a light shining in the mouth

by wiggs66

piddock holes

Found some lovely holey stones on the beach at Sandwich Bay at the weekend, and wondered what might have made the holes. Apparently, it’s all down to the sculpting of the humble piddock, a rock-boring mollusc with a talent for tunnels and Hepworth knock-offs. Stumbling across Jo Woolf’s hazel-tree blog, I found myself revisiting Pliny, who mentions the humble piddock in his Naturalis Historia. Apparently the common piddock, or Pholas dactylus (more of that dactylus in a moment) has the characteristic of bioluminesence. Here’s my mangling of the relevant bit in Pliny:

‘Of shellfish, there are those called dactyls which get their name from their similarity to the human finger. They have the quality of luminescence, shining when all other light is absent, the more so for an increase in moisture. Light shines in the mouth when chewed, on the hands and even on the floor and clothes from falling morsels.’

Setting aside the matter of Pliny’s messy eaters, how felicitous is that connection of a word so closely associated with a notion of poetry (the dactyl) and the image of a light shining in the mouth? Gets my vote for a definition of poetry any day…lucere in ore.