The Moon: An Exercise in the Idiocratic Method
When Agathon had finished his speech, which was quite long and led to the consumption among us of inordinate levels of lightly watered wine, we all rose best we could and commended his theory. Idiocrates appeared especially effected by the before-mentioned eloquence, so much so that he sopped the vestige of a stray tear with the table-cloth’s hem and, then, as everyone turned to him, cleared his throat to speak:
“Dear Agathon, I must say, most ingenious -- this theory of yours! Who would ever have imagined the moon to be a huge dusty stone, orbiting silently several thousand miles above Earth, pelted continuously by (I’ll use your phrase, if I may) ‘cosmic debris’!”
“Here, here! Good work, Agathon,” said Eryximachus, mumbling in the dregs of his Scythian brew.
“And, even more amazing,” continued Idiocrates, “the very spots and blemishes on the moon’s surface owe their texture, in fact their actual existence, to that cosmic rubble.”
“Quite the oration, my friend,” said Phaedrus, chucking Agathon playfully under the ribs. Phaedrus’ cheeks were flushed a bright shade of pimpernel, pleased at the warmth and wit of his houseguests.
Idiocrates, still standing, began again to speak. “How very blind I’ve been, thinking I could add anything to such a discussion. Agathon’s eloquence astounds me. His theory sits so delightfully upon me that I feel compelled myself to sit, lest the humble facts I had once planned to lay before you seem dull in comparison to his tickling fantasy.”
Idiocrates made as if to sit, though all knew he would not.
Eryximachus, Phaedrus, the others -- even Agathon in the spirit of the thing -- rose at once, clamoring. “Speak up! We wish to hear you out, Idiocrates.”
Humbly, the great man stood, again clearing his throat.
“Blame me not if my oration is less polished than young Agathon’s. My facts are bare and unadorned,” he said, then paused to survey the room, meeting each swimming gaze with his hardened glare, letting the expectation and tension mount.
“Agathon,” he said. The lad’s head leapt from his cradling fleshy palms, much like a sleeping mongrel dog jumps at its master’s command.
“A few questions, if I may, regarding your theory.”
“First, I agree -- wholeheartedly -- that we must know the nature of the moon in order to understand its bacchanalian effects. That is our professed purpose here. I do not question it. However, would you say that it is the nature of the moon, as the days of the month pass, to expand -- devouring the night sky -- or to slowly wan and be eaten away by the night?”
“We all know it is eaten,” said Agathon.
“And could we say, then, that it is a mouth which eats the moon?”
“We could, and should, say that -- for the hands do not eat, and the nose does not eat, and the eyes, though they often devour what they feed upon, rarely gain any nourishment from such activity.”
“Agreed then,” Idiocrates said. “Agathon, what think you is it that a mouth eats?”
“Either food or kisses, most certainly. All else is drunk or breathed.”
“And a kiss, is it tangible enough to float in the sky like the moon?”
From across the table the basso profundo voice of Eryximachus surprised them. “Your wife’s kisses certainly are! Ask any man here.”
A chill fell upon the room, the curtains framing the open door to the colonnade blowing softly inward. Idiocrates glanced from man to man. Agathon wiped his lips with his napkin. Aristophanes, quiet until now, burped.
“Ahem. You must excuse me, Idiocrates, I believe I need a breath of fresh air,” said Eryximachus as he bustled out into the peristyle.
Phaedrus spoke next. “Idiocrates, don’t mind his remark. The Scythian ale is mixed a grain to stiffly tonight. I do apologize.”
“No offense taken,” said the great man. Around his index finger he wrapped and unwrapped a crust of bread.
“Continue with your theory of the moon,” Agathon said. “I believe it must be food the mouth eats.”
“Yes, Agathon, it is food. Do you have any notion of which type of food it craves, whether that food is grain based, vegetable in nature, or of the family of meat and dairy?”
“I’m not certain, Idiocrates.”
Eryximachus returned, saying as he entered, “I’ve always been rather fond of pistachios.”
“Yet, Eryximachus,” said Idiocrates, stabbing his bread-wrapped finger in the air, “would you not say the night sky is like unto a vast punchbowl of sparkling nectar?”
“I would if I could sample that nectar, Idiocrates!”
“Ha then! What fool would mix pistachio nuts and sparkling nectar? It cannot be.”
Again, Idiocrates paused, waiting, just waiting, for any of Phaedrus’ guests to challenge him.
“Then, since none of you have any ideas, let me publish a second puzzle -- another angle by which we may investigate the nature of the moon.”
“Surely,” said Phaedrus.
“Would a rock, no matter how porous, float on this sea of sparkling nectar millions of miles in the sky? Would a stone float if it were placed in your lager?”
“No doubt it would not,” said Eryximachus.
“I am beginning to be afraid, dear Idiocrates, that I did not fully understand the nature of the moon, when I began speaking of it,” said Agathon.
“It is the nature of us all, Agathon, to be born twice. If you listen, and apply yourself, you may find your way to truth in my words.”
“We have, then, established that the thing which is the moon must be capable of flotation. What, possibly, could such an object be?”
“A duck? Wood? A witch?” speculated several revelers in rapid succession.
“Ah, yes. Each of you is correct. These items do indeed float. But now, if you remember what we agreed upon before, the moon must not only float, it must also be edible!”
“Does anyone have any suggestions?” asked Eryximachus. “I, myself, can only think of corn-on-the-cob.”
Idiocrates smiled a feral smile. “But corn-on-the-cob floats only when it is boiled.”
“I know that,” said Eryximachus. “That’s why I asked for other suggestions.”
“Apples?” Phaedrus offered.
“Wrong color. The moon is only seldom red. White is not a natural tint for a fruit.”
The room again grew silent. Minutes ticked. Phaedrus glanced covertly at the sundial on his wrist, forgetting it was late evening.
Suddenly, with a togate rustling, Agathon’s voice shot into the stillness. “Cheese?”
“Yes! Very good, Agathon. But let us make sure the cheese floats, shall we? It would be terrifying should a ripely fermented Brie or Bleu plummet through the sparkling nectar and slather our proud polis.”
“How about Swiss Cheese, then?” asked a greatly relieved Agathon.
“Quite plausible, dear lad. When first I thought of the moon as a floating, glowing, slowly ebbing and growing glob of Swiss Cheese it was the likeness of the pockmarks upon the moon’s surface which thrilled me -- but it was the logic of the argument I have here presented that convinced me this fromage must indeed be the pith of our heavenly neighbor. My explanation is, of course, only a hypothesis, but it is my best guess.”
This last Idiocrates said finally and firmly, then sat smiling like a leper with a full tube of super-glue.
Selections of Benjamin Buchholz's short fiction and poetry have appeared or are forthcoming at a number of venues, to include: Chiaroscuro, The Swamp, Abyss & Apex, Snow Monkey, Harness, The Wisconsin Academy Review, The 2River View, GoodFoot, Tryst, and Dislocate. His two ebooks "Cult of the Permanent Motorcycle" and "Cruel & Unusual" are hot sellers at FictionWise (through Far Sector) and a third ebook "Terminal Eden" is forthcoming through the same arrangement. Ben works as an Army Officer in Wisconsin.
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