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“Przekrój” Magazine brings English-speaking readers some of the best journalism from across Central and Eastern Europe, in the fields of wellbeing, art, literature, science, ecology, philosophy, psychology, and more. Take a break from the speed and intensity of the daily news and join us!

Pourcontrel, eight-armed cuttle, devilfish, poulp – these are just some of the many nicknames given ...
2019-06-17 10:00:00

Some Interesting ‘Facts’ About the Octopus

Illustration by Joanna Grochocka
Some Interesting ‘Facts’ About the Octopus
Some Interesting ‘Facts’ About the Octopus
Read in 4 minutes

A famous 1980s Italian television miniseries called La Piovra (The Octopus) revolved around the Italian Mafia, with the octopus symbolizing its almighty presence in Italian public life. Little did people know that originally the title was not intended to be a symbol; the miniseries really told the story of an octopus. The plot focused on the underwater adventures of Giacomo the Octopus and his friendship with Gulio the Squid and Roberto the Crab. In face of the growing need for ‘series about people’, the producers deleted all the video recordings at the last minute and replaced them with a hurriedly filmed story about the Mafia.


Before the term ‘octopus’ settled in for good in the English language, these intelligent marine cephalopods were also referred to by different names. Older English names of the octopus included: polypus, preke, poor-cuttle, pourcontrel, eight-armed cuttle, devilfish, and poulp.


In 1924, the art world was shaken by the discovery of eight previously unknown paintings by van Gogh that presented underwater landscapes. The underwater series was quickly demasked as a forgery – the author turned out to be Marcia the Octopus, trained in the art of painting by forger and troublemaker Jerry Clenson. As Clenson confessed, Marcia had created all eight canvases at the same time, having held a brush in each of her tentacles. The ingenious octopus, disappointed by the whole affair, never returned to painting and concentrated instead on simultaneous chess exhibitions with eight opponents.


An exceptional number of thefts were noted in Warsaw trams in 1974. The police suspected that an organized gang of pickpockets was behind all this, but it turned out in the end that the only member of the ‘gang’ was Stephen, a runaway octopus from the Warsaw Zoo. With the help of his grippy tentacles, Stephen would hide under a seat and be able to rob a dozen people in the course of a few minutes. The sly mollusc was arrested.


In 1724, the Dutch forerunner in anatomy Nils van Heylen performed the first ever autopsy of the human brain. How surprised he must have been when he discovered that the brain had… tentacles. The scientist came to the conclusion that the tentacles help the brain connect to the rest of the nervous system. Nonetheless, van Heylen’s monumental book, Compositoria brannis, Or the Tentacles of the Brain, the fruit of his contemplations, quickly became obsolete when it was revealed that the brain studied by the scholar was in fact an octopus, planted by some unruly students. The mischievous collegians obtained the mollusc by stealing it from the Artis Royal Zoo in Amsterdam.


The traditional Hindu study of yoga consists of eight parts. The author of the classification, the philosopher Patanjali (2nd century BCE) was inspired by the eight arms of the octopus. As Patanjali wrote, he admired the superhuman flexibility of the cephalopods. There is a famous saying by Patanjali: “You can practise even one hundred years, but you will never match the stretch of the octopus.”


Film director François Ozon initially intended for his cinema hit Eight Women to have the title Eight Octopuses. As Ozon noted in interviews, he was “seduced” by the “blatant exuberance” hidden in the title. However, the producers finally forced the director to change the title to Eight Women, arguing that the main characters in the film were women, not octopuses.


The extreme intelligence of the octopus is quite known. Professor Julia Kegdowicz was observing an octopus named Sandra in the Atlantic Ocean and discovered that the wise cephalopod gave her children… names. Here are the names of Sandra’s children, translated into English by the team of Kegdowicz: Grippy, Tentsy, Soaky, Octey, Molly, Topsy, Weavey and Martin.


Translated by Mark Ordon

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Everything's Gonna Be Alright

Music and comedy trio, consisting of Maciej Kaczyński, Maciej Sosnowski and Grzegorz Uzdański. They write mini-stories, scripts and sketches and record music (although actually they've only recorded one album, but it was about the universe). They perform live in Warsaw comedy club Resort Komedii and Klub Komiediowy with an ever-changing programme of sketches and songs. They have their own YouTube channel and they still hope it will become really popular. This hasn't happened yet, though.