May 16, 2009

There once lived a young king who was beloved by his subjects for his dedication, his care, and his wisdom. He valued knowledge, but it seemed sad to him that all the discovered truths of previous ages should be inaccessible to all but a few erudite students. So he directed that texts should be gathered together from all the corners of the earth, to be housed in a great library. From these texts, he hoped to create a compilation which would be accessible to the least of his subjects, and which would also show him how to become a good ruler of his people. He knew his own skills and time were inadequate to the task, so he also brought together the learned people of his kingdom to take charge of the precious manuscripts, to arrange them in orderly fashion, and to fashion from them a history of man.

Obediently the scholars set out on the task. After ten years of intense labour, they had brought together all the known works in the world. After another ten, they had managed to sort and filtre all those works to what could be transported by a caravan. Another ten years, and they had succeeded finally in condensing the substance of the great library to what could be carried on the back of a single camel.

But time had not forgotten the king, who had not been young now for some years. His eyesight had started to fail, and even a single camel load of books was now beyond him. There would be others in his kingdom too, for whom the task of reading even so few books would be impossible. So he handsomely rewarded the men of learning who had given their lives to the task and set them as advisors to the new generation of scholars, whose job it would be to reduce all that had gone before into a single volume.

They managed it. But by the time they finally succeeded, 20 years later, the king had become very old, and now he could barely walk. He passed his ancient hands over the slim volume, but they lacked the strength to hold it. "Please," he whispered, his voice cracking with age, "Tell me what is in it."

The leader of the scholars bent down over the bed and said quietly, "Man is born, he suffers, and he dies."

And with a smile on his face, the king breathed his last.

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