irrational, a. 3. (Math.) Not capable of being exactly expressed by an integral number, or by a vulgar fraction. — Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913)
All entries © 2004-2005 by David Moles.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

13th year of the reign of Alexander (324 BC)

Originally published in “Five Irrational Histories”, Rabid Transit #3: Petting Zoo, Velocity Press, May 2004.

ECBATANA, MEDIA — Overcome with grief at the death of his lover, Alexander — Shahjahan of Persia, King of Macedonia, and Hegemon of the Corinthian League — invades the land of the dead. To reach this goal, Alexander’s soldiers, following the route laid down by Homer, march north-east across the breadth of Europe — the woods and swamps of the Germans, the fields and pastures of the Gauls, the mist-haunted, rain-drenched isles of the Cimmerians. Alexandrias are built on the banks of the Danube, the Oder, the Meuse, the Thames, the Styx. The conscript forces of Hades, faced with an army of eighty thousand cavalry, two hundred thousand infantry, eight thousand chariots and six thousand fighting elephants, are swiftly routed. The land of the dead is added to Alexander’s empire, and Alexander’s trusted general Antigonus installed as satrap.

Through a clever ruse, however, orchestrated by the shade of Odysseus at the behest of Hera (jealous of Alexander as she is jealous of all her husband’s natural children) Alexander himself is killed less than a year later, poisoned. With his shade constrained never to wander again beyond the bounds of his empire’s newest and gloomiest province, the order he established in the land of the living quickly collapses into chaos.

Though the legacy of Greco-Persian culture planted by Alexander’s expeditions can never fully be eradicated, within a few centuries the clearest traces of it are not the cities, shrines, and monuments — cast down, most of them, by later conquerors, and rebuilt in those conquerors’ images — but the trampled tracks of the feral elephants that infest Europe’s dark forests. Later empires look not to Alexander for inspiration but to his predecessors in Athens and Sparta, his successors in Rome; and, Christopher Marlowe’s Alexander and Hephaestion notwithstanding, so do later artists and chroniclers.

Elephants are not tamed again in Europe until the reign of the Angevin king Henry II. His son, Geoffrey I, uses them with great effect at the battle of Chinon in 1189, decisively establishing the dominance of the elephant-mounted longbowman over the horse-borne knight and the armored man-at-arms. Though the military effectiveness of the elephant is diminished by the advent of gunpowder, it remains both a useful beast of burden and a potent symbol of Anglo-French courage, determination, and stubbornness, and the Order of the Goad, established by Edward III in 1348 (motto: Piétiné soit qui mal y pense) remains the highest order of English chivalry.

In 1883 a full-grown bull elephant called Mazumbo, belonging to the Household Cavalry, runs wild in Hyde Park. Among the twenty-seven dead is the investigative journalist W.T. Stead, whose newspaper, the Pall Mall Gazette, is forced to close. Stead’s sensational article on child prostitution, “Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon”, which would have lead to the passage of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, goes unpublished, and indeed unwritten.

No criminal charges, therefore, follow the failure of Oscar Wilde’s 1895 libel suit against the Marquess of Queensberry. Indeed, the only permanent result of that unfortunate episode is that Wilde breaks once and for all with the Marquess’ son, Alfred “Bosie” Douglas, and moves to New York, where he enjoys a number of successes on the musical stage. He dies in 1957, in his apartments at the Dakota, at the age of 103 — having lived to see the Broadway revival of Hephaestion, his famous collaboration with Cole Porter, win six Tony awards.¤


Anonymous Archangel Beth said...


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