A 1916 article in the Journal of Agricultural Research may help us to clear up one common misconception concerning a central metaphor in the work of Plato. The philosopher seems to enjoy those occasions (as in Theaetetus 210b) on which Socrates is made to say to an interlocutor who has come up with an argument that is clearly going nowhere, that the argument has no real life to it, but is a mere “wind-egg”. In Raymond Pearl and Maynie R. Curtis’s “Studies on the Reproduction of Domestic Fowl”, we are reminded of the true meaning of this term, alongside its occasional variants, “dwarf-egg”, “witch-egg”, &c. A wind-egg is not, as many of us likely imagine, a hollow egg-shell, as in some craft traditions when the yolk and white are blown out through a pin-hole so that the fragile thing may then be decorated and set on the mantle with no expiration date. It is, rather, an egg that is generated by the wind — “wind” modifies “egg” not in the sense that the egg is itself “windy”, but in the sense that it is “wind-caused”: thus a modifier more like the first element of “sea glass” than of “milk chocolate”. To be more precise, a wind-egg is typically produced in the springtime, when all of nature is fecund, as Zephyros (one of four ἄνεμοι or wind-deities, each corresponding to one of the cardinal points) has emerged from his cave and stirred up a gentle breeze, bringing buds to the trees and verdancy to the fields. Inevitably some of this wind makes its way into the reproductive tracts of hens, where it conceives something like what a cock could have helped her to come up with. But since the wind is not itself a cock, it can only yield up a bare, generic creature, and not a little chicken formally and specifically similar to itself. Pliny the Elder tells us in turn that the same wind is responsible for the many generations of wind-foals born along the Tagus River in Portugal, to mares that have been covered by no stallion. These little quasi-horses may live up to the age of three, we learn, but, lacking at least half of the essence of horse, they are inevitably condemned, like the arguments of Socrates’s adversaries, to go nowhere.
Writer - Critic - Poet - Editor