Between the two halves of a dog

Mary Lefkowitz

  • Miasma by Robert Parker
    Oxford, 413 pp, £30.00, June 1983, ISBN 0 19 814835 6

The ancient Greeks, for all the changes that the industrial age has brought, would have been quick to understand what we now mean by pollution. The oil slick on the white sand beach, the exhaust fumes in the atmosphere, even the soot on the window-sill, are not simply forms of dirt that can by some means be cleansed away: in each case the offending substance indicates that there has been a displacement, that something which belongs to one sphere has entered or even invaded another. Practical measures must be taken to counter the immediate problems caused by the invasion, then legal or political action to prevent its recurrence. Moral issues are inevitably raised as well: to what extent should human comfort and convenience be allowed to injure the natural world? Pollution in ancient Greece could be brought to all imaginable environments by supernatural as well as man-made agents: and its consequences were at once tangible and ethical, political and religious.

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