Thursday, 12 May 2016

Atlas Mugged

“If you don't know, the thing to do is not to get scared, but to learn.” 

Atlas's classroom had no doors. Its roof was the dome of the sky, which he held aloft, that his students may be free of the whims of capricious gods. This burden he bore without complaint, but men too can be capricious.

When Atlas taught, shadows held no fear. Children wondered at the light, and the shapes and meanings of the world outside and the one inside were revealed to them by and by. Stories were often told that never ended, though truths and questions were sometimes arrived at. Some of these the children forgot. Some they recalled. Some they couldn't recall, yet had not forgotten.

Whether the earth beneath him grew smaller, or whether men grew larger cannot now be ascertained. I suspect we only grew more numerous, but my conjectures are not to be trusted. Others apocryphally suggest that in his twilight hour, Zeus played one final trick upon the world and Atlas

Holding court at his ankles, some men began to tell stories with endings. Others, to ask questions they already knew the answers to. Had they attended more closely to their role as teachers, they may have made better students, but teaching and learning were not their preoccupation. Their eyes fixed upon an empty empyrean, they had begun to sense power.

Before long, some stood upon the god's bent knee and proclaimed their privilege. "Children should learn their place," rained down their words. Atlas did not shrug.

Emboldened, others outdid the first and stood upon his arched back, declaiming mankind's freedom. "Children should learn their power," they announced mellifluously and without discernible irony. Atlas yet did not shrug.

Arrogantly, yet more overtook them. They perched upon his straining shoulders and laid claim to the horizon. "Children should learn their facts," was their military mantra. Still, Atlas did not shrug.

Then came the day that one man climbed into Atlas's ear. History records his name as John Galt. He spoke, and his voice echoed out like a clarion call from that titanic cave, which had once reverberated with the sound of Zeus's own thunder.

"Long have you carried the celestial sphere aloft, for Gods who abandoned you here between Heaven and Earth. Now it is time to set your burden down, for we are the masters of our destiny."

Atlas obeyed.

What abyss we fell into then, or fell upon us, no one can say, for no map of it exists and we have lost the art of storytelling. Evidence cannot completely discount the theory that Atlas lifted us out of it, and still to this day has not shrugged.

In my sleep I see him there, holding up the world and trampling the heavens underfoot, with all-too-human grit but no fire left to teach.

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