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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/732

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

forefathers what could the upraised and crossed arms indicate but an attitude of devotion?

The name mantis (diviner) was given to this insect, it is said, by the Greeks, in accordance with the notion that, when the creature assumes its peculiar attitude of meditation, it is engaged in the contemplation of futurity. Naturalists have encouraged the superstition by giving names to the different species which imply some kind of sanctity; thus, we have Mantis oratoria, Mantis religiosa, Mantis superstitiosa, etc. With the French it is the Prega-Dieu (that prays to God), Le PrĂȘcheur (the preacher); with the Germans it is Gottesanbeterin (worshiper of God), while the English-speaking nations have dubbed it the Praying Insect. The names familiarly given to it in Southern Europe are sufficiently expressive of the veneration with which it is regarded—nun, saint, suppliant, mendicant, etc. "In the eyes of the Languedoc peasants," says Figuier, "the Mantis religiosa is held sacred, and they firmly believe that it performs its devotions." Mr. Spicer, writing in Science Gossip, remarks: "Nor was this feeling of veneration confined to the nations of Europe. At the present day (and doubtless it was the same in old times also) a Mantis is an object of worship with certain tribes of North Africa." Sparmann also tells us ("Travels in Africa") that "in the southern part of the same continent it is venerated by the Hottentots; and that, should one of these insects chance to settle on an individual, he is looked upon in the light of a saint, and as specially favored by Heaven."

That the superstition should have gone to greater lengths than mere inference was natural: somebody was certain to make the mantis open his mouth and give audible expression to his devout sentiments. Of course we should expect this in the middle ages, when credulity was unbounded, and there was a universal belief in the semi-divine nature of this wicked bug. "The great Saint Francis Xavier is said to have held a conversation with one which he came across in a forest, and to have induced it to chant a hymn!"

Dr. James Mann, author of the "Guide to the Knowledge of Life," and who was for some years superintendent of education in the province of Natal, South Africa, has written a very interesting account of the insects of that region, which was published in the Intellectual Observer, and from that article we quote the following passage regarding the mantis, from which it will be seen that the insect still contrives to keep up its theological reputation: "Of orthopterous Natal insects, the large green mantis is certainly a distinguished chief. He is a very remarkable fellow, powerful alike upon wing and leg, but much given to fits of lethargy and brown study. His traditional religious exercise, indeed, is simply a lying in wait for what the gods may send in the way of food. He fixes himself, as if in rapt contemplation, upon some convenient stalk or leaf, and then bends up his chest and shoulders into an almost erect position, pressing together his arms in front,