As was his custom on the summer solstice, King Gaspar summoned all the Doctors and Nobles to his court. For a fortnight, the wisest and most virtuous men of the Realm would discuss matters of great importance to the King and his family; they would debate on issues of philosophy, and reach consensus regarding matters that affected the entire Realm. For two weeks,  the virtue blossomed in the King’s hall, and the people of the entire realm–from beggar to merchant, from farmer to baron–sang in chorus as they celebrated the peace brought by King Gaspar’s wisdom, prudence, and humility.

It was, therefore, a great shock that within a few short months after the the last Convocation of Doctors and Nobles that the Realm descended into chaos. The nobles rode to war against the King. The scholars turned from honest debate to ideological pontificating. The merchants made slaves out of the beggars, and the barons feasted on the yield of the farmers, who were left to starve in the field.

No great calamity precipitated this anarchy and violence. It was not the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy that had foretold of doom, though many abounded. Neither flood nor drought nor pestilence plagued the Realm, though prophets proclaimed such disasters imminent. There was no crisis in succession that threatened the stability of the throne; there was no economic revolution that threatened to overturn the freedoms of the merchants; and there was no scientific breakthrough that undermined traditional beliefs.

Most calamities trace their root to human passions that sprouted from the humble seed of reason. The Realm’s sufferings grew from the seed of a simple, reasonable idea: the King wanted to draw a map.

King Gaspar, while prudent and good, was no scholar. Yet because he read Plato, quoted Aristotle, and admired Pindar; because his library contained the collected wisdom of Cicero and Seneca, the Doctors considered him wise and afforded him the courtesy due to men of great learning. Because he was King, the Nobles afforded him the courtesy due to men of great birth. Thus it was that the King–although a true democrat at heart–ruled his court through the tyranny of admiration. No worse tyranny has every subjected man, for it is a power which one does not grasp; it is a power that is bestowed. And it is a power that cannot be relinquished.

The King wanted to survey all lands of the Realm. He declared that the survey had to be approached in a rational way. The Doctors conferred, consulted their tables, and made their calculations and recommendations to the King. The King declared that survey had to be fair. The Nobles approached the King one-by-one, and citing legal precedent and tradition, declared their support. Heartened at having such a wise and learned king–or so thought the Doctors–who was committed to the traditions and laws the bound him to the people (and the people to him) the Convocation of Doctors and Nobles told good King Gaspar to proceed with his survey. King Gaspar was gladdened, and the Convocation adjourned as it always does, with promises of fidelity and solidarity to King, God, and People.

Irony is the Muse that inspires History to weave her twisted stories, and it is this irony that inspired the tragic history of the Realm: That consensus led to discord. For all the Doctors and all the Nobles consented to the King’s survey, and with their blessing King Gaspar sent out his marshals to survey the lands of the Realm. After some months, the Map had been completed, and King Gaspar sent his heralds to every keep, town, and village in the Realm. And thus began the Realm’s troubles.

The King’s map divided the land into square parcels, for the square, King Gaspar decreed, was the perfect figure. The Doctors ridiculed the notion that the square was the perfect figure. After all, geometers had long known that the golden rectangle possess the perfect ratio; therefore, it was the perfect figure. Some Doctors argued the circle was the perfect figure, since all points on the circle were equidistant from the center. In the end, they all agreed that the King had no right in declaring that the square was the perfect figure. After all, that was the arena for the learned scholars of the Realm, an arena in which the King had no authority. The Nobles declared that the King had betrayed them, the law, and sacred tradition. They had not given their assent to the King’s decree, as the law required. Moreover, nowhere did tradition hold that the square was perfect. The King had usurped their authority, had ignored tradition, and asserted his narrow understanding of geometry upon the Realm.

The Doctors branded the King a fool; the Nobles declared him a tyrant. Doctors wrote and lectured, explaining the King’s folly. The Nobles raised their arms and marched against the King. The King’s supporters, of whom there were many, rushed to their sovereign’s defense. The Doctors’ overstated their condemnation of the King’s decree, did they not? Surely, the King did not mean to change the definition of the golden ratio. Nor would his decree apply to the science of geometry. And the Nobles surely acted out of fear, or worse, out of a thirst for power. He violated no legal precedent, for the Nobles had given their assent at the Convocation. That they disliked the result is no reason to nullify their complicity in bringing it about. And tradition was silent on things mathematical.

King Gaspar was not a deaf man, nor was he a hard hearted man. He clarified that his decree did not change the definition of the perfect ratio; he explained that the square was perfect only in matters topographical, not geometrical. But the Doctors no longer respected the King, for he demonstrated great knowledge with little understanding. The King tried to convince the Nobles of his fidelity to the law and tradition, but only time and wisdom can repair the bond of trust once shared between friends.

All the while, the Realm crumbled as Nobles fought for territory and power, the Doctors pontificated, and the people suffered. And from the parapets of his castle, King Gaspar, once lauded for his wisdom, prudence, and humility, watched the Realm fracture into private fiefdoms, a fool trapped in his own castle.



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