July 23, 2002
An Ancient Legend

Many people today believe that the moon landings were faked, and many more (probably mostly the same people) believe that cars could run on water if only the oil companies or the government or both were not suppressing the scientific discoveries that would make it possible.

This kind of economic paranoia has a long pedigree. Here is a version from Petronius' Satyricon. The vulgar millionaire and ex-slave Trimalchio is talking (section 51, translated by William Arrowsmith):

'. . . there once was a workman who invented a little glass bottle that wouldn't break. Well, he got in to see the emperor with his bottle as a present. Then he asked the emperor to hand it back to him and managed to drop it on the floor on purpose. Well, the emperor just about died. But the workman picked the bottle back up from the floor and, believe it or not, it was dented just a little, as though it were made out of bronze. So he pulled a little hammer out of his pocket and tapped it back into shape. Well, by this time he thought he had Jupiter by the balls, especially when the emperor asked him if anyone else was in on the secret. But you know what happened? When the workman told him that nobody else knew, the emperor ordered his head chopped off. Said that if the secret ever got out, gold would be as cheap as dirt.'

Petronius was writing in the early 60s A.D., but we hear elsewhere that the emperor was Tiberius, which pushes the dramatic date back to 16-37 A.D. Somehow plastic has not made gold worthless, or even driven glass out of circulation.

Coming tomorrow: the Younger Seneca on Hostius Quadra, the man with the magnifying bedroom mirrors.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at July 23, 2002 11:46 PM

Wow. Another time traveller who horribly, horribly misjudged his chances.

Posted by: Robert Crawford on July 24, 2002 12:01 PM

Just yesterday, I stumbled upon a Xerox copy of 'What we really do at NASA', by Geoffrey Landis, www.sfsite.com/isfdb-bin/exact_author.cgi?Geoffey_A_Landis, who is a NASA at Glenn Research Center, Cleveland. A coworker had it on her office wall. It's hilarious, it spoofs the legends that NASA is hiding Roswell aliens, hiding perpetual motion machines, etc. I haven't found an on-line version.



Posted by: brother steve on July 24, 2002 09:27 PM

Couldn't have been Tiberius; he would have had the man thrown off a cliff or somethinge else more interesting than mere beheading. Trimalchio must have been as confused about the story as he was about his Homer.... :-)

By the way, Doc, what do you think of the new Sarah Rudin translation of the Satyricon?

Posted by: Evan McElravy on July 24, 2002 11:07 PM

Trimalchio doesn't show any sign that he knows what emperor this is -- that 'fact' is from the Elder Pliny.

I haven't had a chance to look at the Rudin translation yet.

Posted by: Dr. Weevil on July 25, 2002 12:08 AM

The best spoofs I know of the whole Roswell thing are:

1. The Star Trek Deep Space 9 episode where a starship full of Ferengi accidentally time travels back to 1947 and crashlands in Roswell.

2. Someone has pointed out that Al Gore was born almost exactly nine months after the Roswell 'incident'. That would explain a lot . . . .

Posted by: Dr. Weevil on July 25, 2002 12:10 AM

Wha?!? You mean Detroit DOESN'T have 100 mpg on a gallon of water carburetors stashed away? I mean, Gray Davis and the CA legislature were counting SO much on them!

Posted by: CGeib on July 27, 2002 05:28 PM

Funny, I wrote a little something on just this subject a few months ago:

Department of Pseudoscience

It's not long, but it does reference material that shows that there is a smidge of truth behind the 100 mpg engine legend.

Posted by: Dean Esmay on July 28, 2002 08:53 AM