Sunday, July 18, 2021

Cletus and Koriolis

Cletus and Koriolis (by Neil Hepburn)


This is a story about truth, beauty, and reality.

Cletus and Koriolis

A long long time ago, around after 1000 BCE, there was a Greek youth who went by the name of "Cletus". Cletus like his father was hard working and ambitious and a fisherman. But Cletus was also a fiercely independent thinker who was always searching for his own light - a curious autodidact who enjoyed tinkering and figuring things out on his own as much as possible, even if that meant making some mistakes.

One day while practicing some sailing maneuvers on his father's boat he sailed a bit too far from shore and was blown far from home all the way to the north African coast. After spotting land and a natural beach he moored his boat and swam ashore to find someone who could help him find his way back home. With a few fish in hand [for payment in kind] he eventually found an Egyptian merchant who luckily happened to speak a little Greek and was willing to help him. Cletus asked the man if he could tell him where the source of the gods were is so he could get his bearings. Cletus lived in a part of the Mediterranean where the winds constantly blew from the west in an eastward direction. So naturally the source of these gods was in the west. Cletus assumed the merchant knew his meaning. The Egyptian man looked confused and pointed in a certain direction and said "This is where the gods come from. This is where the sun rises. It is on the other side of the Nile." In this moment Cletus realized that this was indeed the direction he wanted to go and realized that the sun generally did rise in the opposite direction of the wind. But since he was mostly focussed on the winds while sailing he had not paid as much attention to this fact about the sun rising in the east. Cletus even vaguely remembered his own father mentioning something about this. Cletus thanked the man and returned to his boat.

After reflecting on the advice he had just received, Cletus could feel the hairs standing up on his back as it sunk in that the sun was a much better way to navigate than the using the winds. Maybe he should have listened to his father more. But by figuring this out on his own he felt a certain connection to this knowledge that resonated with him. He felt this knowledge had brought him closer to the gods.

While sailing on his way back home Cletus noticed a person treading water in the middle of the sea.  As he sailed closer he could see it was a woman who appeared both frightened and exhausted. Cletus pulled the woman to safety and gave her some time to catch her breath and relax. After some time the woman began to speak in a raspy voice that Cletus could barely make out. She was Phoenician but was surprisingly fluent in Greek - much better than the Egyptian merchant. She asked Cletus where he was going and Cletus told her the name of his town. The woman recognized it immediately and said, "don't worry I will get you home. But first, I want to repay you. Would you be willing to stop off on a small island where I know there are some supplies and we can rest for the night; tomorrow you will be home."

Cletus considered her offer and thought of his worried father. As it started to rain Cletus - in the moment - made a snap decision and made up his mind that he was going to go to take the woman to the island after all and receive his gift. Cletus knew in his heart-of-hearts that the rain was just an excuse for his father; He could not resist the woman's offer.

Upon arriving at the island the woman quickly ran off to a dense thorny area not far from shore. In that moment Cletus thought he had been duped. Fortunately, his luck changed again and the rain had begun to subside with the sun coming back out. But it was late in the day and Cletus began making plans for camping on the island by himself. Then, out of the corner of his eye he noticed something: The woman was returning, and in her arms was a small basket. She brought Cletus the basket and opened it to reveal an assortment of biscuits, and dried dates and figs. At once Cletus felt his appetite sated and immediately his mood changed from feeling bitter to feeling thankful and even joyful. "Thank you" he said "I thought you had abandoned me." "Oh," said the woman, "I would never abandon someone who just saved my life. This food is not the gift I was referring to earlier. This is just from a cache we Phoenicians keep in times like these in case of emergency. Your gift is coming later tonight, but it's not what you think it is - as you can see, I am too old for that  - so keep your clothes on. What I am about to show you is much much better than any of your childish fantasies."

