Riddle Of The Lily And The Beetle


An ancient poem telling of a beautiful lily and a noisy beetle, called the sonbesie in the Karoo, puzzled Greek scholars for centuries. Then in the 1930s, a South African solved the riddle.  The great Greek poet Homer mentioned “the lily-like sound of the cicada” in one of his poems and dumfounded his followers. Eventually, learned men decided “lily-like” was an error of translation, and that explanation was accepted for 3 000 years.  But, in the ‘30s, Professor Kolbe, of Cape Town University, discovered when picking chincherinchees that when the stems of these lilies rubbed together a shrill sound was emitted.  It was just like the shriek of the cicada. Thus the ancient mystery surrounding these beautiful lilies and the tiny beetle was solved. The cicada, known as the sonbesie or Christmas Beetle in arid zones such as the Karoo, uses his shrill shriek as a serenade, a love song sung only by the males.  The females do not have voices. Which is why the ancient Greeks quipped: “Happy are cicadas’ lives, as they have silent wives!”


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