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Fainting Goats and Gilded Faces

Breeding goats is a pastime fraught with problems, and, just like over-breeding in dogs, sometimes the breeders go a step too far. Consider the Fainting Goats of Tennessee, which developed a mutation in their muscle protein. This has the effect that when startled, the goat's muscles involuntarily seize up and it actually falls over. Obviously it was never going to be a very stable population, goats being goats, and startling easily especially when scrambling around hilltops or climbing trees (and yes, some goats can do that). And yet there are still a few out there, kept as pets.

And speaking of mutations and diseases, the ravages of smallpox can be harsh and very visible, especially upon the face. It was the practice therefore, back in the day, to have one's face gilded the moment symptoms appeared. Once the disease had run its course the gold leaf was picked off flake by flake with a sharp needle. So far so bad, but things could get a lot worse, as in the case of Lady Bercsenyi, a Hungarian exiled in Turkey, who discovered to her horror that the gold had hardened all around her nose leaving her honker permanently discoloured and black.

What a sweep of vanity comes this way.. as Shakespeare Apemantus says in Timon of Athens

Sourced from The New Scientist 14.7.2001 & Letters from Turkey by Kelemen Mikes 2001

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