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Bewildering Stories

Challenge 395 Response


by Karlos Allen, Bertil Falk, Don Webb

In Brian Trent’s “Circles”:

  1. Why is the work classified as an essay?
  2. King Hiero’s question is somewhat morbid, in the style of Antiquity. How might it be phrased today?

[Karlos] Why is it an essay? It’s not a work fiction but is rather a dramatization of a real event. The author is using this real event — the death of Archimedes at the hands of an ignorant soldier — to explore why Archimedes was in that grove at that time. Archimedes knew the Romans were coming, and this was his answer to King Hiero’s question.

Though posed in narrative form, “Circles” is not a story per se as the action does not advance a plot. Yet it is more than a vignette; Archimedes is portrayed as a real person struggling with his approaching death.

About King Hiero’s question: Today, we would ask, “What do you what to accomplish before you die?” Both questions speak to the same concern, that our lives and our deaths be meaningful, that our existence do more than convert oxygen to carbon dioxide and food into sewage.

[Don] A crude image, Karlos, but effective, I grant. If the function of life is to eat and be eaten, what is its purpose? The human condition imposes a moral responsibility, which is exemplified by both Archimedes and King Hiero.

[Bertil] Is this really non-fiction? For sure, the writer has used the stories about Archimedes, but how sure can we be that the stories about him are true? Whatever, I liked this retold version.

[Don] Excellent questions, Bertil. I detect a veteran journalist’s keen eye for the truth!

At an extreme, one might surmise that history is lies that victors tell about the vanquished and that autobiographers tell about themselves. Cynics have a point, but they can’t explain history that is not self-serving or mean-spirited propaganda.

Politicians have every interest in rewriting history, even as it’s being made. But historians and journalists are the ones who “make” history, and as such they have no interest in disguising truth other than under duress or out of weakness.

Historical fiction is commonplace. But I don’t think that’s what “Circles” is. True, it is a dramatization. But since the account is centered on a real person and closely follows — indeed, reiterates — an incident recorded in history, I consider it embellished non-fiction.

Fiction is often based on real persons and historical events. History and fiction differ in the same way as tragedy and comedy: in degree, not in kind. After all, history is stories, just like everything else. To quote a motto we’ve borrowed, stories are what we are, and all we have...

Copyright © 2010 by Karlos Allen
Bertil Falk and Don Webb

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