Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Guilty of corrupting minds

It wasn't long ago that the Arkanarian court was one of the most educated in the empire. There had been scientists at court, most of whom were, of course, charlatans, but there had also been some like Bagheer of Kissen, who had discovered the sphericity of the planet; the healer Tata, who had made the brilliant conjecture that epidemics come from tiny invisible worms, spread by wind and water; and the alchemist Sinda, who like all alchemists had been in search of a way to transform clay into gold but instead had discovered the law conservation of matter. The Arkanarian court had also had poets, mostly foot lickers and sycophants, but some like Pepin the Glorious, the author of the historical tragedy The March to the North; Zuren the Truthful, who had composed more than five hundred ballads and sonnets that had been set to music by the people; and also Gur the Storyteller, who had written the first secular novel in the history of the empire — the sad story of a prince who had fallen in love with a beautiful barbarian. The court also used to have marvelous actors, dancers, and singes. Wonderful artists had covered the wall with unfading frescoes; fabulous sculptors had decorated the palace parks with their creations. You couldn't say that the Arkanarian kings had been enthusiastic supporters of education or connoisseurs of the arts. It had simply been considered the decent thing to do, like the ceremony of dressing in the morning or the presence of splendid guards by the main entrance.

Aristocratic tolerance would occasionally go so far as to allow scientists and poets to become visible cogs in the state apparatus. Thus, only half a century ago, the highly learned alchemist Botsa had occupied the now-abolished-as-unneeded position of Minister of Mineral Resources, founded a number of mine, and made Arkanar famous for its amazing alloys, the secret of which had been lost after his death. And Pepin the Glorious had been in charge of public education until very recently, when the Ministry of History and Literature, which he had headed, had been discovered to be harmful and guilty of corrupting minds.

— from Hard to Be a God, by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky.

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