Cornucopia

Through storytelling, Andreas Markides reminds us of family and reinforces our concept of “the collective environment”, one human environment integrating the natural and constructed.

Image: Graham Beards.

My family have recently returned from a holiday in the Loire valley, France. We all fell in love with the beauty of the region. A majestic river surrounded by lush countryside and picture postcard villages, dotted around this magnificent landscape.

This picture brought to my mind the myth of the Horn of Plenty (otherwise known as Cornucopia). When the Olympian god Zeus was a baby, his mother hid him away in a cave somewhere on the island of Crete. A goat, named Amalthea, used to provide him with his daily milk. One day the playful child broke a horn off Amalthea and from that day on all sorts of rich nourishment would pour out of it in order to provide Zeus with his required nutrition. Ever since then Cornucopia has symbolised prosperity and abundance1.

Image: The Infant Jupiter Nurtured by the Goat Amalthea, Nicolas Poussin, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Returning to the Loire valley – in addition to its natural beauty, the other thing that struck me about this region was how quiet it was! The quiet of nature (other than the chirping of birds) was understandable. However, what I found both puzzling and to a certain extent disturbing was the quiet in each of the villages that we went to. There were hardly any people about!

I was left surprised and perplexed that people would abandon such Cornucopias for the lure of a buzzing city and I discussed this matter with my son. ‘’Why do you think there are so few people in the Loire?’’ I asked him one day and the answer came back with immediacy, “There is no WiFi here!’’. So that was it. The ability to connect (whether electronically or by transport) was clearly a big factor. My son then went on, ‘’Plus there is nothing to do here. I could spend a few days looking at the vineyards and listening to the birds but after a while I would be bored’’.

This got me thinking. If this is what people want, why do we not provide more of these facilities in the countryside? Why do we not provide more cafes, shops and some employment in places such as these that are ‘’heaven on earth’’ so that we end up with both natural beauty and facilities? Conversely, should we not try and re-create nature in the new human settlements that we build? I suspect this is what prompted Ebenezer Howard to start his Garden Cities movement some 100 years ago.

The big question is – are we succeeding in our efforts, or should we just accept that cities and countryside have two very different roles? This dilemma is aptly illustrated by one of Aesop’s fables (yes, they were asking the same questions some 2,500 years ago)! The fable goes like this…

A Country Mouse invited a Town Mouse to pay him a visit and enjoy the country life. As they ate their roots and wheat stalks, the Town Mouse said to his friend: ‘’How can you eat such dull food? In my house I am surrounded with every luxury – if you come with me, you can share my gourmet fare’’. The Country Mouse agreed and returned to town with his friend. On their arrival the Town Mouse placed before the Country Mouse different pieces of delicious food, including bread, figs, honey and cheese. Much delighted at the sight of such good cheer, the Country Mouse expressed his satisfaction and bemoaned his own dreary life. But just as they were about to start eating, someone opened the kitchen door and they both ran off as fast as they could. They had scarcely returned to their feast when a cat appeared and the two mice, more frightened than before, ran away again. At last, the Country Mouse, now famished, said to his friend, ‘’although you have promised me a delicious feast, I am leaving you to enjoy it yourself. It is surrounded by too many dangers and distractions. I’d rather have my wheat stalks and enjoy the peace that the countryside offers me’’.

Image: Aesop’s Books

So, it appears to come down to choice – but does it? Affordability is clearly a factor that affects people’s choices but more recently another factor has emerged which tells me that it is no longer a question of choice – and that is Climate Change.

As far as Climate Change is concerned, I have a feeling that so far, we have been ‘’tinkering at the edges’’ which means that very soon we will be left with no choice at all. Survival is the existential question. Therefore, the only choice left to us is to allow Nature (whether in cities or the countryside) back into our lives. It’s not a question of one or the other; it’s a question of recognising the importance of Nature and building our settlements accordingly. Urgently we should agree new rules of engagement (for both countryside and city living). This will require behavioural change and new ways of building communities. Civil Society, with not for profit but community interest companies should become the platform for this new undertaking – otherwise we may become irrelevant.

If that were to happen, Amalthea will have lost not just one horn but her delicious milk as well.

Image: Fruit Still Life with Cornucopia. Artist: Emil Gody Roth, ca. 1950.


[1] As a footnote, Zeus is said to have so loved Amalthea that he placed her among the stars as the constellation of Copia (which is Latin for goat). Today we know her as Capricorn.


Andreas Markides is experienced in the planning, design and management of major development projects, infrastructure, urban extensions and town centre regeneration schemes. He was President of the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation (CIHT) (2017-2018) and is currently a Trustee. He is also a founding member of the Academy of Urbanism. In 2014 he acted as Planning Commissioner for the island of Cyprus.

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