My favorite novel by John Barth. His story is told in three parts.

The first is a retelling of the A Thousand and One Arabian Nights tale. The second is a retelling of the Perseus tale. And the final section is a retelling of the Bellerophon tale.

However, the book is really about the art of storytelling and the dream of all authors to become immortal.

Do you know how many years it was before Ulysses became as well-known as it is today? I predict that in several hundred years, this will be known as one of the most important works of your time.

Chimera from Latin chimaera, from the Greek chimaira meaning she-goat.

From the days of Greek mythology, the chimera (pronounced "kih-MEE-ra") was a combination of several animals - it had the head of a lion, the body of a she-goat, and the tail of a serpent (dragon). Some stories include the head of each, and the goat head could breath fire. The Chimera was the child of Typhon (a giant) and Echidna (half human female, half snake), and raised by Amisodarus. The siblings of the Chimera were Cerberus, the Hydra, and Orthrus.

As part of a complicated betrayal and false accusation that is common in Greek mythology (the treacherous woman type), Bellerophon was sent the kingdom of Lycia to be killed by the king. Instead, the king sent him off to kill the Chimera with the hope that Bellerophon would be killed instead. Instead, Bellerophon rode Pegasus (as directed by Polyidus, a soothsayer) and killed it with a lump of lead on the end of a spear stuck in its mouth after weakening it with an arrow. The lead melted from the firey breath and ran down the throat and hardened, killing the Chimera.


In the days of Gothic architecture, the chimera was a type of gargoyle that combined several different animals into one body. These often took the forms from mythology that was abundant with mixes of humans and animals in a body. These ranged from the sphinx (a human head on a lion's body) to that of mermaids, centaurs, and the Chimera itself.


In today's world of science and biology, the chimera is an organism composed of tissues that are genetically different.

The oldest form of creation of chimeras is from botany where a branch of one plant is grafted into the trunk of another. This is the process used to produce seedless fruits. These fruits are formed from a mutation or selective breeding to not have any seeds and thus are infertile themselves. The only way to make another tree (or rather branch of a tree) has been to form a chimera.

Chimeras have existed in animal biology for some time, though it wasn't until the advances in embryo development that the word became popularized. Any being that has had a transplant from another is technically a chimera... heart, lung, kidney, or bone barrow. The essence of the chimera is that the organism consists of multiple tissues from different genetic backgrounds.

Within animals, chimeras naturally exist when there is a mutation in one or more cells of a developing embryo (this is also true for plants and is often seen in tabacco). From this, the organism will have two sets of cells that have different DNA. The chimera can also be formed by artifically implanting cells from one organism into the embryo of another. The most common example of this is the geep which was produced by injecting the goat inner cell mass into a sheep blastocyst.

This is different than a hybrid where two related species (such as the lion and tiger, or horse and donkey) mate to form an infertile offspring (such as the liger or tigron and mule).

In biology, biotechnology and genetic engineering, a chimera is a hybrid or composite organism created from two or more species that could not have naturally mated and reproduced.

A chimeric organism may be made by introducing cells from the early-stage embryo of one species into another embryo, thus creating a composite animal (for example, a geep) that is not a true genetic hybrid.

A truly genetically-engineered chimera is created by introducing recombinant DNA from one species into the genome of the cells of a blastula (early-stage embryo) of another species. Retroviruses are often used to transform and transfer the DNA into the embryonic cells. Such a chimera's fundamental genetic structure is different from that of any of its parent species. If the genetic alterations are significant, the organism may be sterile, but if it is fertile, it will be able to pass its novel genes on to its offspring.

On the molecular level, a chimera is also a recombinant DNA molecule created by joining DNA fragments from two or more different organisms. Such DNA is referred to as chimeric DNA. A chimeraplast is a synthetic molecule made up of both RNA and DNA which is used in gene repair.

Chimeric mice and rats that contain select genes from other animal species (including humans) are widely used throughout biological and medical research and are particularly popular in the study of genetics, cancer, aging and developmental biology.


Some of the information in this writeup was taken from entries I wrote for the science dictionary at http://biotech.icmb.utexas.edu/.

The short story is that Chimera is a web browser. Just that. Don't look any closer; the story gets more complicated if you do.

You just couldn't leave it alone could you? You had to ask a question didn't you? Alright, hang on, this gets a little bumpy.

Let's start at the beginning. The beginning for Chimera is in the fall of 1993, around October. What's that you say? Yes, yes, chimera is a web browser for Macintosh OSX, but that's not the beginning of the story, but rather the end. Please, let me finish.

