The Rune of Babel

Mr. Ramesh suddenly remembered a short story entitled “The Lion of Babel.”

The plot of the story concerned a game that the Babylonian Emperor Nebuchadnezzar had commanded all of his subjects to participate in.  Appropriately, it was a word game. The contestants had to synthesize new words through barking concatenations of gruff  phonemes, over and over, until they were exhausted, or their voices gave out. Scribes stood by to record the ranting.  These exhibitions were held all across the land, on the outside during the heat of day.  After a round during which every subject of the Emperor played the game, the results were compiled. The individual who had grunted the most new words (and grunts that too closely resembled the legitimate lexicon were eliminated from the count) was declared to be the Emperor’s champion, or The Lion of Babel.  From this first discovery phase the game proceeded to the realization phase.  The realization took the form of an ancient stadium spectacle where armored soldiers in chariots attacked The Lion of Babel with all manner of  loud percussion instruments. The charioteers would try especially hard to corner him and strike the kemanak, which was a loud cymbal.

After a set period of time, if the charioteers could not drive The Lion mad with their cacophony, then the winner’s words would be formally incorporated into the language of the land, and scholars would be forced to develop their meanings. In this way, the Emperor made sure that spoken language evolved, or debased itself, and that it didn’t develop into a florid and sonorous tongue.  If The Lion was driven mad, of course, his lips were sewn shut for a period of seven years, and  his title was changed to The Rune of Babel.