing its existence to a probably false etymology.”
Democritus (4607-3617 B.C.), a Greek thinker in the time of Socrates, was known as the “Laughing Philosopher.” Just why he was so called is not known for certain. According to a legend, probably unfounded, Democritus put out his own eyes so that he might think more clearly and not be diverted in his meditations. Some ancient writers say that he became so perfect “in his teachings” that he went about continually smiling from which circumstance he became known as the Laughing Philosopher; but others say that the inhabitants of Abdera, the colony in Thrace where Democritus was born, were notorious for their stupidity, and that he was called the “laughing” Philosopher because of the scorn and ridicule that he heaped upon his townsmen for their ignorance. It appears that Democritus should rather be called the “Deriding Philosopher,” since he derided and laughed scornfully at the follies and vanities of mankind. Robert Burton, author of The Anatomy of Melancholy, is sometimes referred to as “Democritus Junior.”
When the ancient Athenian orator Demosfhenes (384?-322 B.C.) was a young man he had a frail body, weak lungs and a shrill voice. Plutarch tells us that Demosthenes “had a weakness and a stammering in his voice, and a want of breath, which caused such a distraction in his discourse, that it was difficult for the audience to understand him.” It seems that, among other handicaps, he was unable to pronounce the sound expressed by the letter “r.” The first time the young orator spoke in public his audience laughed at and heckled him. The hesitation and stammering of his tongue he corrected by practicing to speak with pebbles in his mouth; and he strengthened his voice by running or walking uphill, and pronouncing some passage in an oration or a poem, during the difficulty of breath which that caused.” The usual version of this is that Demosthenes overcame his impediment of speech by standing on the shore with pebbles in his mouth and declaimed in competition with the roaring of the sea. “You have stones in your mouth,” is said of a person who stutters or speaks indistinctly.