16 January 2016

How to tell the difference

from the illustrated manuscript
of "Dastan-e Amir Hamza"
It is easy to know the difference between legend and reality. Here, I will show you how:

In the Dastan-e Amir Hamza, we are told of an old Persian emperor named Qubad Kamran, who ruled near modern Baghdad. This emperor was just and also wise and his people flourished, but that is not the part that proves this is a legend. People do flourish sometimes in the real world, after all, even while lacking a just and wise emperor.

No, what I am trying to get to is this: One morning, the emperor called together his viziers and he called together his wise men and he called together his astrologers and he said, “Last night, I had a remarkable dream. This was an important dream, I know it. But upon my waking this morning, it is gone. Poof! I have forgotten it.”

He said, “Viziers, wise men, astrologers, you must tell me of this dream that I have forgotten! Remind me of the dream, interpret it, and then advise me on the proper path to take.”

The viziers, wise men, and astrologers were not particularly surprised at this, for the emperor was always pulling this kind of stupid shit on them. They said, “O great and powerful Emperor, in your boundless wisdom, please give us something to go on. A fleeting image? A color? How the dream made you feel, perhaps?”

But the great Emperor Kamran was hearing none of it. He said to them, “Sikander’s advisers never needed hints! Tell me tell me tell me! Otherwise, I will put you to the sword and pulverize your families!”

(I apologize to the reader if the just and wise emperor now seems somewhat less just and wise than was initially described. Indeed, these things are all relative.)

All the emperor’s viziers, wise men, and astrologers – every one of them – stroked their beards, paced around a lot, and mumbled in the way that these sorts do when stalling for time.

But alas, one vizier, a scoundrel and a liar by the name of Alqash, approached the emperor and he said, “O great and powerful Emperor, I have divined your dream! Hurrah!”

The scoundrel Alqash said, “You were… a bird. Yes, that is it. Definitely a bird. And you dropped something – a fruit! – into a river of fire. Threw it away. And this means that you… are… Yes! You are throwing away everything in your life that might have held you back in the past.”

Everyone was silent. None of the advisers even blinked, for no man knows his own tell. While the emperor considered the scoundrel Alqash’s words, each man thought to himself, “Not bad!” or else “Please please please” or else something along those lines.

Finally, after what felt to the advisers like two and a half eternities, the just and wise emperor spoke. He said, “You just made that up!”

And the scoundrel Alqash said, “No-o-o! O great and powerful Emperor!”

The emperor said, “No, I could tell! You made that up as you went along. You, sir, are a terrible liar!”

The scoundrel Alqash went down on his knees and said, “How would you even know, O great and powerful Emperor? In your boundless wisdom, you do not even remember your own dream!”

And so it was that the scoundrel Alqash met his end. The just and wise Emperor Qubad Kamran quickly ordered his former vizier dragged out into the public square, buried up to his waist, and shot by a squadron of archers.

This is how we know we’re in the realm of legend: In the real world, the scoundrel and liar Alqash would have gotten a promotion and a pay raise. 

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