Outrageous creatures

Marginal and yet central creatures in the Rutland Psalter, c. 1260 (British Library, Add MS 62925)

Hybrid modes of working. Hybrid vehicles. We call anything which brings together features belonging to two of its members hybrid. It’s a compromise, a way out, a new form, a success. What is neither A nor B, but both. Our world is suffused with hybrids, we like to create them.

But really, the first to think of hybrids and to name them were the Romans. And while they didn’t invent remote working or the Toyota Prius, they did something more fundamental: they juxtaposed, they copied and pasted qualities and features, and found the result outrageous.

For in fact, the first hybrid was an outrage. The word ‘hybrid’ appears in English in the 17th century and it’s, to be honest, late. The Latin word ibrida had been there for over 1,500 years. Outrageous.

But the most outrageous thing about it was that at the heart of the concept was outrage itself. A hybrida or ibrida was the result of a sow and a cow, the child of a slave and a freeman, something which was neither fully one nor the other. The outcome of two contradictions. A variation on hybris, on pride, insolence or outrage. Something which was seen to be marginal to the blueprints of nature, not an anomaly, but a distressing singularity. The ancients were convinced that nature didn’t produce hybrids, so it was left to the minds of humans to conjure them up, in acts of hybris and great existential pride.

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