Later, after the sun went down and twilight had passed into dusk the woman stood up from the camp fire and said. "Are you ready for your gift?"
Cletus nodded yes. The woman then said, "What I am about to show you is perhaps the greatest piece of wisdom the Phoenicians have ever received. You must swear an oath to the gods that if you ever reveal this secret then you will punished by Koriolis. Cletus had never heard of Koriolis. It sounded Greek but maybe it was Phoenician or perhaps Etruscan? In this moment it did not matter, Cletus had always wanted to partake in such a ceremony and quickly and solemnly swore the oath of secrecy to the woman and in witness to Koriolis.
She then took Cletus by the hand and walked him away from the fire towards the sandy shore where the night sky could be seen in all its majestic glory. 
The woman looked up and then over to Cletus and said "Please stand in this direction." Cletus stood as she said. She then told him to "turn a little to the left." He turned. 
"Now just a bit to the right." 
He turned again. 
"Perfect. Now look directly up in front of you. Do you see that cluster of stars over there?"
Cletus took a moment and pointed to the Big Dipper (Ursa Major).
"Do you mean that?" 
"Yes, exactly. That is Big Bear."
"Big Bear?"
"Yes, that is just a way of remembering it. You can see its body is there and its head is there. But call it what you want."
The woman continued: "Now, follow a line in this direction" - she drew a line in the sky from the Big Dipper (Ursa Major) to the Little Dipper (Ursa Minor) - "and this will take you to Little Bear". 
Cletus was feeling both excited and impatient. He just wanted the woman to get to the point.
"Now you see Little Bear is like Big Bear in reverse. Now that we have found Little Bear we are almost done. You just need to look for these two stars." The woman's finger moved back and forth so Cletus could follow.
"Now the last thing you need to do is focus on those two stars and find the point half way between them. That point in the sky will always point you north. If you move towards this point you will be going north and it will get colder and you will begin to feel cold and you may even find snow. If you move away from that point you will find heat and sand. Oh, and the higher in the sky Little Bear is the farther north you are. And when you go south, Little Bear will be lower in the sky."

The woman then explained that because of this Little Bear was more reliable than the sun and the moon or even the wind for navigation. It was what allowed the Phoenicians to navigate and trade at great distances.

Cletus had heard about the Phoenician's mastery of the seas, but until then did not realize that it was connected to this. He once again felt the hairs raise on his back, but this time it was more intense. He could barely catch his breath. His mind was raging with possibilities.  He not only felt closer to the gods but felt as though he was communing with them in this very moment as he was staring at Little Bear. He felt like a demigod; He felt like Hercules.

The next day Cletus reaffirmed his oath to the woman (and Koriolis) and returned home to console his father.

Over the years Cletus used his new-found knowledge to fish and trade at greater distances. He became legendary among his Greek companions but refused to give up his secret. He knew that this secret was both a blessing and a curse but refused to betray his oath. He wasn't actually afraid of the Phoenicians but was afraid of the gods, which kept him honest. It was also incredibly difficult to live with such a profound secret. This secret had become a curse but Cletus was still too afraid to break his oath for fear of retribution from Koriolis. 

In his frustration he did something he had not done in a long time - he decided he was going to sail as far away as possible. Instead of sailing past the Pillars of Hercules and then north (which was where the Phoenicians often headed), he considered sailing west or east. The idea of sailing west was in many ways the most intriguing to him, but he had never heard of a single sailor - even a Phoenician - who had ever returned; rumour had it that there was some deadly current or capricious god that prevented return. Instead, he turned his attention to the east.
He had heard many interesting stories about the far east and made up his mind to head in that direction. He decided to follow coast lines as opposed to sailing as directly as possible. This was because although he knew the direction he was moving in and what his north-south position was using Little Bear, he could only determine that he was heading east and could not know by way of Little Bear how far he had actually gone. Eventually after several months (and many interesting stops) he found himself in a very distant land with very unusual customs and languages unlike anything he had heard or seen before. He wondered if this is where the exotic shiny and smooth piece of cloth he had seen earlier on this journey had come from? The people in this land also looked different from anyone he had ever encountered.

