Monday, April 16, 2012

Myth as history

So here's the deal: A beloved king in ancient times knows that he's getting old and liable to bite the dust any day. He wants to assure that his oldest son succeeds him, and to give his people some kingly advice. So, he says to his son, "Get everyone together tomorrow and I'll talk to them." Now, we have no idea what time of day this occurred, but let's say about 10 a.m., the start of the business day.
So, on the next day, all the people of the kingdom gathered, and there were a lot of them, so many that the king had to order a tower built so that he could speak from it. How big was the tower? We don't know. Let's say, though, that it was 12 feet tall and big enough to hold one king.
With me so far? Okay, so in come the people. They came in droves, they came in hordes, they came in legions. How many? We don't know, but they set up their tents facing the king's tower, and gathered together as families. So, the patriarch's tent would be there, in all its patriarchal splendor, then the tents of the sons, the sons of sons, the sons of sons of sons, and so on. I don't know where the daughters were -- they're not mentioned.
Now, there were so many people, that they couldn't all hear the king, not even from his tower, not even if he used a megaphone. So, he stationed people throughout the crowd with paper and pencil (or the equivalent) to take down the words the king spake and distribute them to the crowd. The king gave a bang-up sermon and named his oldest son as successor, a good time was had by all, and the people went home satisfied and edified.
But there are some trouble spots in the story. The way the story is told, it was a spur of the moment kind of thing. The king talking to his son and sort of hatching the plot on the fly. That being the case, here's what had to happen in the space of about one day:
- The king had to get word to his people to assemble. There being no telephone or radio service, no roads, it meant runners out to all the segments of the kingdom. Since it's a kingdom and not a city or a duchy or a barony, we can assume there were a lot of people. Were there runners hanging around, waiting for the king do tell them what to do? No, because the king prided himself on not being that kind of a king. So, first he had to hustle up some messengers. Whom would he choose? Professional messengers? Aren't any. So, he's got to find someone to round up the messengers. He's got to write out instructions to everybody on assembling: time, place, order of encampment, and so on.
- The people have to assemble. So, first, they've got to get the message. Then, they have to pack and make provisions for their flocks and herds and fields. I mean, you don't just drop everything and take off to see the king. So, herds taken care of, tents packed, family assembled, the families have to journey to where the king is giving a speech, set up camp, get dinner cooked and eaten and the kids to bed.
How long would that take? Let's say that the kingdom is a small one -- fifty by fifty miles, and that the king's tower was smack dab in the middle. So, starting from 10 a.m., the king has to write and make copies of his orders, say one hour; find some runners (he'd need, what? 50?), two hours; get them equipped, girded, mounted, given food, drink, and the messages, another two hours. So, it would be a minimum of five hours before they even started out. And that's assuming a bureaucracy more efficient than is really possible. Then, the riders have to ride, run to the ends of the kingdom, seek out the patriarchs, give them the messages, and ride home, exhausted. The patriarchs have to gather their people, etc. etc. etc., and make it back to the king's city before nightfall, in time to set up their tents. And these people are either walking or riding in carts, which have a top speed of three miles an hour downhill in a tail wind.
See what I mean? I can't be done. What I've described is a process that would take a week under the best of circumstances, and more likely three.
Yet, there they were the next day.
And what about the scribes, the paper, the writing, the copying, of the speech? And the tower. Let's not forget about the tower. If the king scared up builders and got them started right away, how long would it take? Well, first he'd have to find enough builders. Then, they'd have to get the lumber, probably cut it as there were no Lowes stores anywhere around. Then, they'd have to put it together. Could it be done in one third of one day? Maybe. But I've seen movies of people trying to build things like siege towers, and it's a more-than-one-day job, and they did have a Lowes nearby.
Yet the account is firm -- it happened in the space of about 24 hours. Heck, let's say 48 hours. It's still not nearly enough time. I mean, the logistics of the note-taking themselves are formidable.
Yet people buy the story. As history. Not as myth, allegory, legend, or parable. As history. I just can't go along.