Siege Diaries 7/22/2021

Today’s Daily Stoic writing prompt: Am I acting nobly or grudgingly?

I do my best work under pressure–pressure I knowingly walk right into, because I know this is when I shine. But sometimes, like right now, there’s just a little bit of panic. I’m about to head into a 48 hour scribal competition in a weekend where I have a few other responsibilities (although all but one are things I can participate in while I work). I have a lot less time to research my design, come up with a text, and get it approved this time, and the recipient has specifically asked for something “grand” with other parameters that rule out some of my favourite “simple yet elegant” fast scroll production tricks. At least I think I have a solution for making the scroll larger than the 11″ x 14″ limit (doing it as a diptych.)

I have tomorrow afternoon off, and I’m very glad of it — I’ll need it to crystalize where I’m going with this thing and to get an errand or two out of the way before I start.


Today’s SMASH entries:

Marginalia in period manuscripts was often hilarious and bizarre. Write a one page story about your favourite. Include a picture of your inspiration.


Master Stickhare was proud of his skills as a hunter.  He sat at a high seat in the lord’s hall,  wearing a cloak trimmed with the soft fur of the many rabbits he had slain, and bragged constantly about his prowess.  “No rabbit, hare, or coney has a chance against me,” he would crow.  “I know all their hiding places, the spots where they feed, the holes to their warrens.”  And he would strut about, his chest puffed large, flaunting his rabbit-skin cloak, brandishing a large stick.

The rabbits and hares of the estate cowered in fear.  “No one cares for us, the small and helpless. We hurt no one.  And for this, we are killed for sport and to feed a fat landlord. Is there no one who cares for us?”  

And St. Melangall heard their cries from her heavenly abode, and said, “Once I gave one of their kind a hiding place against a hunter, and the hunter rewarded my kindness by setting aside land for a sanctuary.  Now, I have the power to grant prayers.  Let us see the heart of Master Stickhare, whether he be brave or cowardly.

And so St. Melangall found two of their kind, the bravest among them, and guided them into the forest, and showed them a spring from which to drink.  And they grew large, almost as large as the hunter. Their legs, already powerful from leaping, gained great strength.   The Saint stood before them, shining.  “Tonight, wait for me here.  I still guide your enemy into your grasp.”  She gave them a stick, like unto the one the Master himself carried.  “Let him account for himself, and show his true heart.”

That evening, the Saint appeared in the feast-hall among the lord’s serving women.  She ensured that Master Stickhare’s cups were never empty.  Late at night, he stumbled from the hall.  In the distance, he saw a shimmering glow, and his addled brain thought that he espied the two large hares that always seemed to elude him, and staggered forward.

When he entered the forest, two figures emerged from the shadow, the largest hares he had ever seen.  In his inebriated state, he did not question their remarkable size.  “Good evening, Master Hunter.  What a beautiful coat you have!  But ours are even better.  Would you care to play at hazards?  If you win, you shall have our coats.  If we win, we shall have yours.”

Master Stickhare nodded eagerly, not stopping to wonder how it is that hares could talk.  And so they played at dice, and so it was that the hares were victorious.   Sadly, he took off his cloak and handed it to the hares.

“Thank you for returning our coat.  But that is merely what belonged to us already.  We would have you satisfy the wager by giving us your coat.”

And then the larger of the hares produced a stick, and brandished it aloft.

Master Stickhare, understanding their meaning, screamed and ran for his life.  And all night, his shrieks could be heard from the forest as the rabbits chased him round and round, laughing at the great sport, until the mighty hunter, exhausted from the chase, his clothing long since tattered, torn, and lost, collapsed.  The first hare, approached him, stick in hand. 

“Mercy!”  shouted Master Stickhare.  “Help me!”
“You who chased our kind to their deaths for sport, and then made their coats into a fancy garment for yourself?  You who never once showed mercy on the small and helpless?”

Said the second hare, taking his foot in her hand, “We shall have your coat.  But worry not, we shall dress you well for the feast.”

Shen Kuo (1031-1095) was a polymath who excelled in many fields of study and statecraft. He was a mathematician, astronomer, antiquarian, meteorologist, geologist, entomologist, anatomist, climatologist, zoologist, botanist, pharmacologist, medical scientist, agronomist, archaeologist, ethnographer, cartographer, geographer, geophysicist, metallurgist, mineralogist, encyclopedist, military general, diplomat, hydraulic engineer, inventor, economist, academy chancellor, finance minister, governmental state inspector, philosopher, art critic, poet and musician. He was the head official for the Bureau of Astronomy, in the Song court, as well as an Assistant Minister of Imperial Hospitality. Pick one of his MANY extraordinary discoveries, inventions or accomplishments, and write a one page essay about it.

Shen Kuo: A Founding Father of Palaeontology
Of all the many, many accomplishments of Shen Kuo, the 11th century Song Dynasty scientist and polymath, the one that caught my eye first was his contributions to geology and palaeontology.  As a civil servant and ambassador travelling across China, with an eye for engineering and an understanding of the land, he first described the concept of erosion by wind and weather in relation to the Yangdang Shan mountains over 800 years before Europeans wrote about these concepts.

Observing these and other mountains, he described how their exposed flanks showed bands of different colours—what we would call geologic strata, familiar to anyone who’s travelled on roads cut through the sides of mountains.  What’s more, he noticed that some of these strata contained, as part of the stone, various shells and other objects—what we now call fossils.  How could such shells and marine creatures end up in the side of a mountain?   These deposits had been noticed in China for thousands of years, but Shen was the first to posit that long ago, these mountains had been part of the sea:   “So this place, though now a thousand li [unit of measure] west of the sea must have once been a shore. Thus what we call the “continent” must have been made of mud and sediment which was once below the water… the (mountain) was, according to ancient tradition [geologic time], by the side of the Eastern Sea, but now is far inland.”   

Similarly, Shen wrote, regarding the discovery of “stone dragon” in a man’s garden, that it must have been a creature that had turned to stone, and that it seemed to show scales similar to those of other marine animals, although not like any known animal, pointing the way to an understanding that creatures may have existed in the past that no longer existed, but were preserved in stone.

Shen noticed how rivers carried and deposited sediment as well, stating that this must be the mechanism used to build up the layers he saw in the mountains, and thus to build land masses.  He also understood that this process He also hypothesized that, with this gradual buildup of sediment,  the land of the continent must have been formed over an enormous span of time.

Shen also noticed that fossilized bamboo shoots were found in places where no bamboo now grew, several feet below ground.  Again, he surmised that in that place, the climate must have once been different, allowing bamboo to thrive.

Shen Kuo, therefore, has a strong claim to be called one of the founders of the science of palaeontology, and one of the first to write about how the fossil record could be used as a guide to understanding Earth’s past.