Kings and Cisterns

“As so often happens when I feel melancholy, as I did after going through the incident I will describe, I found myself thinking of the story about the king and the water that makes people crazy. According to the story, a certain king, having received word from a local sage that a great rain would bring water that would make all people crazy, decided to gather as much of the existing water as he could before the rains came. He collected that water in private, covered cisterns, reasoning that, as king, he should remain sane even if everyone else went crazy. When the rains came as predicted, the people began to act in unaccountable ways. The king went down among them and tried to tell them what had happened, but they took him for a lunatic and threatened him with blows. So he retreated to his cisterns, there to sit for some days, drinking the bittersweet waters of sanity. This went on for some time, until finally, deciding that truth was not its own reward, the king decided to go down among the people and drink the new water, abandoning his palace and his cisterns — and, as it turned out, his reason, for he soon began acting just as madly as his subjects, forgetting about his cisterned water, his sense of dignity, and the sage. The people, when in their newfound lunacy they regarded him at all, took him for a madman who had been miraculously cured.”

Tim Lyons, Cisterns, http://www.vocabula.com/2009/VRSept09Lyons.asp

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