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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

That Hideous Length

Eunectes Murinus, the Green Anaconda, is a massive snake, but not as huge as it is rumored to be.  It is accepted wisdom that this species is the LARGEST species of snake in the world, but it is not the LONGEST.An abnormally-large reticulated python was longer than the longest Anaconda ever observed, and the average length of this species is greater than the average of the Green Anaconda.

Both of these species are dwarfed by the prehistoric Titanoboa, a 2,500 pound, 43 foot-long snake that lived in the Paleocene Epoch.  Compared to dinosaurs, this is a fairly recent time period, and -- compared to the Anaconda -- this species of snake was a giant.  But which modern snake is most closely-related to Titanoboa?  Is it either of the two current record-holders?  Unfortunately, the fragility of ancient snake-bones makes it extraordinarily difficult to determine their precise evolutionary tree.  Length is one of the few measurable characteristics we have about snakes, and even that isn’t perfect.

Snake-length got me thinking about the length of different forms of literature throughout the ages.  Specifically Edmund Spenser’s unfinished The Faerie Queene, which -- even unfinished -- is the longest poem in the English language.  It’s long, but -- compared to even an abridged World-Book Encyclopedia -- it’s really not that long.  And, with digital technology, much longer “books”, or collections of knowledge, are eminently possible.  Does the future perhaps hold an open-source novel that would fill a 40-gig hard drive?  Has this astonishing feat already been accomplished?  I picture a world where a grandmother begins reading the novel at 10, then passes it on to her children, as an heirloom.  The children then begin reading where the grandmother left off, and pass the novel down, until eventually it’s finished.  The form of the novel would probably be sort of a James Michener style of book -- possibly following a family through the history of mankind.  Now, wouldn’t that put the Titanoboa to shame?

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