Bull leapers and soybeans

When I first saw this cartoon back in June, I instantly decided to include its center panel (the funny one, even though it doesn’t have the punch line) every time I write a post about podcasts and radio shows I listen to.

“Minoan bull leapers” captures beautifully the eccentric things you can hear on BBC Radio 4. I was impressed with the cleverness of Jerry Scott, the Zits writer, in coming up with such a perfectly turned phrase.

Until my ride into work this morning, when I listened to a podcast entitled “Minoan Bull Leaper.”

It’s an episode of A History of the World in 100 Objects, which has been running off and on all year. The series is hosted by Neil MacGregor, the Director of the British Museum, and each show revolves around a particular object in the museum’s collection, discussing the state of human civilization at the time the object was made. Scott must have mined the show list for his joke—not as impressive as coining the phrase himself, but still funny.

In case you’re wondering, here’s the bull leaper itself, a small statue from Crete in Minoan times of a man leaping over a bull.

MacGregor uses the statue as a jumping off point (hahaha) to explore Knossos, King Minos, and the legend of the Minotaur.

Each episode is 15 minutes long, and there will be 100 of them when the series ends. They’re currently up around Episode 75 in the 16th century CE. I just found the show and started listening a week or two ago, and am still back around in the Bronze Age.

It’s a good series, although, as you would expect, not every episode is a winner. Still, a sign of good history lesson is whether it stays with you, and by that measure A History of the World is a success. In the episodes on early agriculture, MacGregor pointed out that the grains cultivated by people were almost always inedible in their natural state and needed cooking or some other processing. Presumably, we chose these grains because we wouldn’t have to compete for them with other animals. I think about this now every time I pass a soybean field on my way to work.

The field just went from dark green to light brown over the past week, and I expect the harvest to begin soon.

Soybeans are a perfect example of what MacGregor was talking about; they’re toxic before cooking. And my only experience in eating soybeans is as a highly-processed “food product.” In fact, I don’t think I’d ever even seen a soybean close up until I took this photo just a few feet from the bike path.

Although listening to A History of the World makes me even more like Walt Duncan, I accept the additional nerdity because it’s letting me see something I’ve been surrounded by my whole life in a different way.