Cosmas Indicopleustes

is a name we shall meet with again. This engaging character began life as a Greek sailor on the route to India (hence the cognomen, ``Indicopleustes,'' ``traveller to India''), reformed, became a monk and wrote a book entitled Christian Topography, intending to show, among other things, that the universe is shaped like a large box.

It is vaguely conceivable that Brother Cosmas is a relation of mine - my paternal grand-mother is a Tamil, and he might have left behind a child of his unregenerate days in south India. I was, however, named for St. Cosmas, an Arabian physician who was martyred with his brother Damianus under the Emperor Diocletian, and became the patron saints of doctors, surgeons, pharmacists and barbers. Together they preformed a number of miraculous cures, most spectacularly after their martyrdom, when they appeared in a dream to a worthy believer suffering from gangrene of the leg, amputated the injured member without pain, and replaced it with the fresh leg of a recently dead man. The miracle was obvious, because the recipient was European and the donor Nubian (but some say it was the other way around). In the face of such evidence, who can agree with those skeptics who see in Cosmas and Damnianus the twin gods of the pagans under a new guise, and in the dream-cures the methods of the priests of Æ sculapius?

Charming as this story is, I owe my name to the fact that my mother grew up in the neighborhood of the church of St. Cosma in Calgiari, Sardinia, a building which began life as a mosque during the Saraccen rule of that island; prior to that was the site of a church to ``St. Saturnus''; and need I say what it was in the dark heathen days?

I may add that the more usual Italian form of ``Cosmas'' is ``Cosimo'' (as in Cosimo dei Medici - the Medicis having begun, as the name indicates, as pharmacists); but my mother is (a) a feminist and (b) wanted make it easy to keep track of me.

Thank you for your patience.

Cosma Shalizi