27 November 2012

The Hapsburg Jaw, the Griffiths Hamstrung

Carlos II of Spain (1661 - 1700)

There was something about the movement of chins and the pronounced nature of chewing at dinner the other day that propelled us into a discussion about the Hapsburgs.

I wondered, idly and friskily, if the latest in the line, Otto von Hapsburg, who died last year, needed a special annexe for his coffin, a kind of side-car if you will, to accommodate the famed Hapsburg Jaw. 

This genetic defect, medically known as prognathism, plagued members of the royal house of Hapsburg as payback for their habit of searching a little too close to home for matrimonial partners.  Although moneybags and political power may have been safeguarded, the constant inter-marrying resulted in a hereditary protruding lower jaw, passed on by a dominant gene.

A hasty search on the internet revealed comforting news about the late Otto, son of the last Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary.   A passionate anti-nationalist (and fervently opposed to the Austrian Nazi movement) he was a member of the European parliament, with a track record of public service at high level.  As a member of the Hapsburg-Lorraine family, a branch that seems to have been bypassed by the misshapen mandible, his facial contours were pleasingly normal.  

How markedly he contrasted, however, with Carlos II (pictured at the top of this blog) who was the last of the Spanish Hapsburgs.  Unseemly tangles amongst Carlos’s forebears - for example, his mother also technically being his first cousin, his grandmother also being his aunt, and his other grandmother also being his great-grandmother - created such acute inbreeding that for this unfortunate king, a mammoth underbite was the least of his worries.  He could not walk until he was eight, had limited intellectual capacity, and suffered both from an extended childhood and premature senility.  He married twice but was unable to produce heirs.  When he died at the age of 38 in 1700, the coroner’s report stated that as well as his body lacking blood, his heart being minute (the size of a grain of pepper), his lungs and intestines raddled, "he had a single testicle which was as black as carbon and his head was full of water.”

Compared to the afflictions outlined above, I therefore almost hesitate to bring up the subject of the rather more trifling Griffiths Hamstrung.  This condition – which is basically a deficient, possibly wizened, hamstring – is a constant embarrassment for me and mine.  It renders us completely incapable of hunkering down with feet planted flat on the ground.  Athleticism seems to matter little.  Close kin who have regularly worked out at a gym still cannot perform such essential actions as squatting at the bus stop or in the paddy field, crouching to produce a sit spin or a Teapot at the ice rink, or positioning themselves efficiently by a back wheel for a tyre change. 

Indeed, during attempts to get closer to the floor without my heels coming up, even my yoga teacher has been taken aback by the extent of the Griffiths Hamstrung.  “Don’t stick your bottom out,” she has instructed, despairingly, not realising that a thrust of the posterior is the only way to achieve even a few inches of movement.

Though I’ve seen this problem pop up in offspring, siblings and nephews, the Hamstrung isn’t genetic at all.  It affects many westerners.  If you sit all day at the computer, bad news.  If you also wear high heels, even worse.  If you haven’t tried to hunker since the age of two, forget it.  The way we generally lead our lives as if recumbent in a passenger seat, rather than getting out to sprint or stretch, is at fault.

Free of Griffiths Hamstrung

Advanced surgery and complex dentistry could have perhaps remedied Carlos II’s Hapsburg Jaw.  Something, too, can apparently be done about the Hamstrung: 
Ready? OK, back against the wall, bottom in, down a millimetre, another millimetre…

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