The Hieroglyphic Story

The Hieroglyphic Story x excerpt Before the foundations of Babylon were laid, and Semiramis began to lay out her hanging garden paradise (one of the seven wonders of the world, without doubt,) and the Euphrates, famed among Asian rivers, started bathing its lanes, ill thoughts, spiff and squabble broke out between the brainy Lion and the broad-browed Vulture. The Lion, which among all creatures on earth is known to be the mightiest and the most vicious of all, and the Vulture, which nobody can deny is the king of all flying beings, deeply cogitated and ruminated, each according to his nature, and came to the conclusion that there was no critter swiftest, or more potent than they. Not satisfied though with such a personal and unsupported notion, they wanted all the other creatures to acknowledge this and concede the truth of it before everybody and the kingdom they chose, and the arrangement they had devised to endure once and for all unmoved and unchanged. That is to say the Lion to be king over all four-legged beasts, and the Vulture over all winged fliers, and thereupon they summoned everybody to gather and take council.Thus before the Lion stood those creatures whose fangs, claws or other bodily parts represented a lethal weapon such as the Leopard, the Bear, the Wolf, the Fox, the Jackal, the Lynx, and other feral animals to which shedding innocent blood brings joy and it is their cast to thoroughly relish other creature's demise. Next to the Vulture congregated birds with beaks or talons like poisoned hooks that cause wounds never to be healed, like the Kite, the Falcon, the Hawk, the Eagle, the Buzzard, the Condor, the Aquila, the Harrier, and others who, if one day they failed to spill innocent blood and curb innocent life then the following day they would make sure a new victim perished. All these stood by the side of their ruler and took pride of place next to him. For such was the primary order of things.The second order of governance with the Lion fell to Dogs, Hounds, Curs, Cats, Badgers, Ferrets, Moles, Mice, and other similar beasts that could prey upon others but could also be preyed upon, that is they can put other living beings in deadly danger, and also be themselves placed in jeopardy. The second level-hierarchy with the Vulture consisted of the Raven, the Crow, the Pelican, the Owl, the Osprey, and others who profit from the prey painstakingly gained by others, and at their expense they may even savor fowl, putrid flesh than freshly cooked meat.And the third and humblest of estates was held by such beasts and birds (that did not even deserve a seat for they held no power, or valiant heart or spirit, but were always tame, and their little life hanged in constant fear of death – for a soul supine will be remote from everything) such as the Ox, the Sheep, the Horse, the Goat, the Pig, the Rabbit, the Deer, the Doe, the Swan, the Great Bustard, the Partridge, the Goose, the Duck, the Turtledove, the Hen, each according to its kin and place. And perhaps the sole reason they were all summoned together was just so they could not claim they had not had wind of the gathering and thus ignored what conclusion and what final advice was reached. So, all the creatures, big and small that belonged to one of the two reigns could be taken into consideration, and their name be inscribed in the log of the gathering.And when the two kings and their two assemblies got settled and finished their doings both parties gave loud and clear order that heralds and messengers be sent with tidings throughout the realms, and town criers be engaged to tout the news about their important meeting, and purposefully investigate if any of the living creatures supposed to attend absented itself from the formidable event that brought all creatures and kinship together. To this effect, frightful and blood curling words would befall those who demurred to take part in the meeting, for reasons concocted and all invented, while those that showed the least reluctance would be punished by death and the sacking of their homes. These words and orders were immediately fulfilled, as fast as thought flies, high and low, far and wide, for harsh tidings could make an earful, and a terrified heart promptly could suck in all sounds; while the swift moves of the heralds, and the paddling feet of the untiring messengers kicked the road dust to the sky. The steep valleys resounded with loud cries, the mountains tops reverberated with piercing shouts and deep howls, and all the unbeaten fields resonated with terrible shrieks and frightening calls. No ear of land or air beast escaped unscathed by the mighty clamor of the tidings and redoubtable gist of the commands. In these two kingdoms there was no living creature that did not shake with incessant tremor and undisputed terror at the virtue and power of this announcement (the more precipitous the vicious news the more serious the upheaval and confusion it generates).As we have said, each in its place and according to its realm gathered at the side of the respective sovereign. And last came the Bat, which, given its wings and the ease with which it flew in the air, would have taken the side of the Vulture, though otherwise, other criteria considered, it could very well have joined the party of the Lion. This small thing started the entire brouhaha, first as a topic of investigation and research, and then as downright apple of discord between the two kingdoms. For each deemed that the Bat belonged with it, and if not it should have, or should have been forced to (for what weighs more is the greedy itch to be glorified, not the goodness or usefulness of the thing to be glorified, and also debasing others in quality, even if idly; or oftentimes harmfully, or unknowingly and