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Ernst Heinrich Haeckel
(1834 - 1919) Germany

Ernst Heinrich Haeckel

Scientist and philosopher


Born at Postdam, he became professor of zoology at Jena in 1865. A supporter of Darwin, he worked for more than 50 years on his own "recapitulation theory (that embryonic stages represent past stages in the organism's evolution). Althought the theory has been superseeded, it stimulated much research in embryology.

Haeckel in his book Visit to Ceylon, describes the devotion entertained for him by his Rodiya serving-boy at Belligam, near Galle. The keeper of the rest-house at Belligam was an old and philosophically-minded man, whom Haeckel, from his likeness to a well known head, could not help calling by the name of Socrates. He writes:

"It really seemed as though I should be pursued by the familiar aspects of classical antiquity from the first moment of my arrival at my idyllic home. For, as Socrates led me up the steps of the open central hall of the rest-house, I saw before me, with uplifted arms in an attitude of prayer, a beautiful naked brown figure, which could be nothing else than the famous statue of the 'Youth adoring'. How surprised I was when the graceful bronze statue suddenly came to life, and dropping his arms fell on his knees, and, after raising his black eyes imploringly to mine, bowed his handsome face so low at my feet that his long black hair fell on the floor. Socrates informed me that this boy was a Pariah, a member of the lowest caste, the Rodiyas, who had lost his parents at an early age, so he had taken pity on him.

"He was told off to my exclusive service, had nothing to do the livelong day but obey my wishes, and was a good boy, sure to do his duty punctually. In answer to the question what I was to call my new body-servant, the old man informed me that his name was Gamameda. Of course I immediately thought of Ganymede, for the favorite of Jove himself could not have been more finely made, or have had limbs more beautifully proportioned and moulded. As Gamameda also displayed a peculiar talent as butler, and never allowed any one else to open me a cocoa-nut or offer me a glass of palm wine, it was no more than right that I should dub him Ganymede.

"Among the many beautiful figures which move in the foreground of my memories of the paradise of Ceylon, Ganymede remains one of my dearest favorites. Not only did he fulfil his duties with the greatest attention and conscientiousness, but he developed a personal attachment and devotion to me which touched me deeply. The poor boy, as a miserable outcast of the Rodiva caste, had been from his birth the object of the deepest contempt of his fellow-men, and subjected to every sort of brutality and ill-treatment. With the single exception of old Socrates, who was not too gentle with him either, no one perhaps had ever cared for him in any way.

"He was evidently as much surprised as delighted to find me willing to be kind to him from the first.... I owe many beautiful and valuable contributions to my museum to Ganymede's unfailing zeal and dexterity. With the keen eye, the neat hand, and the supple agility of the Cinghalese youth, he could catch a fluttering moth or a gliding fish with equal promptitude; and his nimbleness was really amazing, when, out hunting, he climbed the tall trees like a cat, or scrambled through the densest jungle to recover the prize I had killed."

Haeckel stayed some weeks in and arround Belligam; he continues:

"On my return to Belgium I had to face one of the hardest duties of my whole stay in Ceylon, to tear myself away from this lovely spot of earth where I had spent six of the happiest and most interesting weeks in my life... but hardest of all was the parting from my faithful Ganymede: the poor lad wept bitterly, and implored me totake him with me to Europe. In vain has I assured him that it was impossible, and told him of our chill climate and dull skies. He clung to my knees and declared that he would follow me unhesitatingly wherever I would take him. I was at last almost obliged to use force to free myself from his embrace. I got into the carriage which was waiting, and as I waved a last farewell to my good brown friends, I almost felt as if I had been expelled from Paradise."

- My Visit to Ceylon, by Ernst Haeckel, (Kegan Paul, Trench & Co., 1883) -


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