Thursday, October 8, 2009

Dinnertable History With The Boys

"So what would a hundred be scared of? A trillion!" And that would be Younger Son, expounding over his chicken and sweet corn soup and green salad. He was busily explaining what he thought it might take to frighten a hundred... errr... somethings. I figured it was time to weigh in.

"Depends on the hundred," I said. "I mean -- what if they were a hundred Spartans?"

Well, I got puzzled looks from both boys, so I launched into a thumbnail version of Thermopylae: three hundred Spartans (backed up by a lazy few thousand Athenians, admittedly) parking their arses in a narrow pass, holding off a hundred thousand or so Persians.

"So did they win?" said Elder Son. As if that was the point, given that we were discussing "scared".

"Depends on what you mean by 'win'," I told him. And I explained that even though the Spartans were slaughtered, it took the Persians several days to manage it, and they took drastic losses, and in the meantime, the Athenians evacuated their city, and set up for the decisive sea battle at Salamis. "So the Spartans all got killed, but they held the pass long enough to make sure the Persians couldn't achieve their victory."

There's a pause as both boys digest this. And then Younger Son lifts his chin, and nods gravely. "So -- basically, the Germans won," he says, with the absolute confidence of an oracle.

Once I picked myself up off the floor and managed to get my breathing back under control, I tried to do the rational thing. I explained that there weren't any Germans as such for two thousand-odd years afterwards. And, questioned by Elder Son, I explain a bit about the Persian Empire, and Xerxes, and imperial ambitions, and the first invasion of the Greek states by the Persians.... and somewhere in the middle, Elder Son wants to know about the Big Wooden Horse.


I change tracks, and deliver a thumbnail sketch of Homer's account of the ten year siege, and then outline Oddyseus' Cunning Plan. And I mention that they've found the remains of a big, walled city in the place where Troy was supposed to be, and that it was burned at roughly the right time (and other times!), so perhaps there was something to Homer's account after all.

"Did they find the remains of a Big Wooden Horse?" asked Natalie... of all people.

"Not after three thousand years and all that arson," I said.

"Why didn't they just rebuild the horse?" asked Younger Son.

I thought about it. "Who? And why would they rebuild it?"

Immediately, an all-too-familiar expression of fiendish glee swept over his face. I knew I shouldn't have asked. "Because it was big!" he said, and after that, dinner-table history was dead.

That's the Younger Son all over. Why would you rebuild the famed Wooden Horse? Because it was big.

Maybe he's right. Maybe the Germans did win after all, and I just didn't notice. That would probably explain a lot.