In the fall of 1993 a young programmer by the name of John Kilburg, then in the employment of the Information Science Research Institute at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, began a software project to develop a small, fast, and dependable web browser for X-windows. At the time, the web browsers available for UNIX occupied two very different ends of the software spectrum. You could use LYNX, which was small and fast, but was text based and unintuitive for the uninitiated. Or, you could use Mosaic, a visual browser that while being mostly dependable and intuitive was not fast and was large. Kilburg aimed to strike the middle of that road.

A partner of John's, whose name has slipped my mind, came up with the name of Chimera for this ambitious project. Although the internet was hardly new in 93, the World Wide Web certainly was and web browsers were hot and exciting technology. It was only March of the same year that Marc Andreessen had announced Mosaic 0.10 and just a year before he announced Netscape 0.9 and split from the National Center for SuperComputing Applications and the University of Illinois. Chimera seemed an apt, and at the very least, a very cool sounding name. What good is cool software after all, unless it has a cool name? No one would use a web browser called Slothful Hypertext Reader.

Being a nice kinda guy and generally an ethical person, Kilburg used the search engines of the time to investigate whether or not anyone else was using the name Chimera for a web software project. He found none, although he later discovered that there were other non-web software projects with the name Chimera. Development began and eventually led to release 1.x of Chimera for X-Windows. It was fast, reliable and damn small. Kilburg had succeeded and for a few years his browser was The Browser for X-Windows.

Chimera lacked some features though that the user base desired. Kilburg unfortunately, no longer worked for the ISRI and had a new job that didn't offer as much time to tinker with pet projects. Chimera 2.x was a complete rewrite of the previous code done on John?s own time and included many of the features requested by the user base, although it retained its look and feel, but it took too long to finish. By the time Kilburg had finished ver 2.x, his users had gotten antsy and began adding the features they desired themselves to the core of ver 1.x. Development of Chimera ver 1.x continues to some degree and confused the issue of which was which for many people. There were now three different versions of Chimera, all of which looked and acted very similar but were all very different programs under the hood. To further complicate the issue, there was never any indication made as to which was which. To be fair, Kilburg followed his development pattern and promoted the product to ver 2.x, the other project though, continued to use the Chimera name and ver 1.x naming convention.

Kilburg's Chimera has pretty much been in a development halt for the last two years or so and the user developed Chimera, while still enjoying some development, has a small user base. Most people therefore seem to believe that the Mozilla Chimera is the greatest browser for Mac OSX ever made. Yep, you guessed it; someone else made another, completely different web browser and called it Chimera. Now there are four different Chimera browsers, all using the same name, and similar version naming conventions.

One could suppose that Mozilla knew nothing of Kilburg's work and were ignorant of their error. It's possible, unlikely, but possible. Had they even done the most rudimentary amount of investigation they would have discovered the previous Chimeras. I think a fairer assumption would be that they just didn't care.

The Mozilla Chimera is a completely different web browser than the other Chimera's and is available for use exclusively on the Mac OSX platform. It uses the Mozilla engine and is being developed under the Mozilla license. The four Chimeras really don't share a common platform, although, if one was so tempted, Kilburg's Chimera could be installed on OSX using Darwin and X-Windows. In its defense, Mozilla Chimera is a good little pre version one web browser. It's fast and fairly reliable, although it's not as fast as iCab or as reliable as Internet Explorer for the Macintosh. Likely what problems there are will be resolved by version one. And, although it's smaller than IE or Netscape, it's not nearly as small as Kilburg's Chimera which can be measured in kilobytes, not megabytes. Knowing the Mozilla development record, I suspect that most of the time between now and ver 1.x will be spent on adding more features and not on trimming bloat.

When I asked Kilburg about the whole mess, he laughed a little and then talked my ear off for nearly ten minutes. He seemed perturbed but not terribly upset about what Mozilla had done. More than anything else, he was upset that despite having stopped development on Chimera, he now had to receive bug reports from users who weren't even using his software. He told me that he didn't really know what was going on until a friend of his noticed the Mozilla project and notified him. Mozilla eventually contacted him and claimed they would put a link and note of explanation on their web site when they went to version one. He's not holding his breath though, when was the last time Mozilla took anything out of beta?

Kilburg's final words to me on the subject just about size up the entire Mozilla project. "Do I think they're [Mozilla] being assholes about it? Naw, I don't think it's malicious, they're just being the normal type of retarded."

UPDATE:

The following vague vague project update was posted to Mozilla.org in the beginning of March. It's unclear what the motivation for the change was, but I intend to find out.

