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Fractal Fleas

Binoy A. Mathew mathew.2 at osu.edu
Mon Aug 1 22:20:27 EST 1994

In article <01HFFDTPFFBG8ZEFZ7 at melia.qut.edu.au>, DARBEN at MELIA.QUT.EDU.AU

> Sorry if this posting seems inconsequential, but I'm looking for details on one
> of my favourite quotes. I'm creating a laboratory parasitology manual for a
> medical parasitology course and I want to start it off with the hoary old 
> chestnut (and entomologically impossible)
> 	"Big fleas have little fleas
> 		Upon their backs to bite'em
> 	 And little fleas have lesser fleas
> 		And so ad infinitum"
> More to do with fractals than parasitology, I know, but I've found it gets the 
> students thinking a fair bit. Anyway, I'm not sure whether the actual quote is
> correct (not that that has stopped anyone in the past), and I'm not sure who
> said it first (a small voice is saying "Mark Twain"). I've got this niggling
> feeling that this is the sort of thing that all parasitologists should know, 
> but cultural heritage is not a big thing at this university. Anyone who does 
> know the real details, please email me and let us know. Other pithy quotes are 
> more than welcome.

Actually, this is not Mark Twain/Samuel Clemens, but Jonathan Swift, from
"On Poetry:  A Rhapsody," and I found a slightly different version that
goes like:

So Nat'ralists observe, a Flea
Hath smaller Fleas that on him prey;
And these have smaller still to bite 'em,
And so proceed ad infinitum.

I don't know which of our versions represents the ur-text, but the one you
present appears at the opening of Schmidt & Roberts book "Foundations of
Parasitology," so . . .

Hope that was helpful.

Peace.  Two fingers.

-mathew.2 at osu.edu

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