The Moon is made of green cheese

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"The Moon is made of green cheese" is a statement referring to a fanciful belief that the Moon is composed of cheese. In its original formulation as a proverb and metaphor for credulity with roots in fable, this refers to the perception of a simpleton who sees a reflection of the Moon in water and mistakes it for a round cheese wheel. It is widespread as a folkloric motif or meme among many of the world's cultures, and the notion has also found its way into both children's folklore and modern popular culture.

The phrase "green cheese" in this proverb simply refers to a young cheese (indeed, sometimes "cream cheese" is used), though modern people may interpret the color reference literally.

There was never an actual historical popular belief that the Moon is made of green cheese (cf., the myth of the Flat Earth). Indeed, it was typically used as an example of extreme credulity.

Actual historical beliefs[edit]

In ancient times the Moon, like the rest of the celestial realm above the sublunary sphere, was considered to be made of an otherworldly and perfect "fifth element" or quintessence as identified by Aristotle in On the Heavens. The Copernican Revolution in time overturned this view, as Galileo Galilei's 1610 publication Sidereus Nuncius heralded his telescopic discovery of an irregular lunar surface, suggesting a plurality of worlds with the Earth and Moon (and other planetary bodies) sharing the same basic physical nature. In the Space Age, lunar missions for the first time allowed direct examination of Moon rocks, suggesting the giant impact hypothesis, but the overall proportional composition of lunar geology is still debated, with different implications for the Moon's origin.[1]

Fable[edit]

There exists a family of stories in comparative mythology in diverse countries that concern a simpleton who sees a reflection of the Moon and mistakes it for a round cheese:

... the Servian tale where the fox leads the wolf to believe the moon reflection in the water is a cheese and the wolf bursts in the attempt to drink up the water to get at the cheese; the Zulu tale of the hyena that drops the bone to go after the moon reflection in the water; the Gascon tale of the peasant watering his ass on a moonlight night. A cloud obscures the moon, and the peasant, thinking the ass has drunk the moon, kills the beast to recover the moon; the Turkish tale of the Khoja Nasru-'d-Din who thinks the moon has fallen into the well and gets a rope and chain with which to pull it out. In his efforts the rope breaks, and he falls back, but seeing the moon in the sky, praises Allah that the moon is safe; the Scotch tale of the wolf fishing with his tail for the moon reflection;

—G. H. McKnight[2]

This folkloric motif is first recorded in literature during the High Middle Ages with the French rabbi Rashi,[3] who attributes it to the Talmudic era Rabbi Meir; this may reflect the well-known beast fable tradition of French folklore or an obscure such tradition in Jewish folklore; Rashi's version already includes the fox, the wolf, the well and the Moon that are seen in later versions. The Iraqi rabbi Hai Gaon also attributed a tale sharing elements of Rashi's story to Rabbi Meir. Petrus Alphonsi, a Spanish Jewish convert to Christianity, popularized this tale in Europe in his collection Disciplina Clericalis.[2]

One of the facets of this morphoplogy is grouped as "The Wolf Dives into the Water for Reflected Cheese" (Type 34) of the Aarne–Thompson classification of folktales, in the section devoted to tales of The Clever Fox. It can also be grouped as "The Moon in the Well" (Type 1335A), in the section devoted to Stories about a Fool.

A variation featuring Reynard the Fox appeared soon after Petrus Alphonsi in the French classic Le Roman de Renart (as "Renart et Ysengrin dans le puits" in Branch IV); the Moon/cheese element is absent, but such a version is alluded to in another part of the collection. This was the first Reynard tale to be adapted into English (as "The Fox and the Wolf"), preceding Chaucer's "The Nun's Priest's Tale" and the much later work of William Caxton.[2]

Proverb[edit]

"The Moon is made of green cheese" was one of the most popular proverbs in 16th and 17th century English literature,[4] and it was also in use after this time. It likely originated in 1546, when The Proverbs of John Heywood claimed "the moon is made of a greene cheese."[A] A common variation is "to make one believe the Moon is made of green cheese" (i.e., to hoax).

In French, there is the proverb "Il veut prendre la lune avec les dents" ("He wants to grab the moon in his teeth"), alluded to in Rabelais.

The characterization is also common in stories of gothamites, including the Moonrakers of Wiltshire.

