This goldfish posting is a classic posting from seven years ago, rather than something new. I do apologize. But you're caught me at a perfect storm of personal challenges including, but not limited to, taxes; galleys suddenly due on the next book; buying a new car; (having banged up the old car in a permanent way); speaking at a conference; and flitting up and down the northeastern states in airplanes that tilted and bobbed like rubber ducks in a bathtub except with occasional lightning which we do not see so often in well-regulated bathtubs.
Onward, then, with my scattered apologies, to a retread post.
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You've probably asked yourself, from time to time, if there are any Shakespeare quotations about goldfish.
Did Shakespeare say, "That which we call a goldfish, by any other name would be as bright"?
Or insult some catiff with a, "Thou wimpled, reeling-ripe goldfish-lickler!"
He did not.
Goldfish didn't make it to England till nearly a century after Shakespeare's death. We got Shakespeare's take on dogs and cats, camels, carp, marmosets, mackerel, and whales . . . but not goldfish.
I shall offer you my take on goldfish instead —
The Carp Who Made Good.
The carp is a wide-spread, useful and reasonably tasty fish that's been domesticated for a couple millennia in China. While the Chinese were raising carp for the table, they'd noticed a common mutation that threw an orange or gold fish in among the ordinary ones.
After centuries of noticing that, about a thousand years ago, the Chinese set down to the serious business of breeding these bright-colored fishes as garden ornaments. The women of the imperial court doubtless engaged in a little friendly rivalry as to the beauty and vigor of their particular line of goldfish. They'd bring them inside in big porcelain basins to enjoy. Especially favored courtiers would be invited over to watch the fish swim, this being before TV and Wii.
When trade routes opened in the 1600s, goldfish were freed from their splendid isolation in the Mandarin's garden and went travelling the world. Japan first. Then southern Europe, coming in through Portugal. Then just about everywhere.
The Japanese Kanji characters for goldfish are 'gold' and 'fish'. 'King yo'. In Dutch, goldfish is goudvis. French, poisson d'or. Spanish, carpa dorada. Goldfish tend to be called 'goldfish'.
When goldfish hit Europe, it settled a bit of an artistic conundrum. Chinese paintings had been arriving in Europe with representations of goldfish. "Pooh," said some. "Mythical animals."
Turned out it wasn't artistic license.
It was fish.
Legend has it goldfish were brought to France as a present for Madame de Pompadour. In Russia, Prince Potemkin gave goldfish to Catherine the Great.
Goldfish were the Tiffany trinket of the Eighteenth Century.