The Word and The Flesh (8)


I set out, on horse-back and armed, from the banks of the Tigris the day after a night-time conversation with my mother in which which she'd revealed to me something which she'd considered a secret -- "a grand, terrible secret", she said -- of her descent. I know today that this secret was merely supposed -- and may even have been invented; but, when one is sixteen-years-old one is not inclined to doubt the truth of his mother's confessions, especially if they appear to give rise to a very practical plan for the entire future of her first-born son. And I think it was this practical plan that I fled more than the secret itself. Taking, as I do, by way of my father, as ancestors a countless lot of patricides, filocides and fratricides, which I bear well, why should I not bear easily the knowledge that, by way of my mother, I descend from a madman who claimed that the Sun stood still while the Earth rotated around it with a double motion? But that I should dedicate my whole life to the discovery of a proof establishing my ancestor's theories from three hundred years ago -- as my mother seemed to intend for me -- this I could not help but rebel against!

When at last my mother fell asleep, near dawn, I burnt all our books on heavens and planets, called Samasariston (who was then my mother's major-domo) and said: "You wanted me to marry your niece when she grew up? Well, I will. I give you my word of an Arsakid. But we must flee from here immediately."

We fled: he carried his niece in a basket slung on his back. Only when we got to Babylon, he asked:

"Where to?"

I said:

"To my paternal grandfather."

"To the court of the King of Kings?"

"You have forgetten that I have two paternal grandfathers!"

"But that one is in China!"

"Yes. We're going to China."

Without a word of objection or doubt, he bought us passage on a boat sailing down the Euphrates to Kharax. But that very same day we were discovered, in our lodgings, by Babrios, who'd been my mother's guest for several months as a result of a letter of recommendation from the father of Alexandra. I was not surprised to see him.

"And what says my mother?" I asked, half-bitter and half-triumphant.

But I was to be bitterly disappointed. My mother was not -- it turned out -- in despair. On the contrary. She was very pleased at my enthusiasm for the theories of Seleukos the Mathematician, which, she assumed, was what compelled me to leave her house in such a haste, without even bidding her good-bye, in order to find such a proof as may turn his theories into axioms.

At the time I knew by heart the so-called testament of one of my paternal grandfathers addressed to me by name. Though today I could not possibly repeat it word for word, I do know now something I did not know then: I know from which work he'd copied, word for word, those words in his testament which made upon me the strongest impression; those words which convinced me (they above all else) that He -- forgive me if I call him so -- would welcome me with his arms wide-open because I was a refugee: refugee fleeing from the feverish blabberings of mathematicians.

How wonderfully happy I was then in my naivete!

Today I know that that particular passage of Madshkima cannot protect young minds from the feverish blabberings of mathematicians. Yet it protected my grandfather, you will no doubt remind me. Yes, it did. But he was a pure-blooded Parthian...

...which formulation -- as soon as I put in on the parchment -- appeared to me inept. Yet, I suppose, Babrios may have been right when, pressed by me, he confessed his lack of conviction that I may yet one day become a Greek writer. Because, you see, I did not mean to say that it is sufficient to be Parthian in order to find, upon the path taught by Gautama Buddha, that great gift of indifference regarding such concerns as tend to disquiet great mathematicians. My eldest half-brother, born from the Karen girl, the very same who so very smartly banged the great drum on the temporary bridge connecting Seleukia and Ktesiphon, thereby announcing the arrival of Vologases IV's security for his fulfillment of the recently concluded peace treaty, is a pure-blooded Parthian. I was very amused to see him on the bridge; but I would have been a thousandfold more amused to see him on the fourfold path taught by Gautama Buddha! What does he care about the Sun? Oh, yes, he does: he dreams to be the Sun's brother, not his nephew!

But he dreams it aloud; and his voice being no less mighty than the blows with which he summoned out of the drum upon the bridge the roar of a hippopotamus, I am very much concerned that at any moment now I might very well turn from the eleventh into the tenth son of the King of Kings. (Ten being an unlucky number is the only superstition which I have ever discovered in my mother, and the only one with which she'd infected me in my childhood).

Again I have lept away from my main topic, the way a horse-mounted archer leaps away from a Roman quadrangle, having loosed into it all his arrows. But ever since the day of the defeat of Likinios Krassos at Adiabenian Haran, the legiones forming the quadrangle can no longer allow themselves to trust that the archer, having exhausted his arrows, will not return to the battlefield the same day. For he will return well before you gather your dead back into the center of the foursquare, O Romans, and you half-Romans, and you Greeks who have learned to accept the Roman yoke! Attention, Markia! Here I return with my thought full of arrows, whose points have been hammered out of the conviction that neither you nor I must flee; and given wings by the belief that once you reveal yourself, you shall never have to seek for a hiding place again.


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