03 March 2003: Due to circumstances beyond our control, the project has been renamed Camino.


Sources
http://www.hmetzger.de/netscape/Netscape_History.html
http://www.chimera.org
http://www2.primushost.com/~wbe/chimera.html
http://www.mozilla.org/projects/camino
Kilburg, John. Personal Interview. December 2002

A vain, foolish or incongruous fancy, or creature of the imagination, as, the chimera of an author. - Webster 1913



These remembrances - was he dreaming? Did they really happen? He felt oddly dislocated. It was as if his world had shifted quietly and almost imperceptibly, as if everything had shifted left or perhaps right, just like that. He could tell. Could they?

He walked among them, but he was not of them. Could they sense his confusion? He searched for any sense of bewilderment on their faces, but there was none. Their lives and thoughts were connected, seamlessly connected, causality moving A through B with no nanosecond discontinuity. They moved through his landscape like Giacometti stick figures.

He thought he'd lived a different life for just a few moments, but those few moments were really days, weeks. He could remember the essense of those days, as if he'd really lived them. But the memories were fading fast. Only a vague ache remained.

It was important to remember where that ache came from. Was it a longing? Was it... was it something he'd promised? Something promised him? It was important, important! Wasn't it? He couldn't be sure. He thought he was sure, but he wasn't. It was, it was as if it had never happened.

What day was it? What month was it? Was it long ago? Or was it yesterday? He couldn't remember. He couldn't be sure.

He smelled his shirt. Did he detect someone else's odor there, right on the edge of detectability? It was so faint, it might have been a trick of the mind. He supposed it was someone else's scent. Had the Other worn this shirt? When? Yesterday? Weeks ago? Why would that other person have been wearing this shirt? Or was the smell from someone he'd touched, held? A woman? Was it a woman? He wasn't sure.

Echoes of feelings. Faint remembrances of strong emotions, receding into time, doppler-like, growing both fainter and lower. The sustained music in the grand stone cathedral after the mighty organ had stopped its final chord, the organist's hands over the keys, finished, all but the reverb. He looked this way, that, as if the act of looking in a certain direction would trigger the assocation. What? What was it? Nothing. Nothing.

Was this blankness a warning? Had he told himself: this is dangerous territory? Do not think back on these memories. Unpleasant? The closed door... did he dare open it? So many deathlike wraiths behind closed doors. Or was it a warning about sadness? Was something good behind those doors? Was it better that he'd forgotten how happy he'd been? Was this the room of joy and contentment? Did this room contain that missing keyhole filling person whose soul he ached for constantly? Was it better to bear the anonymous ache rather than give it a name, a face, a place, a time, a smell, a touch?

He wasn't sure. He couldn't think. The scattered thoughts enveloped him like a deep grayzone fog. He couldn't see, he couldn't hear. He was at the center of a Yves Tanguy picture, where nothing made sense but loneliness was palpable.

What had happened here?



The lost and lonely sands stretch far away. - Ozymandias, Percy Bysshe Shelley

In addition to designating a mythological monster, a composite organism, a classic novel, and a web browser, chimera also refers to an individual carrying two entirely different DNA profiles. This (as detailed by m_turner) can occur as a result of transplant, transfusion, or mutation, but in these cases the secondary DNA profile tends to be isolated in one organ or system. A more fascinating type, the result of a condition called tetragametic chimerism, exists when an individual develops with two entirely different genetic profiles. It’s not known exactly how commonplace chimerism is; outside of cows, it’s assumed to be rare, but it’s believed to exist in all species which reproduce sexually. For reasons poorly understood, a kind of reverse twinning occurs, and two zygotes, in their first few days of existence, fuse into one1. The resulting offspring carries both genetic profiles. In each organ or system, one profile will dominate, while the other occurs in a minority of cells. The primary DNA profile in one organ, however, may be the secondary profile in another. Studies of chimerical mice and sheep revealed that some individuals actually had only a single profile in some tissues, but both in others (Yu).

Chimeras can have unusual physical anomalies. True hermaphrodites—- those with both testes and ovaries—- can result from a chimera which developed from opposite-sex fraternal twins. At least two identified human chimeras currently alive were born each with a partial uterus and fallopian tube on one side of the body, and testes on the other. Pigmentation of a chimera may fall into an atypical pattern, with different parts of the body featuring dramatically different colors, or large parts of the body sporting an almost checkerboard-like pattern. Eyes, too, may be of different colors. In other cases, however, no visible evidence indicates chimerism.

