Monday, February 14, 2011

The Codex

"Gentlemen," the clear voice rang out in the crowded hall, and the crisp clack of the gavel startled not a few conversations into silence; "Gentlemen, the meeting will be called to order." The speaker on the dais was a dignified, scholarly, sort of man, whose spectacles may have been acquired via Darwinian processes, and his steely hair lay close and flat to his incongruously old ears.

"I would, if I may, open with a word of thanks to Dr. Barnsworthy for his first-rate archaeology, and also to Dr.s Whitsome and Moore for their linguistic and philological expertise. These men have opened to us a world long lost, and altogether unknown in modern times. They are to be congratulated." Here, a round of applause broke out, warmer than most academic plaudits. These men had truly expanded the frontiers of their society, and these were heady days. "Dr. Barnsworthy," the chairman continued, "though your paper is yet unpublished, would you be willing to go on the record of our minutes with some record of your expedition?"

A tweed gentleman stood up, and replied "I would be most honored, Mr. Chairman." He advanced to the lectern stationed off-center towards the front of the dais. His boots, soiled for months during his expedition, were polished and shining like a leather mirror. He stepped behind the lectern, adjusted his notes, cleared his throat, and began: "Honored sirs, you are all aware of my recent absence, and I thank you for your grace in meeting my responsibilities in our society, in my lecture hall, and all the innumerable good offices you have maintained towards me. I adjourned, as you know, to the highlands of the Peloponnesus, the region known as Arcadia, renowned for its pastoral qualities. Pursuing clues found in the Codex Atlanticus, I arrived at the village of Anemodouri, and, being warned by the inhabitants against further pursuit of my object, continued on into the hills behind the town. Though the small stream that DaVinci wrote of had changed course time and again, I traced it's path to my object, the ruins of the ancient village of Agelada."

At this name, a murmur rippled through the hall. They had all heard it, but most had dismissed it. An elderly lector arose, asking "How did you assure yourself of the identity of the place?"

"An excellent question, sir. The villagers, apparently more literate than many, had inscribed the name of their town below each house number on the main street. There were eight houses in all, making all the more marvelous that the postal system had required addresses and the name of the hamlet, but when I had excavated their municipal building, the largest structure in the main town, I discovered the by-laws of the place had required this addressing system. It seems they had hoped to grow into a commercial hub, but alas, their fate was otherwise arranged. They were wiped out by anthrax in the second century, BC." Barnsworthy adjusted his notes and sipped his water.

"The town, as I say, was arranged along a single street, with the houses facing one another, and the municipal edifice overlooking one end of the street. Behind each house was a cow-byre, which were all of a great size, and connected to the houses by covered passageways to allow easy access. The good diggers I had conscripted were all careful not to disturb the houses, and I have a number of sketches of the hamlet, which will be presented in good order in the coming months. The most astounding feature of the byres was the name and inscription which were made on each stall, in a script which was then unknown to me. This was a great puzzle, as the inhabitants of the town had clearly spoken the Greek of their day. It was not until we had thoroughly excavated the municipal building that I realized the profundity of this tiny hamlet, for in the basement of that structure, in a stone ark, lay the most astonishing historical treasure of our time."

The crowd was by now on the edges of their seats, veritably in a lather to hear what would come next. The chairman looked on with a smile, having coordinated the matter, and interrupted Dr. Barnsworthy at this time. "Thank you, good sir. Would Dr.s Whitsome and Moore care to join you at the podium?" The two men hurried up, clearly excited. "You may continue, doctors."

"Thank you, Mr. Chairman." Barnsworthy turned back to the crowd, and continued: "Good colleagues, these eminent scholars beside me will now expound upon the find."

Dr. Moore pulled gently on a velvet rope hanging unobtrusively from the curtins behind him. He and Whitsome stepped forward to allow the curtains to puddle at the base of the wall, and directed floodlights came up, revealing a blowup of a page covered half in Greek, half in a script unknown.

