Tag Archives Athens

THE SHIP OF THESEUS AND THE HOUSE OF WINDSOR

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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