His arrival upon shore was met with bemusement. Indeed this was the the first time anyone had seen someone who looked like Cletus, and everyone was staring at him. Some were even touching his arms which in that moment he realized looked quite sweaty and hairy. Cletus being who he was just went with the flow and found himself being led towards what appeared to be some kind of temple where he was offered some food and drink. The food was also a bit unusual - more steamed and boiled than he was used to - but tasty and satisfying all the same.

Over the course of the next few days Cletus began to learn the local language as they learned his Greek. Eventually an old man with a long white hair appeared holding a box about the size of a melon. The old man asked Cletus if he knew what was inside the box. Cletus responded by shaking his head. The old man said "But how did you get here then?". Cletus was stunned. He had no idea what the old man was talking about. The old man then asked plainly "How did you get here then? What is your secret?"
Cletus froze. He was confused and frightened and didn't know what to do. 
Were the gods playing a trick on Cletus?

Cletus took a moment to collect his thoughts. He then responded to the old man: "Lord, I do indeed have a secret I will admit. However, I had sworn an oath to the gods that I would not reveal this secret. But if you already know my secret, then tell me what you think it is and I will confirm."
The old man considered this and took Cletus to be an honest man. So the old man said to Cletus "All right then, I will tell you this: 'I have a tool that can point us to the true source of all energy.'" Cletus didn't entirely understand what he meant by this but asked the man if he could use this tool to point in the direction of this energy source. The old man then opened the box to look inside and then pointed in a northerly direction.

Cletus could feel his chest tighten. He never imagined this would ever happen. The old man clearly knew his secret or at least how to extract its bounty which was good enough for him. Cletus felt for the first time that he had been released from his oath. Oh how long he had waited for this.
Cletus then said to the man "I think you know my secret. But I will make it clear to you how I came to this place." They both waited until the sun had gone down and the sky had cleared. Cletus then revealed Little Bear and how he used it to navigate such great distances. Cletus made it clear that although he could point himself east or west, he could never be sure how far east or west he had actually traveled. But Little Bear's guidance was enough to allow him to confidently make this long journey east and then back home again.

The old man looked up and then down at Cletus and exclaimed "Thank you! Thank you!" Then the old man began to weep. Cletus was confused. After a few minutes the old man regained his composure and explained his emotional state: "Cletus, we have always wondered if this day would come. You have solved the mystery of the lodestone - a most powerful and mysterious tool. You have guided us to its true source. We always knew these lodestones were divine. But we never realized until now that it was pointing to this Little Bear in the sky. It all makes perfect sense now. Thank you Cletus."
The old man then opened the box to reveal a small jar filled with water and a tiny needle floating on top. He then demonstrated that no matter what direction he turned the box the needle would always point in the same direction: back to the general direction of Little Bear.

Cletus could hardly believe his eyes. The hairs stood up on his back and shivers ran down his spine. In that moment Cletus knew he had just discovered something with immense power, but more importantly he had discovered a tool he could hold in his hands that would guide him to the source of the gods' power even during the day when Little Bear could not be seen. His hands were now shaking.

After learning how to locate more lodestones Cletus returned home with his newfound compass and the knowledge behind how to make more.

Upon returning home Cletus organized an assembly and proceeded to demonstrate and explain how the compass and Little Bear worked and also how he had come to discover it through an exchange of secrets in a distant land. The crowd was skeptical at first but was quickly convinced after a few demonstrations coupled with observations of Little Bear. This day would never be forgotten. It was the day that changed history. From hence forward dates were recorded as either "Before Cletus" or "After Cletus".

A new Age of Discovery commenced with many expeditions heading north - the most obvious direction given that this is where the source of the gods was originating from. While numerous sailors became lost or froze in the extreme cold, many others returned with exquisite treasures. Amber jewels were most highly prized but there were many other exotic items that also commanded peoples attention. A sled with skis was particularly fascinating to those who lived in the hills. Most people just loved the smoked fish and delicious honey that quickly became new culinary staples. The economy was booming with trade.

