Lynx Power


The following articles were posted Oct. 10, 2008, on The Dean’s Blog—Celebrating Teaching and Learning at Rhodes, the place to go on the college Web site for news and responses about Rhodes academics. 

From the Drawing Board to a British Helicopter

By Bryan Hearn ’09

Imitation is the finest form of flattery, they say. In that case, Rhodes has received the ultimate compliment from overseas.

When a British helicopter display team known as The Royal Navy Black Cats (the British equivalent of the United States Navy’s Flight Demonstration Squadron, The Blue Angels) was searching the Internet for iconography for their team, they stumbled upon Rhodes’ Lynx logo and decided to look no further.

The squadron changed the color of the Lynx from gray to black, and then placed the logo on its uniforms, helicopters and team badges.

Larry Ahokas, graphic designer at Rhodes, drew up the current Lynx logo in 2002, and while he expected it to appear on football helmets and team uniforms, never in his wildest dreams did he think it would appear on British aircraft.

According to the squadron’s Web site, the nickname “The Black Cats” “comes from a combination of the Lynx wildcat . . . and the naval slang of ‘black catting,’ which is a form of one-upmanship by having done something or owning something better than anyone else.”

As it turns out, the Black Cats aren’t going to “one-up” Rhodes by borrowing our logo. In addition to thanking their corporate sponsors, the Black Cats note on their Web site that they are “very grateful to Rhodes College ... for use of the logo.”

The Black Cats have offered more than just their gratitude, however. The team has contacted Rhodes’ Communication Office and expressed interest in performing a demonstration over campus the next time they are in the United States. And they have invited Rhodes partners to visit the squadron’s headquarters in Somerset. Dean Michael Leslie is working with Commander Chris Mahony on a visit by members of the next British Studies fellows.

The Internet certainly brings people together, but who knew it could bring a European helicopter display team to a liberal arts college in Memphis, TN?

The Lynx nickname was selected as Rhodes’ mascot in 1923 by then college president Charles E. Diehl, who is said to have liked the cat’s uniqueness. With the exception of Lesley University in Cambridge, MA, Rhodes remains the only American college with the nickname “Lynx.”

Deeper Meanings

By Robert R. Llewellyn, Associate Professor Emeritus of Philosophy Dean of the College Emeritus

Bob Llewellyn, who retired in 2006, serves on the Institutional Review Board at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.

“Rarely does a philosopher have a chance to do practical ethics in the context of a world-class research institution,” says Llewellyn, who enjoys “the associations with an international staff, the engagements in reviews of cutting-edge research, and the sense of supporting an important Memphis resource.”

Still vitally interested in all things Rhodes, he says, “The story of the extended use of the Lynx symbol interests me. Indeed, the Ahokas rendition of the Lynx is dramatic, bold and convincing; I have always enjoyed its appearance in support of the college. I believe that the story of the Lynx as the college’s mascot deserves some more probing and imagination. In a brief report to the faculty in August 2003 I did some of this probing and imagination as a result of a trip and a book. That meeting of the faculty came in the midst of significant work to enhance the curriculum of the college.”

His report: I was in Italy that summer. I took with me Dava Sobel’s historical memoir titled Galileo’s Daughter (Walker & Co., 1999). As I wandered the halls of the University of Padua her book helped me to seek out the spirit of Galileo in the early years of his career. As I circled the Pantheon in Rome I slipped into the Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva adjacent to the Dominican convent where the cardinal inquisitors and their witnesses gathered to announce their verdict against Galileo for his defense of the Copernican theory.

Sobel’s book brought to my attention that in 1611 Galileo was inducted into the Accadamia dei Lincei, or simply the Academy of Lynxes. The academy, which was founded in Rome in 1603 by Federico Cesi, is reportedly the first modern scientific society (see entry for “Accademia dei Lincei,” in Wilbur Applebaum, editor, Encyclopedia of the Scientific Revolution from Copernicus to Newton, Garland Publishing Inc., 2000, pp. 7-9).

Cesi framed the charter for the Academy: “The Lyncean Academy desires as its members philosophers who are eager for real knowledge and will give themselves to the study of nature, especially mathematics; at the same time it will not neglect the ornaments of elegant literature and philology, which like graceful garments, adorn the whole body of science” (Sobel, p. 42). The goals of the Academy were “not only to acquire knowledge of things and wisdom, and living together justly and piously, but also peacefully to display them to men, orally and in writing, without any harm.” Cesi affirmed that the work to achieve these goals could not depend on a collection of solitary undertakings. This work required active collaboration among scholars in a community created to sustain such work.

The badge of membership in the Academy bore the image of the Lynx, an animal noted for its extremely keen sight. There is a mythological foundation as well—one of the argonauts, Lynceus, was credited with having sharpness of sight.

The choice of the Lynx was not a random selection from the world’s catalogue of animals. The purpose of the Lyncean Academy was to explore and uncover the mechanism of the natural world, free from university control—and that meant Aristotelean metaphysics—and free from prejudice. Nature was to be studied directly, and this required keen sight. Eyesight might be focused on physical objects but keen sight also included intellectual discernment capable of penetrating to the mathematical structure of nature and perhaps determining causes in nature.

The association with keen-sightedness was not accidental either. It was the membership of the Lyncean Academy who shared Galileo’s excitement over the occhiale, an instrument that he perfected and used to explore the celestial reaches of the universe; they renamed it the telescopio. In 1624 Galileo brought the occhialino to the Academy; this was his version of an instrument that permitted the exploration into the inner reaches of objects. The Academy members renamed it the microscopio.

John Rone ’71, our resident arbiter of the college’s history, tells me that indeed Dr. Charles Diehl chose the Lynx to be the mascot for the college. The traditional interpretation is that the Lynx was chosen because, though it is a small cat, it is a ferocious and scrappy animal, befitting a new academic institution on the southwestern “frontier” of a Presbyterian precinct in the Mid-South.

If the connection that I am building is genuine, this interpretation may need to be amended. Could it be that in the mind of that theologian and classicist and founder of a new Southwestern in Memphis there was the intent to capture the meaning of the Lynx in its imaging of the world’s first modern scientific society? The archival record of the college contains no clues, so far as Mr. Rone knows, that would establish one or the other as an authoritative interpretation.

In follow-up conversations with History professor Jim Lanier in 2003, I learned that:

Jameson Jones, former chief academic officer for Southwestern at Memphis, having read Sobel’s book in 2002, surmised that there was a connection between the Lyncean Academy and the choice of the lynx as the college mascot. Further, he suggested that if the connection is sound, then Rhodes may be among the few colleges and universities where the mascot is a symbol of the academic program in contrast to a symbol of spirit (Duke—Blue Devils); of stance (Davidson—wildcat, Arkansas—razorback); of connections (Ole Miss—the Rebel); of place (Tennessee—hound, Texas—longhorn); of something abstract (Millsaps—the Major), etc.

For now I will assume that my interpretation of the choice of mascot for the college is correct! It gives me a basis to draw out an implication for our work as a faculty this academic year. We must be an “Academy of Lynxes” bringing to our work extremely keen sight in both its forms—sharp vision and penetrating discernment. In the spirit of that academy, founded in Rome 400 years ago this year, we must do this work with an abiding sense of obligation to the community of learning that supports us and without which no individual effort can succeed. GO, LYNX!

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