Chapter 18b


Yorkshire Dales


A man came over and sat with them.  Roslin,” he said, “You’re looking for Newton.”


It appeared that they were privileged to meet a local town character.  He was paunchy and bandy legged with thinning hair, a red nose and a missing tooth.  There is something pleasant about a person who lives with no regrets, and it seemed that at the very least this man would never have reason to regret that he had not drunk more in his life.  The stranger continued in a whisper, after a suspicious glance around.  It was incongruous.  If he was afraid of being overheard, he could not possibly know he was not talking to the very people he was trying to keep the secret from.


“Predicted the end of the world, he did.  Isaac Newton was the last magician.  He foretold it all.  And it’s going to happen.”


“Really,” said Jon as he tried to think of a way out of this.


“Yes.  It’s written in The Book.  They’re going to thrown us all in a big wine press – you know what a wine press is? – and mash us.  He pressed one palm upon the other.  “And the blood.  The blood’s going to be everywhere.”


“‘And the winepress was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the winepress, even unto the horse bridles, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs,’” quoted Hapgood. 


“Well you see?” said the stranger.  He seemed pleased that he was having an impact.


“How many people is that, Jon?” Tracy asked.


“Well a furlong is six hundred sixty feet.   How high is a bridle, Ivan.


“Lying on the ground or hanging from a hook?”


“On the horse.”


“How big a horse?  And is he lying down or reared up on his hind legs?”


“He’s standing in a deep puddle.”


“Well if he’s in a puddle, by the time it gets over his back he’s swimming.  It will never get up to his bridle.”


“Right,” said Jon.  “Five feet.  So we’ll take it that the blood is five feet deep right next the winepress and it goes out for a radius of six hundred sixty times sixteen hundred feet.  So the area of the puddle is pi r squared or about three point five trillion square feet.  Multiply that by five for the height and divide by three for the volume of a cone and you wind up with two point three trillion cubic feet.


“But the profile won’t be a neat triangle.  It will be deepest and steepest at the center and at the edges it will be nearly level, so we ought to divide by about four for about eight hundred billion cubic feet.   


“A person probably carries a gallon of blood, but with an inefficient process like a wine press you aren’t going to recover more than about a pint, or say thirty two cubic inches.  A cubic foot is seventeen twenty eight cubic inches, divided by thirty two gives you fifty four people per cubic foot.  Eight hundred billion divided by fifty four is about fourteen billion.  I can’t make it less than fourteen billion any way you try.”


“Four feet,” said Ivan.  It’s usually closer to four feet.”


“All right then,” said Jon.  “Ten billion.  And there aren’t that many people in the world.  There never have been ten billion people.”  He turned to the stranger.  “So not to worry, my friend.  There is no way it can possibly happen.  You’re safe.”


The stranger did not look very pleased.  He seemed to think he was being mocked, but he was not sure how.  He left them.


Tracy whispered, “Of course there will be close to ten billion in another sixty years.”


The bubble popped. 


While the four were deciding that they would angle back toward the south and west and thus return to the line as they continued to work on the last message, Ali was visiting ancient Syracuse, the city of the Greek diaspora which had been taken by the Romans only after a bitterly contested siege.  The man who had given them such fits was the genius Archimedes.  He had devised some sort of cannon to spew fire on the Roman ships and a huge grappling mechanism to catch them beneath the walls, rending apart the fragile galleys.  The ships had been built of planks set edge to edge and fastened with pegs or stones between them.  They were much unlike the sturdy later design of keel, ribs and a hull of overlapping planks that the Vikings had initiated.  The Roman galley had been built almost as if the intention was that it explode spectacularly when the fabric of its hull was seriously compromised.  In the end it was despairing traitors from within who permitted the Roman victory.  Archimedes’ inventions had withstood the test.  


The Romans had much looked forward to gaining in their victory the services of the brilliant man.  But he had been killed negligently by an ignorant and hot headed common soldier.  The soldier had found Archemedes drawing in the sand.  Such was the stupidity, the pointlessness of war. 


Ali was sensitive to the folly, but he did not reflect upon another famous sand drawing.  That was the one done by Christ when a mob brought a woman to him to be judged.  Tradition sometimes identifies her as Mary Magdalene, although scripture does not.


Ali’s guide took him to an ancient quarry. As they entered the garden-like space Ali learned that it had once been used as a prison.  There was the entrance of an enormous cave conspicuous against the far wall.  The cave had been much enlarged by human labor.  On the other side of the cliff was the great theater of Syracuse. 


“When the Romans built a theatre,” the guide explained.  “It was usually of big brick vaults stacked on top of each other to give it the basic shape and support.  But this theatre is hollowed out of natural rock, meaning the vaults were not needed for that.  But it appears that they had shops and other things in the vaults.  It was part of the show experience.  So they hollowed out this cave beneath the theatre itself where they could have their shops anyway.”


“And their brothels,” thought Ali.


As the two entered, high above them was a rectangle of bright light.  The enlarged cavern extended far around to the right, following the curve of the theatre itself.


“That window is the Ear of Dionysus.  It opens onto the back of the theatre.”  said the guide.  “And look here.  The door of the cave was natural, but here they cut away blocks of stone.  Even now you see the rectangles where the rock was removed.  They wheeled the blocks away by means of giant iron wheels with iron axels.”


Later as they were visiting the theatre itself Ali could see the Ear of Dionysus looking like a pressbox.  Ear?  It was for listening.  Certainly it was not so the people in the audience could hear the goings on in the cave.  It had to be so the people in the cave could hear the sound of the audience and know when the play was ending so they could wind up their business in a timely fashion.


Dionysus was the god of the theatre, but this ear was for another aspect of the god.  There were things related to the fertility god going on, but whether it was simply the satisfaction of the desires of the flesh or something to do with the hope that fulfillment might lead to children, Ali could not decide even as he tread the same stones and saw the same things as the people he was trying to understand.


Later they visited the altars of Zeus.  There were ten of them lined up side by side.  “They would give the meat of the sacrifice to the poor,” said the guide.  “There were too many poor to feed them from one altar, so they built all these.”


That sounded encouraging somehow.  At least at one time there seemed like too many people.  But it proved nothing.  The free food dole could just as well have been a desperate attempt to draw more people in to fill the withering ranks of the city.


Ali said goodbye to his guide and paused before he left the ruins.  Syracuse now was a busy modern city in its own right.  It was only because the ancients had built in stone at crushing expense that their remains were visible at all, that plus a few remembered names.  How many other cities with more cost effective architecture might have risen and fallen in the same place over the millennia he could not guess. 


The bones of the dead civilizations seemed to dwarf even the accomplishments of the present.  They were everywhere.  Even back home in Yemen, explorers had discovered the remains of enormous dams and canal systems.  Somewhere in the distant past there had been an irrigation system and a centralized government that could have stood comparison with ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.  The only reason the remains could still be seen was that since then the population had been so sparse and industry and agriculture so rudimentary that the old constructions had not been effaced.


If the logic of cities lying in a straight line was good, it would always have been good.  The chain of cities he was following also might have had their rises and falls, always with a new city built on the unrecognized ashes of the old.  Always the same place, because the local advantageous geography would not have changed, and the privileged location along a line of other cities would still have been stimulating. 


He remembered the bad news he had heard in Malta.  Perhaps it is not a bad thing that Allah strikes down so regularly what he permits to grow.  People are capable of such evil. 


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