Horn Of Plenty

Tell me, if you will, for what conceivable reason you would snap off the horn of a goat, cram it with exotic fruits and flowers, and present it as a gift to the maimed goat? That is one version of the origin of the horn of plenty, or cornucopia, and it seems to me an example of where the Greek Gods got things decidedly skew-whiff.

Presenting a goat with a gift, whether in recompense for its injury or out of simple generosity, is a perfectly legitimate act, though it would probably be content with leaves and nettles. My concern here is not with the goat but with the horn of plenty.

Put yourself, for a moment, in the position of the recipient. (You need not be an actual, or mythical, goat in this scenario.) Zeus, or some other donor, hands you a cornucopia.

“Why thank you! That is so kind!” you chirrup, having been well brought up.

“You are most welcome,” says Zeus or the Zeusy figure, who can now vanish, their part in this little playlet fulfilled.

You are left holding a receptacle stuffed with fruits and flowers, but any warm feelings of gratitude you may have are immediately overcast by the realisation that such is the shape of the container you cannot put it down safely. Unlike a vase or a bowl or a jug, wrought by human agency, the horn of a goat is not designed to be placed on a flat surface such as a coffee table or sideboard, the sorts of places where you are likely to want to put a gift of fruits and flowers. It will simply topple over, disgorging its contents, some of which, such as apples and Carlsbad plums, will roll off the coffee table or sideboard on to the floor, where they are likely to be bruised, crushed underfoot, or worse, gnawed or swallowed whole by your domestic pet, depending, that is, on the size and rapacity of said pet. Even those fruits and flowers which remain atop the coffee table or sideboard will be scattered and possibly damaged by their scatterment, and in any event, the charming visual arrangement of the cornucopia will be ruined. So although you will be happy to have been given lovely fruits and flowers, and in such abundance!, a moment’s reflection will lead you to dark mutterings that the form in which they have been given is both unsuitable and inconvenient.

For unless you are going to spend the whole day cradling the goat’s horn in your arms, keeping it upright, thus frittering away the hours when you could be doing something useful, you are now forced to find some way of relinquishing the cornucopia while keeping it intact. You could try leaning it up against something, but there is no guarantee that in doing so it will retain stability. Alternatively, you may have a vase or bowl or jug of sufficient size that the horn of the goat can be placed within it, snugly enough not to fall over. A third option is to remove the fruits and flowers one by one, with care, and to marshal them in attractive display at an appropriate place in your hovel. Of course, once that is done you are left holding an emptied goat horn, which you may as well toss aside as worthless.

Whichever of these strategies you employ, my point is that any gratitude you feel towards Zeus, or to whomsoever gave you the cornucopia, will not be unalloyed. There will be an admixture of irritation or resentment, even of active hostility, for the hoops you have been put through. When the time comes to write a thank you letter, as your exquisite manners demand, it may be hard to refrain from injecting a somewhat jaundiced tone which, if picked up by the cornucopia donor, could lead to ill-will between the pair of you, even to the utter sundering of the ties of friendship which have bound you so close over many years. And all because the fruits and flowers came in a container not fit for purpose.

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