‘Did you see that hoopoe?’ cried the man in the black coat.

I posted about my mediated encounter in a gallery of the Metropolitan Museum of Art with a story-telling Hoopoe. HERE.

All of a sudden, the memory swarmed into my my, like an able-seaman into the foretop.

A Hoopoe makes an important appearance at a critical stage in the story told by Patrick O’Brien in Master and Commander. Which it’s the first book of the series near to the very beginning!

Stuck in Port Mahon, Stephen Maturin, embarrassed and down on his luck in his shabby black coat, has just met Jack, who, instead of fighting a duel with Stephen in which Jack surely would have died – thus making the series pretty short – they almost fight one later, too – but I digress – asks Stephen to come aboard as the surgeon in his new command HMS Sophie.

As they are walking along:

‘Did you see that hoopoe?’ cried the man in the black coat.
‘What is a hoopoe?’ cried Jack, staring about.
‘A bird. That cinnamon-coloured bird with barred wings. Upupa epops. There! There, over the roof. There! There!’
‘Where? Where? How does it bear?’
‘It has gone now. I had been hoping to see a hoopoe ever since I arrived. In the middle of the town! Happy Mahon, to have such denizens. But I beg your pardon. You were speaking of wetting a swab.’

I am even more eager now to see a Hoopoe, or as its Linnean name has him: Upupa epops, which suggests to me that that is why O’Brien got him into the book.

The great thing is that this sighting of birds by Stephen and Jack invariably missing them becomes a motif through all the books.

There are several other recurring events in the books, but I will keep them to myself.

If you don’t know the books, treat yourself. USA HERE and UK HERE.

And listen to them read by Simon Vance. Some like Tull. I don’t. Yes, I tried.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Catholic4Good says:

    Father, please list the link or information on the lovely illustration of the birds in the water under the “Did you see that hoopoe?”

    [Check the link in the top entry!]

  2. B Haley says:

    I have found the digital audio version available at the Phoenix library (you can get a membership with an out of state license). If you download the software, you then can download Vance’s reading for a 14 day window, at which point the software deletes it. I have listened to the first 8 that way.


  3. wanda says:

    Yowzer! What an amazing sight is the Hoopoe – all fanned out, striped wings open and headdress all fluffed up. Hoo-wee, I would be running for my life, I think, if one flew close to me. He is one fantastical, looking bird. Oh, the wonders God hath wrought.

  4. benedetta says:

    It’s a beautiful painting, with the birds of every sort fanned out in an array to listen to the hoopoe and have their meeting…

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