Theseus, with the help of Ariadne,
daughter of Minos, King of Crete, slew
the Minotaur – that creature with a bull’s head
and a man’s body – in the labyrinth
which imprisoned him. They rescued the fourteen
noble youths and maidens of Athens,
sacrificial tribute, who had been food
for the Minotaur. With the princess
and the young people, Theseus escaped
from Crete and sailed his trireme to Athens.
(En route he left Ariadne on Naxos,
for reasons which need not detain us here).
The Athenians, in gratitude for saving
the scions of their nobility, revered
the ship in which they had returned, maintained it
for many centuries – replacing
rotten timber, frayed rope, and torn canvas.
Inevitably, this being Ancient Greece,
a problem arose, and persists even now,
of a philosophical nature:
at what point, if any, does the Ship of
Theseus cease to be Theseus’ ship?
Thomas Hobbes – sometime mathematics tutor
to Charles, Prince of Wales, later Charles II –
and most famous for opining, during
the havoc of the English Civil War,
that life in anything other than
a comprehensive autocracy
would be ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish
and short’ – posed an interesting what if
regarding The Ship of Theseus.
Imagine that, instead of recycling
the redundant parts for, say, fuel,
they had been made the responsibility
of a custodian, who rebuilt the ship
following the original blueprint,
so that, in time, there would have been two vessels,
both from the original design,
one from the original materials –
and the latter, Hobbes concluded, might still
properly be identified as
The Ship of Theseus. Some, however,
may think the issue of identity
irrelevant, one ship being seaworthy,
the other a tad dystopian –
which brings me neatly to the House of Windsor
aka Saxe-Coburg und Gotha, aka
Hanover, Stuart, Tudor etcetera.
Proper names belong, are unique, confer,
confirm, create identity: Ariadne
of Naxos, the Minotaur of Knossos –
who, by the way, were siblings, but that tale
is for another day. So, to Charles III,
tax dodger, and ersatz Renaissance man:
who seems unlike his gaudy namesakes –
the father, who spectacularly lost his head;
the son, something of a stage door Johnny –
except both his predecessors also believed
they had been anointed by God himself,
and were similarly obsessed with worldly wealth.
He can trace his line to Alfred the Great,
King of the Anglo-Saxons, and Kenneth
MacAlpin, King of the Picts. All of which is
as insubstantial and insignificant
as an imagined splinter from the deck
of some mythical ship.