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Science gives Aphrodite a pain in the butt

By Linwood Barclay, Toronto Star

15 September 2002: I DON'T know whether they get The Star on Mount Olympus, but if they do, and the Greek goddess Aphrodite is reading this, I would just like to say, I think you should get yourself a good lawyer and sue the asses off the researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Duke University Medical Centre.

These folks have discovered a mutated gene that gives some sheep unusually large and muscular bottoms. This is interesting to a layman such as myself, because not only did I not know this gene was out there, I did not know that anyone was trying to find it. To be honest, I had never even noticed that some sheep have larger and more muscular bottoms than others. Clearly, I need to pay more attention.

The researchers, upon discovering this gene, named it "callipyge," in honour of Aphrodite Kallipygos. I'd always thought the Goddess of Love was known by one name only, like Madonna, but because she was thought by her admirers to have a somewhat spectacular looking behind, she was given the nickname "Kallipygos," which evidently is Greek for "beautiful buttocks." It makes you wonder whether one of the researchers was the father character from My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

(Right about now, you're no doubt impressed by my knowledge of Greek mythology, but I should point out that while I did take a classical literature course at Trent University, most of what I remember on this subject comes from watching The Mighty Hercules cartoon series. In particular, I remember the theme song, which goes like this: "Hercules, hero of song and story/Hercules, winner of ancient glory/Fighting for the right/Fighting with his might/With the strength of 10, ordinary men." I also remember always hoping a big rock would land on his sidekick Newton. Note: I received further instruction in Greek mythology through the Star Trek episode where Kirk has to outwit the guy in a toga who thinks he is Apollo.)

Maybe these scientists, who apparently did not know the Greek word for "Lopez," thought they were honouring Aphrodite in some way. But I think it's one thing to be known for having a super caboose, and another thing altogether to have your name attached to a sheep's butt. That's why I think Aphrodite should sue these people or, at the very least, get Zeus to zap their pocket protectors with a thunderbolt.

One can only wonder how news of this scientific breakthrough would have played on Mount Olympus:

Zeus (walking by Aphrodite from behind): Baaaaa.

Aphrodite (turning): I heard that.

The scientists, whose work is explained in detail in the latest issue of Genome Research, say this gene allows sheep to turn food straight into muscle, instead of fat; that the sheep are, in effect, "pumping iron, without lifting weights." And the scientists argue, lest anyone should wonder why millions of dollars in research money is going to study sheep's bottoms, that finding this gene in sheep may help in the study of the human genome.

I certainly hope so, although I think if you're wondering why sheep turn more of their food into muscle instead of fat, all you have to do is look at the fields they graze in. Do you see a Krispy Kreme outlet? A McDonald's? This might be what they call, in the scientific community, a clue.

Anyway, I can imagine that, after reading of this startling new scientific discovery, you are, at this point, still trying to remember the second verse to The Mighty Hercules theme song. So here it is, to the best of my recollection: "Hercules, people are safe when near him/Hercules, only the evil fear him/Hero to the weak/Has a real flat gut/Likes to take a peek/At Aphrodite's butt/That's the Mighty Hercules."

Okay, that might be wrong.