Humble Egg Has Place in Science, Myth, Art, Religion

Article excerpt

They turn up in baskets every Easter, mysteriously delivered to children by that hip-hop artist with the long ears and fluffy tail. But there's much more to the humble egg than its kitschy association with Peter Cottontail.

That perfect oval shape contains everything, from the tiniest spark of life to the entire cosmos.

That's a lot of responsibility for something that usually competes with a chicken over which came first.

The present-day Easter egg follows a practice that dates at least as far back as Persia in 3000 B.C., when colored eggs were given to celebrate the coming of spring.

But in the realms of myth, art and science, the egg packs enough symbolism to rival "The Da Vinci Code."

Chinese myth holds that the world was created when a giant being hatched from an egg, whose broken parts became the Earth and sky. And consider the Big Bang theory, which employs the "cosmic egg" concept. It contends that universe was created by an explosion of extremely dense, compacted matter that is still expanding outward.

In that respect, it parallels an ancient Ukrainian belief that life at the beginning of the universe sprang from an egg.

Last week, Sts. Peter & Paul Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Carnegie held their annual Easter egg sale, which featured 1,500 eggs decorated in a traditional Ukrainian batik style called pysanky. The craft uses wax and a stylus to create colors that can symbolize rebirth, fertility or Biblical references.

"The egg itself actually predates Christianity by at least a couple thousand years," says Michael Kapeluck, an iconographer and church member who helped organize the sale. "It was a pagan art form. The people were very agricultural. They were attached to land, whether it was in the wheat field or in the mountains. Their gods were very agricultural."

Eggs decorated with particular symbols were thought to have special powers, he says.

"They were basically for good luck," Kapeluck says. "The symbols on the egg would be fertility for a young couple. They would be for a good crop or would trap spirits so your household would be safe."

When Christianity emerged, much of the symbolism was lost, but the art form remained, he says.

"In ancient times, the line that went around the egg without beginning or end was eternity. That was very easily adapted to Christianity," Kapeluck says.

At least one scientist made use of the egg's symbolism to hammer home a revolutionary new idea.

In 1651, English physician William Harvey published his findings that all animals, even those who were "born alive," came from an egg. The cover of his seminal book, "Exercitationes de Generatione Animalium," featured an image of the Roman godJove pulling apart two halves of an egg, from which animals leap forth. …