To refresh Ferrebeekeeper I am planning to expand the “Turkey” category to also include gamefowl and waterfowl (which together are scientifically known as the clade Galloanserae and constitute most of the farmbirds raised by humans). Today though I am addressing the stories and allusions about a wild bird—the partridge.
Partridges are famous for being the first gift in the terrifyingly redundant seasonal carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas” (so the singer ends each of the many refrains singing about a partridge in a pear tree). I have always liked partridges–perhaps because of this association with the Yule season or maybe because of their distinctive comical prettiness. One of the most modest and attractive game fowl, partridges are part of the pheasant family. Midway in size between pheasants and quail, they dwell on the ground (where they are adept at hiding) and forage for seeds.
In addition to their anchor position in a famous Christmas carol, partridges play a part in one of the great myths of classical antiquity—the Theseus/Cretan cycle which gave us stories of the Minotaur, Ariadne, Minos, Pasiphae, Icarus, and Daedalus. Throughout the story, the inventor Daedalus is always curiously off to the side—creating the labyrinth, solving it, and flying away on wax wings. Although the story of the death of his son Icarus hints at his character, it is the story of his most talented apprentice which truly reveals Daedalus’ unpleasant nature.
Daedalus’ apprentice was his nephew Perdix. Under his uncle’s tutelage, Perdix was quickly becoming a brilliant inventor/artificer in his own right. One day, while walking on the shore, he saw the spine of a fish. The shape gave him an idea and he crafted a notched copy of the bone in iron—thus was the first saw created. Later he invented the drafting compass by riveting two sharpened iron spikes together.
Daedalus was envious of his nephew’s innovation and he was jealous of rivals. One day as they were walking together on a high place the wily old inventor dropped an ingenious mechanical toy by the ledge. As Perdix knelt to snatch up the device, Daedalus pushed him over the edge to his death. However cunning Athena admired the craft and intellect of Perdix, so she did not let him die. As he fell through the air, the gray-eyed goddess transformed the boy into the partridge—known as perdix in Greek. Thereafter the partridge has shunned roosting on high places or flying too high—in memory of the betrayal of Daedalus.
The gods also remembered Daedalus’ cowardly murderous act and they branded him with a partridge so that he could not escape the deed. The elderly inventor was banished to barbarian lands where his genius was not appreciated and ultimately died in obscurity.