One day Cletus heard a story from another town that concerned him. A young sailor, after drinking too much wine during a local festival blurted out that he thought the gods had erred by giving away their secrets and that he was happy for this mistake. What the sailor did not realize - having been at sea for so long - was that not only had the economy changed but people's core beliefs and daily rituals had too; There were new stories and ceremonies and festivals that paid tribute to Little Bear. Priests and philosophers seemed to be in agreement for once with priests extolling the poetry and beauty of the compass and Little Bear and philosophers remarking on how elegant and simple the compass and Little Bear were. Harmony had been achieved and anyone disrupting this harmony was an unwelcome muckraker.  The young sailor who had too much to drink learned this the hard way and was drowned at sea for his blasphemy against the gods.

As time passed Cletus began to suspect the gods were playing tricks on him. He wondered if the god Koriolis was punishing him for revealing the secret of Little Bear. It wasn't Cletus' fault - he had good reason, and still does - for believing the old man already knew his secret. So Cletus began to wonder if Koriolis was playing a more devious trick on him. He constantly thought back to that fateful day when he swore that oath to the Phoenician woman and Koriolis. He thought back to the earlier part of the day when he had make a connection between the winds blowing from the west and the sun rising from the east. He wondered if the gods had deliberately distracted him from these other phenomena. He thought back to the story of Jason and the Argonauts and how Jason's shipmates were nearly seduced and killed by the Sirens and their entrancing song. Perhaps, he thought that Little Bear and the compass - with their elegant symmetry - was a kind of elaborate siren song.

Over the next year Cletus returned to his trusty boat and set off on a new journey. He began travelling around with a special log book and started taking notes about the wind and sun. In particular Cletus noted down wind direction in various locations. He also began measuring the shadow cast by the mast of his boat and noticed its length changed even during the sun's highest point depending on how far north or south he happened to be. After several months surveying a new picture formed in Cletus's head and he returned once again home to relay his findings.

Being famous, Cletus was able to gather a much larger assembly than ever before. Most people were just glad to see him back in town after being away for long. Cletus began.

"Good people who have joined me on this fine day. I have once again been on an incredible journey. But this journey was different from my first journey - which was indeed the will of the gods. However, this journey came from the will of myself. I do not know if the gods will even approve of what I am about to tell you, but as you know the gods can be deceptive and I believe I have uncovered their greatest deception."
Cletus took a deep breath and continued.
"You see I have been measuring the height of shadows and direction of wind from the farthest points north I could sail - even hitting ice - to the hottest parts of Africa I could tolerate. I have come to believe that we are not sitting on a flat plane as it would appear but rather the world is more shaped like an egg or melon perhaps, and that this egg or melon is rotating in a single direction. That is why the sun rises and falls and why the wind blows as it does. With this new understanding, we may be able to find a way of going east and west with the same confidence we have traveling north and south. We may even be able to venture into the great western mystery."
A man in the crowd shouted back - "Well show us the proof then!"
Cletus then held up a large round melon covered in knife-marked dashes, all in various directions.
He then held up an orange and began to rotate the melon.
He explained that this is why the farther north you go the longer the shadow and the farther south you go the shorter the shadow. He then explained that this would also cause the wind to blow in various directions, but that there was a pattern. Although he admitted that he didn't understand exactly why the pattern was the way it was - only that it probably had something to do with the rotation of the world - or melon in his demonstration.

The congregants were becoming restless. They could not understand what Cletus was saying and could not make these connections. One brave girl stepped forward and said in the most respectful voice: "Cletus, you are indeed a wise man. And we have benefited much from your wisdom. We want to believe you. But the gods have a purpose for us. We can see that purpose in Little Bear and the compass and behold its divine elegance and symmetry. But we are struggling to see the purpose or even beauty to what you are showing us here. Perhaps you are correct, but to our eyes this just looks like clutter and noise - not the divine elegance you once revealed to us.  The gods are beautiful, your pock-marked melon is not."

Cletus felt hurt. He had expected his discovery to be embraced with the same curiousity he felt years ago after realizing there was a connection between the wind and the sun. But as he looked at the melon in his hand - now beginning to rot under the heat of the sun - he realized in that moment Koriolis had got the better of him.


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