Childlore and popular culture[edit]

A 1902 study of childlore in the United States found that though most young children were unsure of the Moon's composition, that it was made of cheese was the single most common explanation.[5] Before that time, and since, the idea of the Moon actually being made of cheese has appeared as a humorous conceit in much of children's popular culture, and in adult references to it:

  • At the end of the 1967 Tom and Jerry short, O-Solar Meow, Jerry is blasted to the Moon, where he is seen stuffing himself with its large quantities of cheese.
  • The NES video game DuckTales by Capcom has Uncle Scrooge obtain a chunk of the "Green Cheese of Longevity" from the Moon.[citation needed]
  • In Nick Park's short animated film A Grand Day Out, Wallace and Gromit build a lunar rocket to go on a cheese-centered holiday.
    • Wallace: "Everybody knows the moon's made of cheese."[6]
  • In the short tale by Kenneth Lans, "A 'Rounders' Story about the 'Green Cheese' Moon", the story revolves around the green cheese made by giant spiders which is transported to the moon by leaf-cutting ants.[7]
  • The Milky Way is an Academy Award winning animated cartoon short subject. As "three little kittens who lost their mittens" explore a dreamland, space is made up entirely of dairy products (e.g., the Milky Way is made of milk and the moon is made of cheese).[7]
  • British television Apollo 11 coverage had interludes entitled "But What If It's Made of Cheese."[citation needed]
  • On April 1, 2002, NASA "proved" that the moon was made of green cheese with an expiration (or "sell by") date[B] using doctored pictures purportedly from the Hubble telescope.[8]
  • At the Science Writers' conference, Theoretical physicist Sean M. Carroll explained why there was no need to "sample the moon to know it's not made of cheese." He said the hypothesis is "absurd", failing against our knowledge of the universe and, "This is not a proof, there is no metaphysical proof, like you can proof a statement in logic or math that the moon is not made of green cheese. But science nevertheless passes judgments on claims based on how well they fit in with the rest of our theoretical understanding."[9][C] Notwithstanding this uncontrovertible argument, the harmonic signature of moon rock — the seismic velocity at which shockwaves travel — is said to be closer to cheese than to any rock on earth.[10]
  • The myth has spawned an apocryphal recipe for the preparation of "Moon cheese" in MouseHunt.[11]
  • Dennis Lindley used the myth to help explain the necessity of Cromwell's Rule in Bayesian probability: "In other words, if a decision-maker thinks something cannot be true and interprets this to mean it has zero probability, he will never be influenced by any data, which is surely absurd. So leave a little probability for the moon being made of green cheese; it can be as small as 1 in a million, but have it there since otherwise an army of astronauts returning with samples of the said cheese will leave you unmoved."[12]
  • In the children's educational show, The Electric Company, there is a sketch where Fargo North is an astronaut in space who receives orders to proceed to the moon. He protests that is impossible since the Moon is made of green cheese and his exasperated partner reminds him that he was told otherwise in training.[7]
  • Early versions of Google Moon used a Swiss cheese pattern for the closest zoom levels before high-resolution images became available.[7][13]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Greene may refer here not to the color, as many now think, but to being new or unaged. Adams, Cecil (23 July 1999). "How did the moon = green cheese myth start?". The Straight Dope. Retrieved 10 June 2012.  Cf., green wood.
  2. ^ See "Expiration dates". Consumer Affairs. Retrieved 11 November 2011. 
  3. ^ This hypothetical debate — essentially a straw man proposal or argument — ignores completely the personal observation and collection of 382 kg (842 lb) of moon rock by Apollo program astronauts. Compare Cromwell's rule.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Choi, Charles Q. (26 March 2012). "Moon Formation Theory Challenged by New Study". SPACE.com. Retrieved 27 March 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c McKnight, George Harley (1908). "The Middle English Vox and Wolf". Publications of the Modern Language Association of America. XXIII: 497–509. doi:10.2307/456797. [dead link]
  3. ^ "Sanhedrin 39a" (in Hebrew) (Ryzman ed.). Hebrew Books. Retrieved 19 October 2013. 
  4. ^ Apperson, George Latimer; M. Manser (September 2003). Wordsworth Dictionary of Proverbs. Wordsworth Editions. p. 392. ISBN 1-84022-311-1. 
  5. ^ Slaughter, J. W. (1902). "The Moon in Childhood and Folklore". American Journal of Psychology XIII: 294–318. doi:10.2307/1412741. 
  6. ^ "A Grand Day Out". IMDB. 1989. 
  7. ^ a b c d e "Cheesy Moon". TV Tropes. Retrieved October 26, 2013. 
  8. ^ "Astronomy Picture of the Day: Hubble Resolves Expiration Date For Green Cheese Moon". National Aeronautics and Space Administration. 1 April 2002. Retrieved 10 November 2011. 
  9. ^ Mirsky, Steve (19 October 2011). Moon Not Made of Cheese, Physicist Explains. Flagstaff, Arizona: Scientific American. Retrieved 10 November 2011. 
  10. ^ Sanders, Ian (1996–2005). "Is the moon made of green cheese". Retrieved 19 June 2013. 
  11. ^ "Moon cheese recipe". The Mouse Hunt Guide. Retrieved 11 November 2011. 
  12. ^ a b Lindley, Dennis (1991). Making Decisions (2 ed.). Wiley. p. 104. ISBN 0-471-90808-8. 
  13. ^ "Google Confirms Moon Made of Cheese". 6 October 2011. Retrieved 14 April 2012. 
  14. ^ "Tomme des Pyrénées cheese". Cookipedia (UK). Retrieved 12 June 2012. 

External links[edit]