By A.J. Cave
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Deep Thought was a super
computer built by a super race of beings to calculate 'the Ultimate Answer to
the Great Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything'.
After seven and a half million years of computing cycles, Deep Thought's
"I think the problem is that the question was
too broadly based..."
"Forty Two?! Is that all you've got to show for seven and a half million
"I checked it very thoroughly," said
Deep Thought, "and that quite definitely is the answer. I think the
to be quite honest with you, is that you've never actually known what the
Douglas Adams was asked many times during his career why he chose the number
42 and this is what he said:
answer to this is very simple. It was a joke. It had to be a number, an
ordinary, smallish number, and I chose that one.
I sat at my desk, stared into the garden and thought '42 will do.' I typed
it out. End of story."
Ironically, this might very well have been how the historians of the 19th
and 20th centuries came up with their image of the Imperial Persian
Achaemenids, when they could not grasp the nature of their empire:
Instead of attempting to ask meaningful
questions, inquire into historical accounts known to be biased, and dig deeper
behind the hostile Hellenic veil, they chose the path of least resistance and
looked the other way... they gave up half of their own rich inheritance.
were not Hellenes. They were not democrats. They were Orientals. End of
Then came year 1989.
1989 was an interesting year. It was the Year of the Snake; Emperor of Japan
died; George Bush [the Elder] became the President of the United States; Soviet
Union finally left Afghanistan; and Ayatollah Khomeini offered $3M for the head
of a British-Indian writer. Georgian demonstrators were massacred by the Red
Army. Students protested in Tiananmen Square and the Chinese declared martial
Beijing. Ayatollah Khomeini died and no one
collected the bounty. The
Loma Prieta earthquake hit San Francisco and a
portion of the Bay Bridge collapsed.
Berlin Wall fell too without an earthquake and a small article in a
conservative magazine by an unknown American policy analyst predicted the "End
of History": the struggle between the East and West was finally
over; Western democracy had won; rock and roll had become pervasive; human
nature had changed and human thought had stopped to evolve. Materialism, even in
fanatic theocracies would eventually lead to a universal homogeneous state.
Western democracy would spread and the globe would not be able to resist its
This would have been one of the stories that Herodotos would not
have believed it himself: That the Hellenes and Persians had killed and died for
nothing: they should have just waited for the western shopping malls and rock
and roll music to reach Hellas and Persia.
Herodotos had started,
Fukuyama had ended: history had ended the way it had started: by words of
men who thought they understood a world that was beyond their comprehension.
Hubris rings a bell?
The article was inspired not by the Hellene 'father of history, but by Hegel,
a German Philosopher of the 19th century, who did not look like the
sort of a man who had many friends: not too many people had read him and fewer
had understood. "For our purposes,"
the author wrote, "it matters very little what strange thoughts occur to people
in Albania..." No enquiries were necessary. We knew!
The article was translated into many languages and the unknown writer
became not famous, but known well enough in the circles of intellectuals who
waxed and waned about the article. They say the conservative magazine outsold
pornography in Washington D.C. in the summer of 1989. Everyone else in the
country was watching Seinfeld, not that there was anything wrong with that. Soup
Nazi was a lot more interesting than German philosophy. Nothing like hunger
realigns real priorities.
Nothing further happened for the remainder of 1989 that is worth mentioning
compared to the end of history.
1989 was a good year for the man who predicted the end of history. He went on
to become a college professor and predicted the end of other things. Mercifully,
he stayed away from the history of the Achaemenids and stuck to public policy.
1989 was a bad year for the
Golden Frog. It became extinct. It was the end of the road for the famous
shinny little toad with dazzling mating rituals. Discovered in 1966, it starred
in colorful posters about the biodiversity of Costa Rica and became the subject
of the book: In Search of the Golden Frog. They say it was because of
I am obliged, however, to tell you that I have heard rumors from the white
mice that all the Golden Frogs hitched a ride to the Restaurant at the End of
the Universe in 1989, waiting to hear 'the Ultimate Question'. 'The Untimate
Answer' is still holding at 42.
Douglas Adams had a daughter when he was 42. He died in 2001 of a heart
attack. He was 49.
Ĝakata... Time passes...
2008 has been a good year for history thanks to Zeus and Apollo and the rest
of the Olympians who didn't take too kindly to the human proclamation about the
'end of history' and swiftly punished hubris. Only great gods and fat opera
singers can decree 'The End'. Russians have swaggered back into Georgia; Chinese
have proudly demonstrated their might with fireworks over Beijing Olympics, and
Iranians have told the West: "If you want our toys, come and get them. Bring
cash and cigarettes."
Nothing ever changes much in the eternal Iran. It constantly changes in order
to remain the same. After thousands of years of surviving bloodshed and
brutality, it knows how to burn, die, and rise again like phoenix from the heap
When a world ends, another one begins...
Related article by the author:
Battle over Persepolis
Fortification Archive: Achaemenid Administrative Archives
A. J. Cave is a San
Francisco Bay-Area Iranian-American writer. Her first novel,
Roxana Romance: Roshanak Nameh [Book of
Roshanak] was published in 2008.
Roxana Romance is the story of Roxana
who married Alexander the Great, King of Macedon, who defeated
the last Great King of the first Persian Empire. They say it was
a love match.
The third chapter of the novel: 'Axis
of Empire' is about the horror of burning of Parsa
[Persepolis] by Alexander. It puts Achaemenid Administrative
Archives in context of time and place. It is provided here by
the author in
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