Scipio The African

This time I am forced to avoid disclosing both his name and that of the school where he taught the same subject-matter as Anghel Demetriescu: history. But how remote the two teachers were! The fine stature of the former - who was a scholar relying on thoroughgoing studies made at German universities and blending with a happy turn of mind that impressed not only through science/knowledge but also through talent - changed with the latter into demagogy, superb concealed under a comfortable cloak which the anonymous teacher of history - occasionally elected to represent his constituents - kept bringing from Parliament to school and back on his rather burly body with highly democratic... pride. As often as not his explanations turned into genuine parliamentary speeches. His digressions invariably stole tile place of historical truths, his political allusions dragged the pedagogue into an arena which very agreeably suited the pupils in those times when theatre tickets were still a luxury while the cinema had not yet been born. It was quite a delight to indulge in the charm of his attractive though hoarse voice, to allow yourself be carried away by his words and accept the dream - like a fairy tale - that the past end the present swam in the same troubled waters in which the great Napoleon competed with God knows what Romanian politician - naturally belonging to a party opposed to the teacher's.The teacher's opponent was always left humiliated, ashamed and downhearted in front of Napoleon, Xerxes or Caesar…On the contrary, if he was one of the teacher's fellow-members, it was a matter of wonder to see what difficulties the poor great generals experienced in their attempt to keep their foothold on the very peaks where the same teacher had exalted them...The classes flew away insensibly, and the boys left the school with the deep regret that Caius Gracchus had not lived to see what a fantastic counterpart he had in Mateescu, the Parliamentary speaker on behalf of our teacher's party. Naturally, proper names were not mentioned, but personages were described so ostentatiously that some pupils, inured to reading the papers end to attending political meetings could easily guess them end reconstitute them mentally in flesh and blood.Science being relegated to the background, the teacher often forgot about maintaining continuity. Since for weeks on end he kept lecturing without ever heeling the pupils their lessons, it was quite natural for him to forget at what chapter he had stopped during the previous class. So the boys sometimes had to learn the same stale thing twice, hearing it explained on more, floating on another flood of empty words, as if it had been some freshly introduced item of knowledge...The teacher had once talked to the sixth form about Scipio the African, whose feats he had managed to circumscribe within on lesson. He concluded it with the death of the brave Roman general speaking most passionately about the ungrateful way in which his homeland had repaid the services rendered by him.As it happened, the next class brought the same Scipio on the carpet.Again compassion, again indignation, The same transparent allusions to the same contemporaries...And then, a bulky pupil at the bottom of the classroom where he had nestled among the "veterans" that is those plucked for their incapacity - stood up and made a remark whose boldness was eventually explained by all of us through the suspicion that he was the son of some political agent belonging to the party inimical to tile teacher's.Here is the pupil's objection, uttered with a slight thrill:"But sir... if you allow me, Scipio the African already died in the last lesson!"Followed short but rather vexing silence. The boys had riveted their eyes on the teacher who had suddenly stopped in front of the top boys; for he always walked about the classroom while he spoke and only stopped when he wanted to emphasize some important fact.Nobody could foresee what would happen. We were all waiting with a very small heart, presaging a catastrophic dénouement.But the member of Parliament never lost his nerve. He smiled sympathetically and - from the place where he had turned into a statue made a reassuring gesture to the pupil, inviting him to sit down and be quiet, for the objection had not disturbed in the least. Then, he addressed him well aloof: "Well, well, well! May God preserve your health, my friend, for the dear departed of the last lesson was an entirely different Scipio! This one is his brother, my boy! But may I beg you not to interrupt us anymore with useless nonsense? Will you remember?"

by Ion A. Bassarabescu (1870-1952)