Stork Enemas?
October 26, 2009 7:46 PM   Subscribe

Are storks traditionally known for giving themselves enemas? In Don Quixote there is a line about learning certain lessons from different animals - one of which is the enema from the stork.

I was reading Don Quixote and came across this line:

" have received valuable hints, and learned many things of importance from beasts, such as the enema from storks, gratitude and the use of vomits from dogs, vigilance from the crane, foresight and frugality from the ant, honesty from the elephant, and loyalty from the horse." (Part II, Chapter XII)

All of these examples (with the possible exception of the dogs' vomit) make sense to me and seem rooted in traditional animal archetypes. But the stork/enema thing seems completely out of place. Is this connection seen anywhere else in literature or folklore? Does it have any basis in reality? Or does it exist only in the world of Don Quixote?
posted by Yiggs to Writing & Language (10 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Apparently it's what people said the ibis was doing when it would bend its head around backwards. This page also claims that's where that particular idea is from and seems to say that it's true. It has a print cite where this could be looked up.
posted by jessamyn at 7:56 PM on October 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

But don't take my word for it, read this 1947 article [pdf] which asks "Was the ibis bird the inventor of the enema?" According to that article, the bird isn't really giving itself an enema but pressing on its oil glands to better preen its feathers. So, people think so and it looks like the answer is "no they don't really." Interesting question!
posted by jessamyn at 7:59 PM on October 26, 2009

Could we pretty please also address the use of vomits from dogs?
posted by HotToddy at 8:08 PM on October 26, 2009

You don't know that dogs are super-excited to eat their own vomit?

Well, most dogs.
posted by muddgirl at 8:17 PM on October 26, 2009

Dogs will eat grass which induces vomiting. Most dogs I've known have done this. I've heard that they do it to clear out their systems after they've eaten something which turned out to be too nasty or rancid to digest, but that explanation may be as mythical as stork enemas.
posted by teg at 8:17 PM on October 26, 2009

Response by poster: I'll be damned, jessamyn, I think you've hit it on the head. Thank you!
posted by Yiggs at 8:17 PM on October 26, 2009

Well, yeah, I know that dogs are super-excited to eat their own vomit and eat grass to induce it, but what have men learned from it?
posted by HotToddy at 7:29 AM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

(Although dog vomiting isn't the actual question) dogs use vomiting as a way to carry food back to the den for their pups, so the food that's vomited up is actually just fine to eat. Fwiw the vomit reflex is stimulated by a pup licking the adult under the jaw.
posted by anadem at 10:56 AM on October 27, 2009

Well, yeah, I know that dogs are super-excited to eat their own vomit and eat grass to induce it, but what have men learned from it?

It's rather late to contribute to this thread, but for what it's worth:

The noun 'vomit' nowadays usually only refers to the matter that is ejected when we throw up. However, in the past, a 'vomit' was also a medicine that caused vomiting - i.e. an emetic. If you look at the dictionary definition here, you'll see that 'emetic' is one of the meanings given for 'vomit'. This translation of Don Q uses 'emetics' where the one Yiggs read uses 'vomits'. I think emetics is a better, clearer translation for modern readers.

So, I think what teg wrote is right. Dogs are said to eat grass in order to induce vomiting and get rid of stuff they don't want in their stomachs, and this is similar to the human practice of taking emetics. It's this practice of deliberately taking something that makes you vomit that humans are supposed to have learned from dogs. Yes, dogs also sometimes eat vomit, but that's not what Cervantes is talking about. The comparison only goes so far.

Today, emetics are mostly used to get patients to throw up poisons they've ingested, but in the past they were much more widely used. European medicine, until the nineteenth century, attached great importance to the theory of 'humors'. The idea was that there were four basic substances that filled the body and that sickness was caused by an imbalance of these substances. Anything that drew matter out of the body was medically useful, because it was a way to let out excess amounts of certain humors, and thus restore the patient to health. So laxatives, enemas, diurietics, sudorifics (medicines to induce sweating), bloodletting and even raising blisters and popping them were all seen as good treatments for the relief of a wide range of illnesses.
posted by eatyourcellphone at 10:47 PM on November 16, 2009

Eatyourcellphone, thank you! (And sorry for the derail.)
posted by HotToddy at 9:22 PM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

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