"Gentlemen, behold!" Whitsome had a lovely speaking voice, and he hurled this enjoinder upon the crowd. "The Royal Society for the Comprehension and Personification of Animals has before it the Codex Bovinicus!" Gasps and murmurs rose into cheers, whistles, and thunderous applause as the crowd stood, and, to a man, expressed their heartfelt excitement.

"The RSCPA has never, may I repeat, never, had the privilege of actually communicating with the animals we all love so dearly, until this day!" Whitsome was glowing, and Moore was shaking his head in awe at their accomplishment. The two had spent many laborious nights assembling the required clues to render the codex intelligible, and they were rightly basking in the fruit of their labors. "Dr. Moore will guide you through a few sample translations, and you will, no doubt, desire to examine the whole of our work when it is published in the upcoming periodical of our society."

Moore stepped forward, and pointed with a long stick up to the left hand column, where the familiar Geek characters were. "You gentlemen are all aware of the Greek word for 'hay', 'ekei', and you see the markings on the right hand column. Bovic is a tonal language, as we had long suspected, and you will not the number of strokes, stamps really, required to convey this comparatively simple meaning. Additionally, you may note the variety of synonyms. As the Esquimeaux have many words for 'ice', it is not surprising to find that the cows have at least three dozen tones for 'hay', and the tone is varied, using sub- or super-strokes, to convey the verb. Dr. Whitsome's philological efforts have given good indications of the sound required by the strokes. Doctor, would you care to demonstrate?"

Whitsome nodded obligingly, cleared his throat, and vocalized. Many in the audience were stunned at the purity of his tone, the long O so mellifluous and supple, the rise and fall of his pitch, and the haunting echo of his moo, all alike grasped their attention. Here was a linguist indeed! Moore explained the character for 'milk', Whitsome again let forth his moo, and so on through half a dozen of the lines on the codex. The hall was silent. At long last, Bovic translated! And a competent speaker of the new language in their midst! Oh, grand day!

One of the younger men in the society stood up with a question: "Sirs, I commend your work. It is truly astounding. If I may venture a query, however, do not all of your stupendous vocalisations sound, well, the same?" The man sat down and waited for an answer.

Moore's lip trembled. Whitsome's eyebrow twitched. Barnsworthy shifted his feet. The chairman peered over his spectacles at the three scholars, then at the inquisitor. "Doctors," he harrumphed, "have you an answer to this man?" Moore blinked rapidly. Whitsome cleared his throat. Barnsworthy looked at the footlights. A drop of sweat seemed to be trickling down by his ear.

"Hearing no response, sir, your inquiry must stand as unanswered. Do you have anything else to say?" The chairman frowned after his inquiry, wondering what might come next.

"Thank you, Mr. Chairman. In light of the lecture this evening, presenting truly the greatest discoveries of this society, I would like to motion that we dissolve the society immediately." The man smiled nervously as he spoke, then sat down immediately.

"So motioned." The chairman looked about the room. "Will I hear a second?"

Barnsworthy haltingly raised his hand. "I will second the motion."

"Very well. Discussion on the motion?" The room was silent. "Then it goes to a floor vote. All in favor of the motion, raise your hand."

The room was very quiet. Slowly, one by one, hands were raised. Men thought about the time they had devoted to the RSCPA, the hall dinners (vegetarian, of course), the outings to barnyards, and to a man, they realized it was all quite silly.

"So noted, gentlemen. All opposed to the motion, raise your hand." The chairman cast about the room for a palm, but not one was lifted. "Motion carries. Go home, gentlemen."

And so, the hall quietly emptied. The men filed out silently, going home to flats, houses, manors. Going past pubs, for nobody felt like celebrating. Going home to relieved wives, to children who thought father a good deal more sane, to pets who would finally have peace from constant analysis. It was a wet night in London, and a chill rain sifted down past streetlamps.

1 comment:

Ellen said...

they have such little faith in the cows!!