So, the Emperor threw me a party. A roomful, no, a houseful of people who were so interested in me and so not interested in me. I, however, was interested in them. Why? Because they were so lost, and I had an answer for them.
I wish I could communicate to you how exciting Christianity was at that time. It was not a religion, it was a great secret at last revealed to mankind. It was God's mercy, His love... His long, soulful touch. The Romans - detached, ironic - would seem quite familiar to you. But Christianity would be something totally new.
I was making an impression, at least on some of them. I was not the hallucinating simpleton they expected. Nor was I Constantinius' proponent. Maxentius liked that. He seemed less thrilled at how attractive I was making Christianity seem. At one point he grabbed me from the crowd and started talking to me, perhaps simply to keep me from talking.
"Do you like poetry?" he asked.
"I enjoy some of it," I replied cautiously.
"Poetry is an important skill," he continued. The wine seemed to make him more talkative. "One should learn well all the arts based upon language, at least, if one has a nose for power."
"You are more right than you realize," I countered.
"Power is based on language. I say something and it happens. It is communicated through language to the people who actually do my bidding." He swept open his arms in an inclusive gesture. Then he walked over to a table and grabbed a piece of parchment.
"Look at this device," he proclaimed. "If I put my words into this, they will last forever. How else would we even know of Rome, of our history? Through grandparents and minstrels? Thank the gods we have something more than that. Then again, bugger the gods. Men invented language! He invented paper and pen and ink. We invented the alphabet. How glorious! Those poor Barbarians writing a picture for each word...
"The solution was so simple, but imagine the genius required to devise it: a symbol for each sound! Any word imaginable to be signified by a series of symbols that duplicate its sound. All told, about two dozen symbols can convey every single word in our language."
His glowing face glowed with a new idea. "Another dozen and we should be able to capture any sound. Imagine being able to hear an event in your mind, the way we now read words in our minds. The sputtering of horses, an excited murmur, the cries of the dying. Or music! Music, too! Have you never learned a song from a tutor who was less than inspired? You wonder how much beauty was lost to his memory. But how grand it would be if we could write down the music as permanently as we write the lyric."
"Interesting idea..." I said.
"But writing has the quality of insanity as well."
"Insanity?" I asked.
"The need to capture our words can become overwhelming. Imagine being overwhelmed by a nonsensical need. For example, I have a cousin who every day needs to walk around his courtyard 500 times. This activity does not benefit him in any way, and yet he is compelled to do it. Can you imagine such a thing?"
"To need what you don't need," I pondered. "It's a paradox. It's hard for me to imagine."
"Yes, well, I'm concerned that writing has this same quality. You get to the point where you don't believe your words are real anymore until you write them down. You get to the point where your own experiences are not real until you write them down. All the world," he said, "all the world on this little square."
And just at that moment I saw his piece of parchment burst into flame. This was the first of my visions.
Object: swirling need
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