unwillingly.) Thus all sorts of absolutely nauseating squabbles and petulant words deluged the ears of both kings. For each creature rooted for his own sovereign, whose victory he deemed impending and therefore he duly touted. If things had turned out differently, one claimed, that would only mean a diminishment of virtue (that more fiercely than anything disturbs a ruler's heart) and less praise to his representative monarch. (Oh, the blind appetite of beasts, and their lack of comprehension since the 'what for' and basis of fame derive exactly from that it comes upon him who does not know or has not met it, he who shuns it, it honors that creature who least seeks or pursues it: it beckons to him who does not beckon it, and welcomes he who does not welcome it, while generally making itself known to a completely unknown creature. And the foremost justification of glory is to abandon he who venerates it and linger with he who dishonors it) […]And the story to come will show how the spark of rivalry caught not only on the two kings, and boomeranged on the Bat, but also terribly affected the Elephant and the Unicorn, whom scorching anger and searing jealousy perturbed.[…] And the Unicorn fell prey to the accursed ploys and skullduggery of the Chameleon, and was locked up, and the tidings thereof spread far and wide. The mountains, and the valleys, and the hills resounded with this vile affair, and music of revenge, as if penned and orchestrated to fill the ear with a plaintive harmony thus began to elegize: "Down bowed the horn of the Unicorn, forward stumbled the step of the swift, away shut the untrodden paths, out were found the most secretive of secret places. The wood of Unicorn's imaginary pyre went dry, the fire burst high, all his relations turned shy, only the unfriendly Raven stood by, and while untiring hounds never ceased to pry, the sleepless Chameleon and the small fry continued to spy. What hope could he nurture for his life, and soul, and entire being? None. All his strength petered out, after having bonded him in unbreakable chains all his friends abandoned him, and thus the fardel of unfriendliness kept him behind bars. And from then on, even if he'd flown high up to the skies, and grown a thousand heads, he still would not have had the freedom to see the green grass of home…What comfort was there left for him? None whatsoever. What support did he have? None. What friend stood by him? None. Now, you, mountains, erode, you trees, explode, you rocks, corrode! For the injustice perpetrated, let even the stones ooze tears in streams, and mounts send down torrent extremes, and the abodes of the Unicorn, his pastures, his gardens, attired to mourn, all pale, to wail, to grow stale and ail, their blossom and fruit to fail. Their master thus they would lament, their sorrow never relent, for their master they would forever hail. Heavenly wings, you, crystal springs, tarry your source, all is now bitter recourse. Let the wild boar become the vineyard keeper, and the bear the reaper of his orchards, to be stomped and trampled. Let the firmament shake, and the earth break, thunder in the sky, a storm coming nigh, deluge of gale, darkness of hail. Let the sun shed plenty a ray, the moon, bashfully coy, to remain at bay, the stars to drift away, and the Galaxy to fall into blae. The heavenly creatures should give vent to their torment at the unseemly event. The Pleiades, if you please, should disperse their cluster, the Swan and the Lyra submerse, Leo accurse, Taurus roar averse, Aries become terse, Cancer in its black shell no longer to dwell, Capricorn to bend its head, Pisces to drown on a dry bed, Gemini to disjoint, Virgo, boasting her beauty, her fair curls black to anoint, Scorpio to blunt its poisonous kiss, Sagittarius to break its bow and the target miss, Libra no longer to even the scale, Aquarius never again to fill its pail. Mars' virtue to grow lame, Mercury, among planets, no longer to proclaim, Zeus to kiss his power good-bye, Venus' beauty to wither and die, Chronos its chair up and down to retire, the Phoenix to expire in a spicy fire, the Altar no more sacrifice to inspire, the Cup no additional drink to require, the Whale in the water of the Eridanus to sprawl, into the jaws of the Syrian the Rabbit to fall, the little Fly to plaintively buzz, the two Bears to lose all their fuzz, and Venus' hair to lapse, the beautiful Crown to collapse, Pegassus from Andromeda to take leave, as Perseus would Cassiopeia bereave, the Dragon would have its tail confused with its head, Noah's arch in the ground would stop dead, and the Dove looking for the Olive leaf would come to grief. All these would wail and repine and bemoan the Unicorn's departure from the throne. Only the Raven would be merry and as an ill omen would crow, the Big Dog and the Small Dog would bark and the abominable thing they would publicly show. Let the North Pole be moved to the South Pole, and the heavenly orb break into smithereens, the hard core to push out, the elements to lose all clout, and never again to be set right, everything to gyrate back and left in the night, sorrow and grief be the general plight, then everybody get numb, and to the right cause of the Unicorn for ever succumb. Translated by Alina Cârâc
x Considered the first novel of Romanian literature, the work of Prince Dimitrie Cantemir (1672-1723) is an allegory, a parable, or a roman a clef, similar, through the use of animal masks, to Le Roman de Renart. It presents a cryptic X-ray of the political scene of the prince's time, of the complicated struggle for power between the boyar parties in the Land of Wallachia and the Land of Moldavia, i.e. the realm of four-legged creatures and the realm of the fowls of the air (translator's note).

by Dimitrie Cantemir (1673-1723)