Polly want a buffalo?

You have to hand it to those Arabian spice traders, they really knew how to protect a brand. When asked by ancient Greek tradesmen where their cinnamon came from, they spun an elaborate tale about the cinnamon bird, a flying beast so large it could easily carry off a man, and which built its nest out of cinnamon sticks on a mountain top. Daring cinnamon harvesters in the Far East, they said, left pack animals tied up as bait on plains near cinnamon bird nests. The giant creatures would swoop down and carry them off, however, being heavier than their normal prey, the animals would cause the cinnamon bird nests to collapse, sending a shower of cinnamon sticks down the mountain side. All the harvesters had to do at that point was pick them up.

The yarn was swallowed wholesale by the Greeks, notably by the historian Herodotus, though not by the later the Roman historian, traveler and nature writer Pliny the Elder. Pliny expressed grave skepticism about the cinnamon bird in his book Naturalis Historia, calling the story what it was — a trick designed to elevate spice prices. Pretty smart, that Pliny (though sadly not smart enough to stay away from Mount Vesuvius as it was erupting…his interest in the phenomenon, compounded by his desire to save his friends stranded nearby, led to his death there in 79 A.D). Even so, the myth of the giant cow-eating cinnamon bird persisted well into the high Middle Ages.

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