Two early twenty-first century cases of chimerism sparked interest in the syndrome. Karen Keegan, a middle-aged American, became the object of study when she required a kidney transplant, and blood tests revealed that two of her three children—- who had offered themselves as donors—- did not match her genetic profile. Doctors concluded that they could not possibly be her natural children, even though she had given birth to both of them, and had been impregnated naturally. Further study revealed the second genetic profile in her other organs.

A report on Keegan published in The New England Journal of Medicine shortly thereafter found its way into a Texas court case.

Lydia Fairchild, a young mother, was fighting charges of welfare fraud, because tests had revealed that her children were not her own, as she had claimed. Since reliable individuals had witnessed their birth, and since Fairchild was pregnant once more, the judge agreed to have an official witness present at the birth of her next child. Tests once again showed that this child did not match her profile.

The doctors who had worked with Keegan became involved with the Fairchild case and have shown this second woman to be a chimera. Like Karen Keegan, she has no visible anomalies which indicate her unusual genetic make-up. The doctors who studied these cases note that, "because of the apparent rarity of tetragametic chimerism and importance of molecular techniques to confirm its presence, this condition may be underdiagnosed" (Yu). As of this writing, fewer than fifty cases of humans with this condition have been identified. However, many more could exist, and in vitro fertilization, which increases the likelihood of fraternal twinning, also increases the likelihood of chimerism (Strain).

Chimerism in humans raises interesting legal and medical questions. Lydia Fairchild almost lost custody of her children, and chimerism could also affect other cases where questions have been raised concerning parentage. In theory, a guilty individual may be excluded from a crime on the basis of DNA evidence (the plot of a CSI episode). Finally, identification of a transplant recipient as a chimera would be beneficial. Since "chimeras typically have immunological tolerance to both cell lines," such a person would have a wider range of possible donors (Yu).

1. In theory, more than two zygotes could fuse.


Sources:

I am My Own Twin. Discovery Channel. Thursday, May 19, 2005.

Annemarie Killam. "Rare Types of Twinning." BellaOnline http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art32872.asp

Lisa Strain, John C.V. Dean, Mark Hamilton, David Bonthron. "A true hermaphrodite Chimera resulting from embryo amalgamation after in vitro fertilization." New England Journal of Medicine January 15, 1998. 338: 166-169.

Neng Yu, Margot S. Kruskall, Edmond Yunis et al. "Disputed maternity leading to identification of tetragametic chimerism." New England Journal of Medicine May 16, 2002. 346: 1445-1552.


Let me tell you a story about a story about a storyteller who's telling a story. A nested doll kind of story. Or perhaps a filigree of interlacing stories.

Chimera by John Barth is a story about stories and story tellers. It is by no means an easy read, and definitely not a book you rush through with half of your mind somewhere else. It's a book that requires a bit of focus.

Like the mythical creature by the same name, that consisted of three different animals, Chimera comprises three different stories: The Dunyazadiad, the Perseid, and the Bellerophoniad. The three stories retell, in their own special way, three classics, namely 1001 Arabian Nights (Dunyazade being the younger sister of Sheherezade), Perseus' story, and the tale of Bellerophon. But John Barth's way of "retelling" means that he gives us the story about the stories and their tellers.

Sometimes it can be hard to tell who's doing the talking: the narrative is so convoluted that you sometimes find, when you backtrack (as you sometimes might need to do), that the narrator is the story itself. I occasionally had to close the book for a few minutes while sorting things out in my mind, and I did find that my usual way of speed-reading did me less than no good in the case of this particular book.

There is no discernable point to the stories, other than the joy of telling a story. John Barth doesn't seem to be wanting to teach anyone a lesson; it's more an introspective journey through the author's thoughts and experiences. A pleasurable one most of the time, confusing and puzzling at times, but - I dare say - never boring.

If you want something delicious but chewy, sweet without setting your teeth on edge, this book is definitely worth a try. Be prepared to work for the treats, though, as it's not all that easily accessible.


Chime"ra (?), n.; pl. Chimeras (#). [L. chimaera a chimera (in sense 1), Gr. a she-goat, a chimera, fr. he-goat; cf. Icel. qymbr a yearling ewe.]

1. Myth.

A monster represented as vomiting flames, and as having the head of a lion, the body of a goat, and the tail of a dragon.

"Dire chimeras and enchanted isles."

Milton.

2.

A vain, foolish, or incongruous fancy, or creature of the imagination; as, the chimera of an author.

Burke.

 

© Webster 1913.

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